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News / Nation & World

Head of Nashville school in shooting would ‘run to’ danger

By BEN FINLEY and TRAVIS LOLLER, Associated Press
Published: March 28, 2023, 8:30am

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The head of the Christian elementary school in Nashville who was killed in a shooting there on Monday 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,” Jackie Bailey said of her friend Katherine Koonce, head of The Covenant School. “She was trying to protect those kids … That’s just what I believe.”

Koonce was one of six people killed in the shooting in Tennessee, including three 9-year-old children identified by police as Hallie Scruggs, Evelyn Dieckhaus and William Kinney. Also killed were Cynthia Peak, 61, a substitute teacher, and Mike Hill, 61, a custodian.

Hallie Scruggs was the daughter of Chad Scruggs, the lead pastor at the Covenant Presbyterian Church, according to a statement released by a Presbyterian Church in Dallas where the elder Scruggs had served as an associate pastor.

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“We love the Scruggs family and mourn with them over their precious daughter Hallie,” Park Cities Presbyterian Church Senior Pastor Mark Davis said in a statement. “Together, we trust in the power of Christ to draw near and give us the comfort and hope we desperately need.”

Cynthia Peak was described as a “sweet person from a sweet family” by 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.”

Owen described Peak as “a loving, caring and attentive person.”

When Owen’s sister passed away, “Cindy got here as quick as anybody else,” Owen said. “She got here very, very quickly to grieve my sister with the rest of us. It’s a small community, a small tight knit group. She was ever present in my sister’s life and she’s been very attentive to my family since my sister passed away.”

Peak was also a devout Christian.

“She told me that she got saved in college and that God’s love changed her life,” Owen said, adding it was appropriate that she was teaching at a Christian school.

The Covenant School in Nashville has about 200 students from preschool through sixth grade, as well as roughly 50 staff members, according to its website.

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 PhD, 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.

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