The trans shooter who killed six people at a Nashville school has sent shockwaves through the transgender community, raising tough questions about militancy and mental health problems among the marginalized group.
Since Audrey ‘Aiden’ Hale rampaged through The Covenant School on Monday, murdering three children and three adults, investigators and analysts have looked at her trans identity, and how this may have played a role in the bloodbath.
Nashville Police Chief John Drake told reporters of a ‘theory’ that Hale, a biological woman who had recently started using ‘he/him’ pronouns and the moniker ‘Aiden,’ had launched the attack as a manifestation of her shifting gender identity.
Hale, 28, was heavily armed when she fatally shot three children and three adult staffers at the private Christian elementary school she once attended in Tennessee’s capital city, before herself being shot and killed by officers.
The motive for the attack was not immediately clear. Hale had drawn detailed maps of the school, including entry points for the building, and left behind a ‘manifesto’ and other writings that detectives were studying, Drake added.
A doctor had been treating her for an ’emotional disorder,’ Drake said on Tuesday. Despite the ‘he/him’ pronouns, Hale is most often described as a female who was in a provisional stage of gender transition.
Hale was at odds with her devout Christian parents, Church coordinator Norma, 61, and her husband Ronald, 64, because they ‘couldn’t accept’ she was gay and trans, a source told DailyMail.com.
The attack quickly spawned a debate between conservatives and trans activists.
Tennessee Republican representative Tim Burchett called for Hale’s manifesto to be made public, telling Fox News that ‘We need to know what was going through this person’s head.’
‘Our trans youth are troubled,’ said Burchett. ‘If they don’t get the help they need, they can grow up to have some serious issues, but I obviously don’t believe they’ll all grow up to be shooters like this.’
The shooting has raised questions about the drugs used in sex-reassignment treatment and mental health conditions that are widespread in the trans community, and drawn parallels to other attacks by young female-to-male transitioners.
They include Maya ‘Alec’ McKinney, who took part in a shooting at a Denver, Colorado, school in May 2019, and Snochia Moseley, who killed three at a Rite Aid warehouse in Aberdeen, Maryland, in September 2018.
Prominent members of America’s trans community took to social media to stress that Hale’s suspected killing spree was more clearly linked to the availability of guns than anything to do with her gender identity or politics.
They were pushing back at claims from right-wing commentators that the violence was a symptom of an increasingly radicalized trans community that was embracing terror tactics in a push against mainstream gender ideas.
‘When hundreds of white men commit mass shootings, it’s a ‘societal problem,’ but when one trans person commits a mass shooting, it’s a ‘trans problem’,’ posted Alejandra Caraballo, a male-to-female trans clinical instructor at Harvard Law School.
‘The actual problem is that this country is unable to do anything at all to stop gun violence.’
Alex Petrovnia, another prominent trans voice on social media, echoed this view, saying the ‘identity of the shooter … was less contributory to this tragedy than the access they had to military grade firearms designed to kill en masse.’
Drake’s comments on Hale’s ’emotional disorder’ shine a spotlight on the higher rates of mental health issues and suicide that are endured by America’s roughly 1.6 million trans-identifying individuals.
These mental health problems frequently relate to underlying issues and gender confusion, as well as the impacts of society’s anti-trans discrimination, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Symptoms can include ‘anxiety, depression, sadness and isolation,’ the clinic says.
Hale was reportedly ‘autistic but high-functioning,’ an unnamed friend told the Daily Beast. Autism is a common issue among girls and young trans women, various studies show.
While Hale was opting to use male pronouns and was socially transitioning by wearing boyish clothing, it’s not clear if she received sex-reassignment treatment, such as the male hormone testosterone.
Genspect, which campaigns against gender-affirming care for young people, on Tuesday noted that ‘when females are given testosterone, their propensity for violence quickly increases.’
Trans rights have become a frontline issue in America’s culture wars, with Republican lawmakers in Hale’s home state, Tennessee, and elsewhere restricting access to sex-reassignment treatments in a broader push against radical gender ideology.
Erin Reed, another prominent trans voice, has described the legislative push as part of an ‘ongoing anti-trans genocide in the US.’ Many members of the trans community have vowed to fight back.
Protestors at pro-trans rallies against the law have been seen with banners decrying the ‘trans genocide.’ Some trans activists say their community is under attack and need to defend themselves, including with arms.
Hale employed two assault weapons and a handgun during the assault on the elementary school, the latest in a long string of US mass shootings that have turned guns into a hot-button political issue.
Those three guns were among seven Hale bought legally from five area stores, Drake told reporters.
Hale’s parents did not know that Hale was in possession of seven guns, the chief said, adding that they were under the impression that the suspect had owned only one gun but had sold it.
Drake said it appeared that the suspect had some sort of training with firearms. Hale fired on officers from the second floor as they arrived in patrol cars while standing back from large windows to avoid becoming an easy target.
Monday’s violence marked the 90th school shooting — defined as any incident in which a gun is discharged on school property — in the US this year, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database, a website founded by researcher David Riedman.
Last year saw 303 such incidents, the highest of any year in the database, which goes back to 1970.
The three nine-year-old children who were killed were identified as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney. Also shot dead were Katherine Koonce, 60, the head of school; Mike Hill, 61, a school custodian; and Cynthia Peak, 61, a substitute teacher.
Scruggs’ father, Chad, is a pastor at the Covenant Presbyterian Church, which is connected to the school. In a statement given to ABC News, he said the family was heartbroken.
‘Through tears we trust that she is in the arms of Jesus who will raise her to life once again,’ the statement read.
The school in a statement said: ‘Our community is heartbroken. We are grieving tremendous loss and are in shock coming out of the terror that shattered our school and church.’
Nashville police began receiving calls about a shooter at 10:13 am, spokesperson Don Aaron told reporters on Monday. The suspect was pronounced dead by 10:27 am. ‘The police department response was swift,’ Aaron added.