Nashville School Shooting Claims the Life of Covenant School Leader: 'She Was a Beautiful Person'

Dr. Katherine Koonce, the head of The Covenant School in Nashville, was among the six victims killed during Monday's mass shooting Katherine KoonceHead of School
Photo: The Covenant School

An elementary school principal is one of six individuals who were killed after a shooter opened fire at a private school on Monday

Dr. Katherine Koonce, 60, the head of The Covenant School, died after 28-year-old Audrey Hale, who once attended the Nashville-based institution, entered through the side entrance of its building before opening fire, explained Nashville Police Department spokesman Don Aaron in a press conference.

Koonce is remembered as a good friend and passionate educator.

Diane Button told PEOPLE she met Koonce when her 8-year-old daughter started at Christ Presbyterian Academy, where Koonce worked before moving to the Covenant School.

"Katherine was as solid as a friend could be," Button said. "Her faith was her foundation. Her family was her greatest love, yet she always wanted to work and give back so other families and children could also feel loved and cared for."

Koonce was there for Button during a cancer diagnosis.

"Their family was so good to us, and Katherine always made sure my daughter was included. She made such a big difference in our lives," Button said. "You could always count on Katherine to show up with her giant heart and her brilliant mind. There is no doubt in my mind that she died while giving herself wholeheartedly to those children and co-workers she loved so much."

Rev. Dr. M.D. Edmonson said on Twitter that he recently "had the great privilege of worshipping with Dr. Katherine Koonce, head of Covenant School."

"Today, she went to be with the savior she loved while protecting the children she loved. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy," Edmonson said. The Covenant School @CovenantKnights Read about our new Head of School, Dr. Katherine Koonce, in her own words. We are excited!
Dr. Katherine Koonce. The Covenant School

"She was such a beautiful person," adds Olivia Bell, a friend of Koonce in a statement to PEOPLE.

"She took me under her wing during Covid. We met playing pickleball and played as partners in a couple of tournaments. She loved her school. She was always answering her cell phone and helping her teachers when they had questions. She had such a great outlook on life and I am better for knowing her. It is so senseless and tragic."

The school's custodian, Mike Hill, 61, and Cynthia Peak, 61, identified as a staff member by Nashville News Channel 5, were also among the adult victims. Three 9-year-old children — Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, 9 — were also identified as victims.

Prior to her start at the school, Koonce served as the Director of Learning Services and Academic Dean at Nashville's Christ Presbyterian Academy. According to her LinkedIn profile, she received her doctorate degree from Trevecca Nazarene University in 2015.

Koonce was announced as The Covenant School's new Head of School in April 2016. According to its website, The Covenant School was founded in 2001 by the Covenant Presbyterian Church, and the average enrollment is between 195 and 210 students.

"At the Covenant School, we are about more than simply educating our students — we are participating in the miracle of their development and seeing them transform into who they will be," reads a letter written by Koonce found on the school's website. "Impactful teaching methods and programs, daily all-school chapel, and school-wide service-learning are the backdrop for the real work — helping children become who God intends them to be."

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"As we capture our children's attention and their minds for learning, we also want to capture their hearts in relationships that challenge their thinking and help them learn critical skills," the letter continues. "Our graduates attend the finest schools in the Nashville area, where they not only excel academically, but also act with character that comes from authentic faith in Jesus."

A parent of a prior student spoke out after her children's time at The Covenant School and Koonce's impact by writing in a Facebook post on Monday, "Our children were fully known and deeply loved by @covenantknights during our time in Nashville. And specifically by this woman, Dr. Katherine Koonce. We are heartbroken! We mourn with our forever community in Nashville. #thecovenantschool #prayforCovenant"

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