NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Hill, a 61-year-old custodian who was among the six people killed in last week’s attack at a Nashville elementary school, was remembered Tuesday for his loving nature, his culinary skills and his faith.
Hundreds of friends and family members turned out for Hill’s funeral at Stephens Valley Church, where pastor Jim Bachmann said the hearts of the congregation were aching for the man they called “Big Mike.”
“He was big, and he was strong, and he was tough,” Bachmann said. “But he was also soft and tender.”
“He hugged my kids and he hugged your kids, and he knew them by name,” Bachmann said. “As the first victim — maybe this is a sentimental thought, but it’s a comfort to me to think that Mike was there to welcome the children through the pearly gates.”
Hill was among the three adults and three 9-year-old students who were killed in the March 27 mass shooting at The Covenant School. Police shot and killed the 28-year-old former student who carried out the attack. At a news conference Tuesday, several officers described how they had to step around victims and run toward gunfire to find the attacker, amid smoke and smell of gunpowder.
Hill was one of the few African American members of Stephens Valley, a mostly white suburban church that he attended because of his friendship with Bachmann. The pastor previously founded Covenant Presbyterian Church, where the The Covenant School was located, and the two met and became friends while working there together, Bachmann said.
The pastor, who is white, said he and Hill were “about as different as two people could be” but shared a faith in Jesus through which “we will be together in heaven for all eternity.”
The funeral service blended worship traditions, alternating a powerful hymn from a Black gospel choir with meditative instrumental pieces for violin and piano. It concluded with a rendition of “Amazing Grace” played on the bagpipes and drums.
Hill had seven children and and 14 grandchildren, and he liked spending time with his family and cooking, according to an obituary.
Bachmann recalled that Hill would often bring him freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. For special occasions, he might bring a pecan or chess pie.
“He led me into temptation. He did not deliver me from it,” Bachmann joked.
Addressing the shooting, Bachmann said tragedies like this evoke many emotions besides grief, including anger and confusion.
“People want change. They want action. They want leadership. They want something decisive to happen so that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again,” he said. “Of course we all want that.”
Bachmann said he doesn’t have the answers, but he called on those assembled to follow Jesus’s commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.”
“Love one another and we will have the kind of world we want,” he said. “And we’ll have peace like a river and righteousness like the waves of the sea.”
Chief John Drake told reporters at a later news conference that he has attended the five funerals held so far.
The Metro Nashville Police Department brought in several officers to recount how they pursued the shooter at the school.
Drake said the school’s active shooting training likely prevented more deaths, pointing out how school staff knew to have kids hide by standing against walls, away from windows and out of hallways.
The department has said that during the attack, the shooter fired 152 rounds before being killed by police. Two officers shot four rounds each, police have said. Police declined to get into additional specifics Tuesday about the gunfire that ended with the shooter’s death.
Rex Engelbert, one of the first officers to enter the school, said he wasn’t assigned to the precinct. He was heading to the police academy when he heard the shooting call and quickly redirected.
“I really had no business being where I was,” Engelbert said. “I think you can call it fate, or God, or whatever you want. But I can’t count on both my hands the irregularities that put me in that position.”
Engelbert’s response is shown on clips of his body camera footage released by the department. A school administrator handed him a key to enter the building, and he shouted out “I need 3!”, instructing other officers to follow him inside.
Det. Sgt. Jeff Mathes, who said he had never seen Engelbert before that day, entered the same way, alongside three detectives. As they cleared out rooms on the first floor, Engelbert and Mathes said they heard gunshots upstairs. Mathes said officers had to step over a victim while moving toward the gunfire.
“Doing what our training tells us to do in those situations and following a stimulus, all of us stepped over a victim,” Mathes said. “I, to this day, don’t know how I did that morally, but training is what kicked in.”
On another side of the school, Det. Michael Collazo said a school employee directed him to enter through the glass door that the shooter had shot through to get into the building. Clips of Collazo’s body camera footage were also made public.
Collazo said that as he entered the school, he saw a person laid out on the ground, not moving. He hit a locked door to the second floor, then began checking rooms on the first floor until hearing shots from above and moved that way. Eventually, his group and Engelbert’s caught up with each other as they moved toward the shooter’s gunfire.
“Once we started hearing the first shots, it kind of kicked into overdrive for us,” Collazo said.
Police have said Engelbert and Collazo were the officers who fired their weapons at the shooter.
Meanwhile, outside, Commander Dayton Wheeler was helping to set up ambulances when gunfire started firing down from the second-floor window. Police have released a photo of bullet holes in a cruiser.
The police chief noted that some officers didn’t slow to put on ballistic helmets before heading into the building. Engelbert said he had not put on his rifle-caliber heavy body armor.
“They got prepared and went right in, knowing that every second, every moment wasted could cost lives,” Drake said.
This version corrects the spelling of Det. Sgt. Jeff Mathes’ surname.