Governor Bill Lee

Video Address to the People of Tennessee Following the Tragic Covenant School Shootings

posted 28 March 2023


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Tennesseans, I want to say a few words about what our state experienced yesterday. What happened at Covenant School was a tragedy beyond comprehension.

Like many of you, Iíve experienced tragedy in my own life, and Iíve experienced the day after that tragedy. I woke up this morning with a very familiar feeling, and I recognize that today many Tennesseans are feeling the exact same way -- the emptiness, the lack of understanding, the desperate desire for answers, the desperate need for hope.

All of Tennessee was hurt yesterday, but some parents woke up without children, children woke up without parents, without teachers, and spouses woke up without their loved ones.

Maria woke up this morning without one of her best friends, Cindy Peak. Cindy was supposed to come over to have dinner with Maria last night after she filled in as a substitute teacher yesterday at Covenant. Cindy and Maria and Katherine Koonce were all teachers at the same school and have been family friends for decades.

Four other Tennesseans, members of the Covenant family -- Hallie Scruggs, Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney, and Mike Hill -- were taken in an horrific act of violence.

Six innocent lives -- and three of them were children.

We're enduring a very difficult moment, and I understand there is pain. I understand the desperation to have answers, to place blame, to argue about a solution that could prevent this horrible tragedy.

There will come a time to ask how a person could do this.

There will come a time to discuss and debate policy.

But this is not a time for hate or rage. That will not resolve or heal. Everyone is hurting. Everyone. Remembering that as we grieve and walk together will be the way we honor those who were lost.

We can all agree on one thing -- that every human life has great value. And we will act to prevent this from happening again. There's a clear desire in all of us, whether we agree on the action steps or not, that we must work to find ways to protect against evil.

Yesterday, while we saw the worst of humanity, we also saw the best of humanity -- in the police officers who ran into danger directly -- toward a killer with no regard for their own life, thinking only about those kids, and those teachers, and those administrators.

I had the opportunity to speak with Officer Engelbert and Officer Collazo today -- two brave Tennesseans whose actions saved lives. Gratitude doesnít begin to cover it -- for the utter selflessness of putting their lives between a killer and the innocent.

I'm calling on the people of Tennessee today to pray: for the families of victims, for the Covenant family, for those courageous officers, for the family of the shooter, for those who are hurting and angry and confused.

Prayer is the first thing we should do, but itís not the only thing.

Law enforcement officials and educators across our state have been working for years, especially in the last year, to strengthen the safety of schools. And that work was not in vain. The courage and swift response by the teachers and officers and this community without a doubt prevented further tragedy.

There will be a time to talk about the legislation and the budget proposals that weíve brought forth even this year. And clearly there is more work to do.

But on this day after the tragedy, I want to speak to that which rises above all else. The battle is not against flesh and blood; itís not against people. The struggle is against evil itself.1 We canít forget this -- and itís very difficult -- but we're called to not only love our neighbor, but to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to pray for those who intend harm.2 There is hope in the midst of great tragedy because God is a redeemer. What is meant for evil can be turned for good.3

May we grieve in the days ahead, but not without hope.

May we also act with wisdom, discernment, and grace.

And may we love -- especially those who have lost.

1 Allusion to Ephesians 6:12: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." [NIV];

2 Allusions to Luke 6:27: ďBut to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you," [NASB], and Romans 12:14: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse" [NIV] -- among others.

3 Loosely rendered allusion to Romans 12:21 which expresses the sentiment in an assertively principled tone: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." [NIV]

Original Text Source:

Page Updated: 5/13/23

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