Two women who lost their lives in Monday's school shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville were longtime family friends of Gov. Bill Lee and his wife, Maria, the governor said in a video address Tuesday night.
"All of Tennessee was hurt yesterday, but some parents woke up without children, children woke up without parents and without teachers, and spouses woke up without their loved ones," the Republican governor said. "Maria woke up this morning without one of her best friends, Cindy Peak."
The teacher, he said, "was supposed to come over to have dinner with Maria last night after she filled in as a substitute teacher yesterday at Covenant."
Lee also said another shooting victim, late headmistress Katherine Koontz, was also a close friend of his wife's and that the three women have been friends for years.
"Cindy and Maria and Katherine Koonce were all teachers at the same school and had been family friends for decades," Lee added.
The three women had worked together at Nashville's Christ Presbyterian Academy, reports The Tennessean.
Koonce, 60, had been at Christ Presbyterian, where Peak had also taught. Their time at the school overlapped with Maria Lee's, who was at the school for 14 years. She taught students in the third and fourth grades and was an athletic coach.
Monday morning, in an incident lasting just 15 minutes, the shooter, identified as Audrey Hale, shot and killed Peak, Koonce, custodian Mike Hill, and three 9-year-old students, William Kinney, Evelyn Dieckhaus, and Hallie Scruggs, the daughter Covenant Presbyterian Church lead pastor Chad Scruggs.
Police shot and killed Hale in the school.
Hale, who was described as having no criminal history and who authorities said identified as transgender, had detailed maps of the school building and its points of entry.
The shooter was reportedly under a doctor's care for an "emotional disorder," The Tennessean reports. Authorities have not yet determined a motive behind the attack.
The governor said that what happened "was a tragedy beyond comprehension."
"Like many of you, I've experienced tragedy in my own life, and I've experienced the day after that tragedy," he said. "I woke up this morning with a very familiar feeling, and I recognize that today many Tennesseans are feeling the exact same way – the emptiness, the lack of understanding, the desperate desire for answers, and the desperate need for hope."
The governor insisted in his address that now is not the time to place blame for the shooting or argue about solutions.
"We are enduring a very difficult moment. I understand there is pain. I understand the desperation to have answers, to place blame, to argue about a solution that could prevent this horrible tragedy," Lee said.
"There will come a time to ask how a person could do this," he added. "There will come a time to discuss and debate policy. But this is not a time for hate or rage. That will not resolve or heal. Everyone is hurting, and remembering that as we grieve and walk together will be the way we honor those who were lost."
Instead, he said that everyone can agree that "every human life has great value."
"We will act to prevent this from happening again," he said. "There is a clear desire in all of us, whether we agree on the action steps or not, that we must work to find ways to protect against evil."
And even while the shootings showed the "worst of humanity," the events also revealed the "best of humanity" with police officers who "ran into danger, directly toward a killer with no regard for their own life, thinking only about those kids, those teachers, those administrators."
He said he spoke with the two Metro Nashville Police Department officers who shot and killed Hale and said their actions saved lives.
Lee also called on the people of Tennessee to pray for the families of the victims, the school, the police officers, and for the shooter's family but acknowledged that's "not the only thing" that must be done.
"Law enforcement officials and educators across our state have been working for years, especially in the last year, to strengthen the safety of schools," he said. "That work was not in vain – the courage and swift response by the teachers, officers, and this community without a doubt prevented further tragedy. "
But the struggle, he said, "is against evil itself."
"There is hope in the midst of great tragedy because God is a redeemer. What is meant for evil can be turned for good," he said.
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