UD criminal justice grad praised as first responder to Nashville school shooting

Pictured is Officer Rex Engelbert, first responder in The Covenant School shooting in Nashville. Photo from the Metro Nashville Police Department Facebook page.

Lucy Waskiewicz | Contributing Writer

Rex Engelbert began the morning of March 27 by driving to the police academy to complete paperwork. By the end of the day, news outlets across the country were calling him a hero.

Metro Nashville Police Officer and University of Dayton graduate Rex Engelbert, 27, was one of the first responders to a shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville on March 27. Engelbert and another officer, Michael Collazo, were credited with taking down the suspect.

Metro Nashville Chief of Police John Drake praised Engelbert and Collazo for what has been described as a “textbook” response to the shooting.

“I want to praise the men and women of the department, especially the two officers who put their lives at risk, not thinking about their own safety but thinking about the safety of those inside that school,” Drake said.

Engelbert is a 2018 graduate of the University of Dayton, where he majored in criminal justice studies. Following graduation, he joined the Nashville Metro Police, where he is currently serving his fourth year.

The Covenant School shooting began at 10:11 a.m. Monday, March 27, when the suspect, 28-year-old Audrey Hale, opened fire on school doors. Nashville police received a call about an active shooting situation at 10:13 a.m., and the school went on lockdown. Police arrived on the scene and entered the building about ten minutes later.

Engelbert was driving to the Metro Police Academy to complete administrative tasks when he got a call that rerouted him to The Covenant School. In a press conference after the shooting, Engelbert described how unique the circumstances were that led to him being so close to school at the time of the call.

“I really had no business being where I was,” Engelbert said. “You can call it fate or God or whatever you want. I can’t count on my hands the irregularities that put me in that position when the call for service went out for an active deadly aggressor at a school.”

In body cam footage released by Nashville police, Engelbert calmly retrieves his rifle outside the school and greets a staff member who tells him where people still are inside the building. He’s the first to unlock a school door and enter, calling for officers to follow him in.

The officers work their way through the school before locating the suspect on the second floor. Engelbert leads a five-man team toward the gunshots. He approaches the scene of visible gunfire and fires the first four shots at the suspect, followed by four more shots seconds later fired by Collazo. The suspect is killed at 10:27 a.m., 14 minutes after the first call is made. 

Six people lost their lives in the shooting— three students, Evelyn Dieckhaus; William Kinney; and Hallie Scruggs, all 9, and substitute teacher Cynthia Peak, 61; custodian Mike Hill, 61; and head of school Katherine Koonce, 60. 

The first responders to The Covenant School shooting, including Engelbert, have been praised for their efficiency, poise and courage in neutralizing the threat. In a quote to Fox News Digital, National Police Associated spokesperson Betsy Brantner Smith described the actions depicted in the officers’ body cam footage as near perfect.

“It’s a training video,” Smith said. “Look at the minute they heard shots fired. They went faster. Rifles first. They’re in there, patting each other on the back. They’re doing all the right things to encourage each other, knowing they’re putting themselves in harm’s way, running toward gunshots, to stop that shooter.”

The actions of Engelbert and the other first responders have been compared to the much-criticized response of police in Uvalde, TX when a shooter killed 21 people in an elementary school as officers took over an hour to end the attack. Smith described Nashville officers’ response as the “antithesis” to that of Uvalde police.

President Joe Biden spoke to Chief Clark and officers Engelbert and Collazo a day after the attack and thanked them “for their bravery and quick response,” according to the White House.

Pictured is Engelbert (third from left) a week prior to the shooting where he was recognized with a “Central Precinct Commander’s Coin” for “precision policing” in assisting in two busts that recovered stolen credit cards, a gun, meth and fentanyl. Photo from the Metro Nashville Police Department Facebook page.

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