Fact Check

Have All Attackers in US School Shootings Been Men?

The question surfaced in the aftermath of The Covenant School shooting in Nashville.

Published March 27, 2023

Updated March 27, 2023
 (Bettmann / Contributor / Via Getty Images)
Image courtesy of Bettmann / Contributor / Via Getty Images
Claim:
Until the March 27, 2023, Tennessee school shooting, all U.S. school shootings were carried out by men.
Context

There were conflicting reports regarding the gender identity of the assailant in the shooting at The Covenant School. Initially, reputable news outlets reported the attacker was female, citing police for that information. Later, Nashville police stated the perpetrator was Audrey Hale, 28, and identified as transgender. Speaking to The Daily Beast, an unnamed source reportedly close to Hale's family said she "recently announced she was transgender, identifying as he/him."

Editor's Note: According to a New York Times update, Nashville Chief of Police John Drake stated that the Covenant School shooter was Audrey Hale, 28, of Nashville, and identified as transgender. He did not indicate how police concluded Hale was transgender. The Trans Journalists Association issued a statement urging caution around using that descriptor. 


On March 27, 2023, a shooter entered The Covenant School, a private Christian school for preschool to sixth grade, and opened fire, killing six, as reported by The New York Times shortly after the event:

A heavily armed woman entered a Christian school in Nashville on Monday morning and fatally shot three children and three staff members before she was shot and killed by the police, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department said.

The spokesman, Don Aaron, said that investigators were working to identify the woman who had opened fire at the Covenant School, which serves about 200 students from preschool through 6th grade, according to its website. The 28-year-old woman was armed with two assault-style rifles and a handgun, the police said, and it was not immediately clear if she had any connection to the school.

Authorities had not released the name of the shooter, as of midday March 27, whom police reportedly shot and killed. The police chief told reporters in a live broadcast that the suspect is a 28-year-old female who lives in the Nashville area and had attended the school at some point in the past.

Later, Nashville police chief John Drake told reporters the attacker was Audrey Hale, 28, of Nashville, and identified as transgender. (He did not indicate how police came to that conclusion regarding Hale's gender identity.) Drake said officials "feel that she identifies as trans, but we're still in the initial investigation into all of that and if it actually played a role into this incident," NBC reported. Speaking to The Daily Beast, an unnamed source reportedly close to Hale's family said she "recently announced she was transgender, identifying as he/him."

Nearly all school shootings in U.S. history have been perpetrated by males (the trend holds for mass shootings at other locales, as well), and many online users described this development as a potential first carried out by a female, or femme-identifying person.

However, not all U.S. school shootings have been committed by men. One of the nation's earliest school shootings, at a San Diego area elementary school, was carried out by a then-16-year-old girl, Brenda Spencer. On Jan. 29, 1979, she used a rifle given to her by her father and began "picking off students heading to the elementary school directly across the street from her home," as reported 50 years later by the San Diego Tribune: 

Spencer, then 16, armed with the rifle and scope her father gave her for Christmas, started picking off students heading to the elementary school directly across the street from her Lake Atlin Avenue home. [Charles] Miller was one of her victims.

She fired 36 rounds. Eleven hit their mark — eight children and three adults. [Principal Burton] Wragg and [Head Custodian Michael] Suchar died; the others, including San Diego police Officer Robert Robb, survived their wounds.

Spencer fired at the school for about 20 minutes and famously told a reporter who reached her by phone that she was shooting because "I just don't like Mondays… I did this because it's a way to cheer up the day."

When asked, Spencer told a reporter who reached her by phone that she was shooting because "I just don't like Mondays… I did this because it's a way to cheer up the day." As Snopes reported in an earlier fact check, this comment inspired the 1979 Boomtown Rats song, "I Don't Like Mondays." 

A more recent example of such shootings was the May 2021 school shooting at Rigby Middle School in Idaho that injured three. That attack was carried out by a sixth-grade girl.

Because previous school shootings have been perpetrated by a female, we rate this claim "False."

Sources

Howard, Jacqueline, and Madison  Park. "Why Female Shooters Are Rare." CNN, 8 May 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/08/health/female-shooters-rare/index.html.

Farr, Kathryn. "Adolescent Rampage School Shootings: Responses to Failing Masculinity Performances by Already-Troubled Boys." Gender Issues, vol. 35, no. 2, June 2018, pp. 73–97. Springer Link, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12147-017-9203-z.

Levenson, Michael, et al. "Live Updates: Armed Woman Kills 6 in Nashville School." The New York Times, 27 Mar. 2023. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2023/03/27/us/nashville-shooting-covenant-school.

"Released Documents Shed New Light on What Happened the Day of the Rigby Middle School Shooting." East Idaho News, 7 Apr. 2022, https://www.eastidahonews.com/2022/04/unsealed-documents-shed-new-light-on-what-happened-the-day-of-the-rigby-middle-school-shooting/.

Repard, Pauline. "40 Years Ago, Brenda Spencer Took Lives, Changed Lives in a Mass Shooting at a San Diego Elementary School." San Diego Union-Tribune, 29 Jan. 2019, https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/public-safety/sd-me-brenda-spencer-school-shooting-20190129-story.html.
 

Updates

Update [March 27, 2023]: Added editor's note with info from Nashville police chief about shooter's identity.

March 27, 2023: This report was updated to reflect new information from Nashville police regarding the attacker's gender identity, as well as reporting by The Daily Beast.

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.