Mainstream media outlets struggled to describe the sex of the mass shooter who claimed six lives at a private Christian grade school in Nashville on Monday, first describing the female perpetrator a woman in response to reports from the authorities and then racing to correct themselves once it became clear that the shooter identified as a man.
After initially describing the shooter as female in official department statements, Nashville police chief John Drake said during a Monday afternoon press conference that the shooter, a former student at the Covenant School, identified as transgender. Asked by a reporter whether the shooter identified as a trans woman or a trans man, Drake responded “trans woman,” which added to the confusion by creating the impression that the shooter was a male who identified as female.
Prior to the confirmation that the shooter identified as transgender, the New York Times tweeted out an article noting that female “assailants in mass shootings in the U.S. — like the one that occurred on Monday in Nashville — are extremely rare.” The publication felt compelled to flag they had misidentified the mass shooter later that evening.
“There was confusion later on Monday about the gender identity of the assailant in the Nashville shooting. Officials had used ‘she’ and ‘her’ to refer to the suspect, who, according to a social media post and a LinkedIn profile, appeared to identify as a man in recent months.”
There was confusion later on Monday about the gender identity of the assailant in the Nashville shooting. Officials had used “she” and “her” to refer to the suspect, who, according to a social media post and a LinkedIn profile, appeared to identify as a man in recent months.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 28, 2023
USA Today issued a similar release correcting its initial description of the shooter as a woman and blaming “Officials [who] had initially misidentified the gender of the shooter.”
Police on Monday afternoon said that the shooter was a transgender man. Officials had initially misidentified the gender of the shooter.
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) March 27, 2023
CNN also included a note on the evolving story of the assailant’s gender underscoring that they were first identified as a “female shooter” by police and that a law enforcement spokesperson later confirmed the assailant used “male pronouns” across social media. The outlet opted not to use pronouns to refer to the shooter in its coverage.
Some outlets and pundits tied the shooting to recently passed Tennessee legislation criminalizing public drag shows and the provision of puberty-blocking hormones to minors.
ABC News anchor Terry Moran mischaracterized the legislation and implied it may have been related to the attack.
“The shooter identified herself as a transgender person. The state of Tennessee earlier this month passed and the governor signed a bill that banned transgender medical care for minors as well as a law that prohibited adult entertainment as well as male and female impersonators after a series of drag show controversies in that state,” he said.
A freelance NBC reporter, meanwhile, linked the shooting to the right-wing media brand The Daily Wire, which is based in Nashville and has focused heavily on coverage of the trans issue in its reporting and commentary.
Deleted, but The List comes for all, @benryanwriter.
— The List (@ListComesForAll) March 27, 2023
The shooter left behind a manifesto, according to police, but no information about motive has yet been released.