A group of parents at a Christian school in Nashville that recently suffered a deadly school shooting want to keep the shooter's writings sealed, citing the threat of copycat attacks. But a judge said Monday they will have to wait until later this week to learn if their effort is on solid legal ground.
Plaintiffs — including journalists, a state senator, a law enforcement nonprofit and a gun-rights organization — have sued the city of Nashville to force the release after police denied their public records requests. Authorities claimed the journals and other writings were protected from release as long as they're part of an open investigation, but indicated they'd be made public at some point.
The parents of children at The Covenant School, where a former student killed three 9-year-olds and three adults in March, want the records to remain secret forever. In their motion to intervene, they call the writings “dangerous and harmful” and say “no good that can come from the release.”
Speaking in Nashville Chancellor I'Ashea Myles' courtroom on Monday, the parents' attorney Eric Osborne said his clients have a “real fear” of a repeat shooting at their own school. The shooter made maps of the school while planning the massacre. Some of the parents would like an opportunity to speak in open court and explain why they don't want the writings released, he said.
The parents are victims, Osborne said, who want to protect their rights under the state Constitution to be free from intimidation, harassment and abuse.
Attorney Nicholas Barry, who represents the Tennessee Star and its parent media organization, said those Constitutional rights specify how victims are to be treated in the criminal justice system and have nothing to do with the Tennessee Public Records Act.
Attorney Robb Harvey, who represents The Tennessean newspaper and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, argued that the parents are not crime victims within the meaning of the law. He said any harm the families might claim from the release of the records is purely speculative. For one thing, no one knows what's in the journals except for law enforcement, the city attorneys, and the judge — who has reviewed some of the shooter's writings but not all.
Attorneys for both The Covenant School and Covenant Presbyterian Church, which owns the school building, said their primary concern was preventing the release of any information that could jeopardize security.
The judge said she will rule by Wednesday as to whether the parents, school and church can intervene in the case.
“I believe that getting the information that needs to be out is a good thing," Myles said. “My goal is to make sure that whatever needs to come out can come out, in a manner that protects all involved, but also gives open access to the governmental bodies because that’s what the open records request act is for.”