A Christian school that 'celebrates childhood' becomes killing scene in Nashville

By Sharon Bernstein

(Reuters) -The 200 young children enrolled at the Covenant School, a private Christian elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee, start each day with chapel and study the Bible twice a week.

"The beauty of a PreSchool-6th school is in its simplicity and innocence," the introductory paragraph of the school's website reads. "Students are free to be children."

On Monday, the school became the site of the latest mass shooting in the U.S., when a 28-year-old former student opened fire with an assault weapon, killing three children and three adults before being shot dead by police.

The three students killed were all 9 years old: Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney.

The adults were head of school Katherine Koonce, 60, a pickleball enthusiast who had told the Nashville Tennessean she added the sport to the school's physical education initiatives; Cynthia Peak, who police said was believed to be a substitute teacher; and custodian Mike Hill, both 61.

The carnage made a stark and horrible contrast to the images of everyday life on the school's website and Facebook page.

Just a day before the shooting, administrators posted on Facebook pictures of staff members sharing gifts and snacks as they celebrated the impending birth of the son of the assistant head of school.

The school also posted a notice that it was looking to hire two new employees - a kindergarten aide and a fourth-grade teacher. And photos proudly showed boys competing in the opening day of the school's first golf season at the local Cheekwood Golf Course.

"Go Knights!" the posting cheered.

"Great job, boys," a community member wrote.

For Megan Hill, the day's agony unfolded over six long hours, marked by posts on Facebook in which she identified herself as the niece of one of the victims.

"Shooting at the school where my Dad, my uncle and my stepmom work please pray right now," she wrote at about noon local time.

Six hours later, she posted an update.

"I’m just in shock and disbelief," wrote Hill, who did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters. "My heart is broken I do not understand why someone would shoot up a school with precious babies inside."

"My uncle lost his life in this shooting today," she wrote. "My moms brother Lord help me and my family please pray for all my cousins."

The school is affiliated with Covenant Presbyterian Church, part of an evangelical movement that branched off from the more liberal Presbyterian Church in 1981. It offers enrichment classes in art, science and technology, leadership and music.

The school's motto is "intentionality, authenticity, curiosity," according to its website, which is filled with video images of smiling students singing, dancing and tumbling in a gymnasium. Its focus, the website says, is on "shepherding hearts, empowering minds and celebrating childhood."

Classes are small, with an average size of 12 students, about a quarter of whom receive financial aid, the website says. Tuition starts at $11,500 per year for kindergarten and rises to $16,500 for fifth and sixth grade.

No one answered the phone or responded to emails at the school on Monday.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, CaliforniaEditing by Rosalba O'Brien, Matthew Lewis and Leslie Adler)