Nashville police say an investigation began Monday morning into three photographs that surfaced online of writings connected to the March shooting at a private Christian school that left three 9-year-olds and three adults dead.
The writings are from the 28-year-old shooter, who was a former student at The Covenant School, Nashville Police Chief John Drake later confirmed. Police shot and killed the shooter during the attack.
The pictures, which were released by a conservative political commentator Monday, come amid an intense legal battle among groups who want evidence – including the writings – released by authorities and parents who say their release would cause further trauma.
“This police department is extremely serious about the investigation to identify the person responsible,” the police chief said in a statement about the unauthorized release of the writings. “This action showed a total disregard for Covenant families, as well as the court system, which has control of the shooter’s journals at the present time due to litigation filed earlier this year.”
Seven people in the Nashville police department were put on “administrative assignment” to “protect the integrity of the investigation,” department spokesperson Noelle Yazdani said Wednesday. The assignments were “absolutely non-punitive” and all seven have full police power, Yazdani said.
In a news conference Monday night, a spokesperson for Covenant families who have opposed the release of the writings lashed out at the person who took the images and aided in their release.
“You’ve released evidence that was gathered in our most vulnerable moments,” spokesperson Brent Leatherwood, who is also a Covenant school parent, said. “How could you?”
“Parents and families came together to prevent this exact moment from happening,” Leatherwood said. “To prevent the revictimizing of our children and prevent further trauma to our families. Because we knew that these writings, these thoughts from the shooter, were heinous. We knew that they were evil.”
Steven Crowder, the prominent conservative figure who released the images, told CNN affiliate WSMV he does not regret sharing them online. Crowder, who has been accused of using homophobic and racist slurs in the past, said he released the pages for more transparency in the case.
The released pages use hate-filled language directed toward the school and children and include what appears to be a timeline of events seemingly leading up to the shooting.
Authorities have previously said the shooter had written extensively in a personal notebook about the attack.
CNN has also previously reported about journals authorities found from the shooter which were described as being related to “school shootings; firearm courses.”
In a statement, Mayor Freddie O’Connell said he directed the city’s law department to conduct an investigation into “how these images could have been released.”
“That investigation may involve local, state, and federal authorities,” the mayor said. “I am deeply concerned with the safety, security, and well-being of the Covenant families and all Nashvillians who are grieving.”
CNN has sought comment from Leatherwood about the police department’s move to put seven people on administrative assignment.
What we know about the legal battles
The shooter’s writings have been part of a monthslong legal fight playing out in Nashville over the release of documents and records related to the March 27 shooting.
The case involves requests for public records filed by gun rights advocates and news organizations that are seeking to compel Nashville’s city government to disclose writings left behind by the shooter that could shed light on the motive for the attack – which could include the shooter’s journals and a suicide note.
Those petitioning to have the writings released – including The Tennessean newspaper – say the documents are public records and the First Amendment and the Tennessee Constitution grant public access to the records.
The National Police Association and the Tennessee Firearms Association, who are also suing for the records, argue lessons gleaned from the writings could benefit public safety by shedding light on the killer’s thinking.
But the parents of two of the three children who were killed have asked the court to deny Freedom of Information Act requests for the release of the shooter’s writings.
The church that runs the school also wants to prevent records from being released, and it is supported by many of the school students’ parents, who fear the release could cause “copycat attacks,” CNN has reported.
Erin Kinney, the mother of one of the students killed, wrote in June that those demanding for the release of the materials were helping the dead shooter accomplish “immortality” and she described her responsibility to protect the surviving victims from what she called “the unfathomable trauma of encountering sensitive material about the deaths of their siblings, friends, teachers; and most certainly to protect them from ever encountering the hateful, diseased words of the monster who slaughtered six human beings in their school.”
The mother said that the “mass murderer” should not get to speak from the grave “while our three children, along with the three adult victims are silenced in this life.”
A ruling is expected from the Tennessee Court of Appeals, the National Police Association said in a statement on Monday.
“The City of Nashville is not under any court order to keep the requested materials secret. They can comply with the demands of our lawsuit at any time and end the needless waste of time before the materials are examined and used to benefit the public and law enforcement alike,” the association’s statement said.
This week, the families of the school said they will continue to fight to keep the rest of the writings from being publicly released.
“Our parents are still committed, our families are still committed to doing everything we can to make sure that none of the rest of this sees the light of day because we don’t want our children to someday read this stuff and whatever else may be there because they’re disconnected ramblings, but they are connected by one thing: they’re evil,” Leatherwood said.
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