NASHVILLE, Tenn. (NewsNation) — As family and friends mourn the deaths of the six individuals who were killed in the Covenant School shooting earlier this week, the city of Nashville held a candlelight vigil Wednesday night to remember and honor the lives lost.
The downtown ceremony for the victims of the shooting was somber and at times tearful, as speaker after speaker read the names of the victims and offered condolences to their loved ones.
Three children, three adults and the suspected active shooter were killed Monday after the attacker sprayed bullets at the private Christian elementary school.
“Our community is heartbroken. We are grieving tremendous loss and are in shock coming out of the terror that shattered our school and church,” The Covenant School said in a statement. “We are focused on loving our students, our families, our faculty and staff and beginning the process of healing.”
The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department identified the six victims fatally shot as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, all age 9; Cynthia Peak, 61; Katherine Koonce, 60; and Mike Hill, 61.
“Just two days ago was our city’s worst day,” Mayor John Cooper said at the vigil. “I so wish we weren’t here, but we need to be here.”
Outside the school, there’s a memorial for people to visit as they continue to remember the lives lost and the emptiness felt by the entire community.
“Maybe it doesn’t mean a lot to some people, but it does to me — just to come down here and put some flowers and think of (how) the people that have gone now are with God,” Carolyn Modisher, who lives near The Covenant School, said.
The Nashville Predators, the city’s professional hockey team, and the Boston Bruins honored the victims during the hockey game Tuesday night in Boston, with players wearing the school’s logo on their helmets. A moment of silence was also held as the names of each victim were displayed in the arena.
As the public praised law enforcement’s response to the shooting, more information about the victims was revealed.
The 9-year-old’s family described Evelyn as a “shining light.”
“Our hearts are completely broken. We cannot believe this happened. Evelyn was a shining light in the world. We appreciate all the love and support but ask for space as we grieve,” said the Dieckhaus family.
Evelyn’s family has asked for privacy as they grieve the loss of their daughter.
The 9-year-old was the daughter of Covenant Presbyterian Church lead pastor Chad Scruggs.
“We are heartbroken. She was such a gift. Through tears, we trust that she is in the arms of Jesus who will raise her to life once again,” Chad said.
Kinney was a 9-year-old student at The Covenant School when he was killed by a gunman during the school shooting.
Kinney’s family has not yet made a public statement about his death.
Peak’s family and friends described the 61-year-old as a loving friend and natural teacher. Peak was substitute teaching at Covenant School when the shooting occurred.
Her family issued a statement saying their “hearts are broken,” and called Peak “a pillar of the community, and a teacher beloved by all her students.”
“She never wavered in her faith and we know she is wrapped in the arms of Jesus,” the statement said.
She was “a sweet person from a sweet family,” said Chuck Owen, who told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that they grew up together in Leesville, Louisiana, and that Peak was a lifelong friend.
When he heard that Peak was killed in the shooting, “It took my breath away,” Owen said. “You don’t expect something like this. It just took the wind out of me.”
In a video statement released Tuesday evening, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Peak was supposed to have dinner with his wife, Maria, after filling in as a substitute teacher at Covenant.
“Maria woke up this morning without one of her best friends,” Lee said, adding that Peak, Koonce and his wife had once taught together and “have been family friends for decades.”
Koonce, the head of the Christian elementary school, was described by friends as smart, loving and a rare female leader within a male-led religious culture.
“If there was any trouble in that school, she would run to it, not from it,” Koonce’s friend Jackie Bailey said. “She was trying to protect those kids … That’s just what I believe.”
MNPD Chief John Drake said it appears that Koonce and Hill confronted the shooter, likely delaying the attack.
Before Koonce took the top role with Covenant, Anna Caudill, a former art teacher, worked with her for almost a decade at Christ Presbyterian Academy, another Christian school in the area connected to a Presbyterian Church in America congregation.
“She was an absolute dynamo and one of the smartest women I’ll ever know,” said Caudill, recalling how Koonce excelled at her day job while parenting her children, pursuing her masters and then her Ph.D. and writing a book.
For Caudill, who grew up in several male-led Christian denominations, Koonce had remarkable leadership skills and was the first woman in such a setting to encourage her to keep learning and pursuing her life goals. When Caudill launched her nonprofit advocating for special education resources and other support, she said Koonce was one of the first to donate financially to it.
She said Koonce loved her job at Covenant and she was loved by students and their families.
“She wasn’t Wonder Woman, but I never saw the two in the same place,” she said.
Hill’s longtime friend Jim Bachmann told NewsNation that the 61-year-old was a custodian at the Covenant School, and he knew all the kids by name. Bachmann said Hill was a beloved and giving friend.
“I was rattled,” Bachman said. “Your heart feels real heavy and you realize you don’t get to talk to him again until you see him in eternity.”
Along with Koonce, the MNPD chief said Hill appeared to have confronted the shooter, likely delaying the attack.
“He didn’t deserve this. He was a sweet man,” Bachman said. “He’s called Big Mike. Big, strong, strappin’ fella.”
Pastor Tim Dunavant, of the Hartsville First United Methodist Church, said that he hired Hill to work at Covenant more than a decade ago.
“I don’t know the details yet. But I have a feeling, when it all comes out, Mike’s sacrifice saved lives,” Dunavant wrote. “I have nothing factual to base that upon. I just know what kind of guy he was. And I know he’s the kind of guy that would do that.”
Hill’s family issued a statement saying, “We pray for the Covenant School and are so grateful that Michael was beloved by the faculty and students who filled him with joy for 14 years. He was a father of seven children … and 14 grandchildren. He liked to cook and spend time with family.”
“All of Tennessee was hurt yesterday, but some parents woke up without children. And children woke up without parents without teachers and spouses woke up without their loved ones,” the governor said.
The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate WKRN contributed to this report.