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Nashville searches for healing after this week's school shooting left 6 people dead

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

The community of Nashville is trying to heal after a school shooting this week left six dead, including three 9-year-old children.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

At a citywide vigil last night, Nashville Mayor John Cooper recognized the police officers who rushed the shooter at the Covenant School and pleaded for a new way, free of such violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN COOPER: With God's help, let us resolve to go forward to create a better future and a future that does not repeat this week's tragedy.

MARTÍNEZ: First Lady Jill Biden joined Mayor Cooper and other civic leaders, along with several musicians who performed at the event that drew hundreds of mourners.

PFEIFFER: NPR's Claudia Grisales joins us now from Nashville. Good morning, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Sacha.

PFEIFFER: This was one of several vigils planned for Nashville this week. You were there. What kind of things were you hearing people say?

GRISALES: This is obviously a community in the midst of deep suffering and trying to make sense of a senseless tragedy. It was held in the center of the city, in downtown Nashville at Public Square Park. This is a popular gathering place here. But, of course, the occasion was much more somber. Dozens of local and state officials led this vigil as many in the crowd held candles. And we heard moving performances by several musicians, including singer Sheryl Crow. And you can see many friends and families huddling in groups, embracing each other, holding each other up in some cases, and some praying and some visibly crying.

PFEIFFER: Did you talk to anyone individually?

GRISALES: Yes, and I heard a real range of emotions from people there, from obvious sadness to anger. I spoke with one woman who had been praying with a group she'd just met at the vigil, Carley Spaeth, a 19-year-old who attends university about two miles from the Covenant School, who said the vigil marked a significant moment.

CARLEY SPAETH: I think tonight it's really important that we come together just to honor the children and the adults and the families and the school and just the community that was impacted and just continue to pray.

GRISALES: Spaeth said she had friends who taught at the school, and they're all trying to lean on each other now.

PFEIFFER: And, Claudia, this is, again, creating a debate over access to guns. Did you talk to people in the community about that?

GRISALES: Yes, and I heard from a lot of people who say the country's woefully behind on limiting access to weapons. One of those was RaCarol Woodard. She runs a nonprofit called Equity Alliance, focused on Black communities. She said the Covenant School shooting has ripped through the entire community, and she's really frustrated.

RACAROL WOODARD: We don't have gun laws, period. We think we do, but they're not sufficient. And also, we're losing our children at the cost of someone's agenda, as someone being mad about a red or a blue party when it's so much bigger than that.

GRISALES: She said she was moved to see so many representatives from around the state and the first lady there at the vigil, and that it was a reminder that there is still immense support to address gun control. But that all said, this remains an especially difficult issue around the country, and especially in Tennessee, which is led by a Republican governor, a Republican legislature. And they've moved in the opposite direction in recent years to actually ease access to weapons.

PFEIFFER: That is NPR's Claudia Grisales in Nashville. Claudia, thank you.

GRISALES: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.