Published: 12:36, March 31, 2023 | Updated: 12:45, March 31, 2023
Protesters demand action on guns at Tennessee statehouse
By Reuters

Hundreds of people attend a public vigil to honor victims and survivors of a shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, March 29, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

NASHVILLE, Tennessee - Protesters flooded Tennessee's statehouse on Thursday to demand lawmakers stiffen gun laws following a school shooting in Nashville that left six people dead, three of them 9-year-old children.

More than a thousand people joined the protest organized by local mothers, packing the building's rotunda and forcing highway patrol troopers to clear paths in the crowd for lawmakers to walk through.

Demonstrators held aloft placards reading "No More Silence" and "We have to do better" while chanting "Do you even care?" and "No more violence!"

S'Kaila Colbert, holding her infant daughter, told MSNBC that her love of Christ called her to protest. "To be a voice for the children, to prioritize their safety, I felt a duty to be here," she said.

US school shootings, defined as any incident in which a gun is discharged on school property, number 90 so far this year, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database website founded by researcher David Riedman

US school shootings, defined as any incident in which a gun is discharged on school property, number 90 so far this year, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database website founded by researcher David Riedman. The 303 incidents last year were the most of any year in the database, which began in 1970.

In the latest, the shooter killed three pupils and three staff members at Nashville's Covenant School. Police responded and killed the assailant, a 28-year-old former student at the school. A motive for the shooting was as yet unclear.

READ MORE: 6 shot dead by ex-student at Tennessee Christian school

Nashville's Department of Emergency Communications released 911 calls related to the shooting on Thursday, which showed calls flooding in to the dispatch center starting at 10:12 am local time.

In one, a woman tells a dispatcher she's hiding with children in the art room closet on the second floor and can hear shooting, as heavy booms are heard on the recording.

A child is heard saying "I want to go home!" at one point on the call. The woman then hushes the children and tells them to be quiet so they can stay safe.

In another, a woman says she is hiding beneath a desk in a nursery. Loud booms and two types of emergency alarms can be heard.

The city also released recordings of communications between dispatchers and officers headed to the scene.

At 10:15 and 8 seconds, a dispatcher says police have received multiple calls of shots fired at the school.

"They're advising they're still hearing more shots fired," she says at 10:17. "Got workers locked in the nursery and in the office."

By 10:25 comes the hope the shooting may be over: "Suspect down."

Call for reforms

Republican lawmakers in Tennessee this week delayed hearings on gun legislation that would expand access to firearms. The state in recent years has made it easier to acquire firearms and done away with the need for permits to carry concealed handguns.

State Representative Bob Freeman, a Democrat representing Nashville, on Thursday addressed lawmakers in the House chambers, calling for "common-sense" gun reforms, including background checks and red-flag laws to prevent individuals from possessing firearms who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others.

Freeman told his colleagues they had to respond to demonstrators whose chants could be heard outside the chambers.

"They're out there right now. They're begging for us to do something," he said, according to The Tennessean newspaper.

John Drake, the Nashville police chief, said the shooter's writings suggested plans to carry out shootings at other locations. Police said the shooter left behind a manifesto related to the attack.

The shooter was armed with two assault-style weapons and a 9mm handgun, which police later found were among seven firearms the assailant had legally purchased in recent years.

While the shooter targeted the school, housed in the Covenant Presbyterian Church and serving about 200 pupils from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade, the individuals were slain at random, police said.

ALSO READ: 'Nashville school shooter had emotional disorder, small arsenal'

The first funeral for one of the victims, nine-year-old Evelyn Dieckhaus, was set for Friday. Mourners are being asked to wear pink and green. Services for substitute teacher Cynthia Peak, 61, and Hallie Scruggs, 9, will be held on Saturday.

Nine-year-old William Kinney's funeral will be held on Sunday, while services for Mike Hill, 61, the school's custodian will be held on Tuesday and the funeral for head of school Katherine Koonce, 60, will be held on Wednesday.