Tennessee judge set to decide whether a Nashville school shooter’s journals are public records

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Some of the writings of a former student who fatally shot three 9-year-old children and three adult staff members at a private Christian elementary school last year can be released to the public without compromising the investigation, a lawyer for police said in court Tuesday.

The comments by attorney Lora Fox came on day one of a two-day hearing over whether records collected by police investigating the March 27, 2023, shooting at the Covenant School can be made public.

Metro Nashville Police have said that an exception to the Tennessee Public Records Act allows them to keep the records private until their investigation is complete. On Tuesday, Fox maintained that position but said a subset of the records — the writings found in the shooter’s car — “Metro believes can be released.”

However, an attorney representing the Covenant School argued that a different law forbidding the release of information, records, or plans related to school security should prevail. Construed broadly, the school safety exception could apply to all of the shooter’s writings, Peter Klett argued, because releasing them could inspire copycats.

“You do have individuals who could take the writings of the shooter and commit violence against the Covenant School or some other school. As a result, your honor, we believe that that presents a serious security threat to the Covenant School and other schools in this community and elsewhere,” he said.

Those seeking the immediate release of the records include news outlets, a gun rights group, a law enforcement nonprofit and Tennessee State Sen. Todd Gardenhire. They argue there is no meaningful criminal investigation underway since the shooter is dead, killed by police. It does not matter that the investigation is officially still open.

“If there is an open investigation but not a contemplated criminal action, the records need to come out,” said attorney Nicholas Berry, who represents Star News Digital Media. “A theoretically possible criminal proceeding is not sufficient.”

The shooter left behind at least 20 journals, a suicide note and a memoir, according to court filings. A few pages of one journal were leaked to a conservative commentator who posted them to social media in November. Part of the interest in the records stems from the fact that the shooter, who police say was “assigned female at birth,” may have identified as a transgender man.

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, of Missouri, is among those who have promoted a theory that the shooting was a hate crime against Christians. The delay in releasing the writings has fueled speculation — particularly in conservative circles — regarding what they might contain and conspiracy theories about why police won’t release them.

Further complicating the issue, a group of Covenant School parents last week gained ownership rights to the shooter’s writings. They have threatened in court filings to copyright them and sue anyone who publishes them. Further testimony about the copyright claims is expected to take place on Wednesday, when the hearing continues.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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