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Parents, Including ERLC President Brent Leatherwood, Fight To Keep Writings of Nashville School Shooter Sealed

Nashville Shooting
FILE - Covenant School parent Brent Leatherwood, center, listens during a status hearing in Chancellor I'Ashea L. Myles courtroom involving the release of records related to the the March school shooting Monday, May 22, 2023 in Nashville, Tenn. Leatherwood is part of a group whose children attend The Covenant School. The group is trying to keep the shooter's writings from being released to the public. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

A legal battle is underway regarding the writings of the shooter who killed six people at a Nashville school in March. Numerous family members, school employees, and officials are opposed to releasing the Nashville shooter’s writings, while media outlets want them to be made public.

On March 27, 2023, a 28-year-old former student at The Covenant School went on a shooting rampage, killing three 9-year-old students and three adult staff members. In early June, ownership of the shooter’s writings transferred to families at the school, according to attorney David Raybin. After a court hearing, he told reporters, “If [the families] own the papers, then they have standing over whether they will be released or not.”

Groups who joined together in a lawsuit to make the writings publicly available have appealed.

Nashville Shooter’s Writings Add Trauma, Say Families

During the week of June 19, family members of the victims and survivors filed new declarations in favor of withholding the Nashville shooter’s writings. They cited continuing trauma from the tragedy, detailing how their children are struggling with grief and loss.

Michael and Katy Dieckhaus, whose daughter Evelyn was killed at The Covenant School, wrote that their “life and family has been turned upside down.” According to their declaration, they are seeking “change that does not include releasing volumes of leverage for others planning similar devastation in this nation.”

Erin Kinney, whose son William also died in the attack, wrote about the invasions of privacy her family has endured from the media since March 27. Releasing the shooter’s writings would grant “immortality” to a “mass murderer,” she argued. Kinney said if the writings contained any hints of “a cover-up or conspiracy,” then the grieving parents would be the first to push for their release.

The father of two Covenant School students detailed his children’s ongoing nightmares and fears of crowds. “We pray that the shooter’s writings are never released to the public for fear of a copycat killer being inspired by an evil voice from the grave,” he wrote. “The victims of The Covenant School shooting are silenced forever, so why give voice to a villain?”

Jennifer Nelson, the mother of two surviving students, urged the judge: “Please do not release these writings and cause further victimization and pain to my children. They have already suffered enough.”

Brent Leatherwood, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has three children who attend The Covenant School and survived the shooting. About the early-June ownership transfer of the shooter’s writings to parents, he said it was “extraordinary by any definition” but still being figured out legally. (The writings remained in the custody of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department.)

“But you should know,” Leatherwood added, “the parents and the families have asked our attorneys to leave no stone unturned as we pursue our objective to keep all of these writings out of the public domain.”

Use Shooter’s Writings to ‘Protect the Public,’ Others Say

Several officials have sided with parents, saying the release of a mass shooter’s manifesto might inspire copycat attacks. A former FBI special agent pointed out that the FBI already has the Nashville shooter’s writings on file and can “use that information to protect the public.”