NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The writings of the person who killed three 9-year-olds and three adults at a private Christian elementary school in Nashville last year cannot be released to the public, a judge ruled Thursday.

Chancery Court Judge I’Ashea Myles found that The Covenant School children and parents hold the copyright to any writings or other works created by shooter Audrey Hale, a former student who was killed by police. As part of the effort to keep the records closed, Hale’s parents transferred ownership of Hale’s property to the victims’ families, who then argued in court that they should be allowed to determine who has access to them.

Myles agreed, ruling that “the original writings, journals, art, photos and videos created by Hale” are subject to an exception to the Tennessee Public Records Act created by the federal Copyright Act.

The ruling comes more than a year after several groups filed public records requests for documents seized by Metro Nashville Police during their investigation into the March 2023 shooting. Those killed were Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all 9 years old, and adults Cynthia Peak, 61; Katherine Koonce, 60; and Mike Hill, 61.

Part of the interest in the records stems from the fact that Hale, who police say was “assigned female at birth,” may have identified as a transgender man, and some pundits have floated the theory that the journals will reveal a planned hate crime against Christians.

The victims’ families released statements about the ruling on Friday. Cindy Peak’s family wrote, “The last year and a half without Cindy has been difficult. But today brings a measure of relief in our family. Denying the shooter some of the notoriety she sought by releasing her vile and unfiltered thoughts on the world is a result everyone should be thankful for.”

The shooter left behind at least 20 journals, a suicide note and a memoir, according to court filings. When the records requests were denied, several parties sued, and the situation quickly ballooned into a messy mix of conspiracy theories, leaked documents, probate battles and accusations of ethical misconduct. Myles’ order will almost surely be appealed.

After the initial records requests last year, police said they would eventually release the documents but could not do so right away because their investigation was still open. The groups suing for the immediate release of the records — including news outlets, a gun rights group, a law enforcement nonprofit and Tennessee state Sen. Todd Gardenhire — argued that there was no meaningful criminal investigation underway since Hale, who police say acted alone, was dead.

Meanwhile, a group of Covenant parents was allowed to intervene in the case and argue that the records should never become public. They said the release would be traumatic for the families and could inspire copycat attacks.

Myles found that the copycat risk was real and “of grave concern.”

“Hale used the writings of other perpetrators in similar crimes to guide how this plan was constructed and accomplished, mimicking some not only in their methodology, but also choice of weapons and targets,” Myles wrote. “Hale even help past perpetrators out as heroes in their attacks, idolizing them.”

Also intervening in the case were The Covenant School and the Covenant Presbyterian Church, which shares a building. They argued the records should remain closed because their release could threaten their security.

The Associated Press is among the groups that requested the records but did not participate in the lawsuit.

As the court case has dragged on, pages from one journal were leaked to a conservative commentator who posted them to social media in November. More recently, The Tennessee Star published dozens of stories based on allegedly 80 pages of Hale’s writings provided by an unnamed source. The publication is among the plaintiffs, and Myles briefly threatened to hold the paper’s editor-in-chief, Michael Leahy, and owner, Star News Digital Media, in contempt.

Although Myles’ ruling will shield many of the documents created by Hale from public release, other documents in the police file can be released once the case is officially closed as long as they fall under Tennessee’s open records law.

An attorney for the lead plaintiff in the case did not immediately have a reaction to the ruling.


This story was corrected to show that The Associated Press did not participate in the lawsuit.

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