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Evelyn Dieckhaus, 9, is remembered as a 'beacon of light and hope' in first Nashville school shooting funeral

Amid a dark mood in Nashville, the girl's church pastor reminded mourners of Evelyn's aura of "hope and love."
Evelyn Dieckhaus
Evelyn Dieckhaus was one of six people killed on March 27 in the assault at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn. via AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Evelyn Dieckhaus had planned to spend Friday singing Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" in a play about jazz at her school.

Instead, mourners wearing pastel colors packed into Woodmont Christian Church to remember the 9-year-old "shining light" who was killed in a rampage Monday. Among them, country music singer Vince Gill, who sang Armstrong's song in her honor.

"Evelyn could have been anything,” senior pastor Clay Stauffer said. "But she chose to be a beacon of light and hope, love and joy to those around her.”

Evelyn’s funeral was the first held for a victim of Monday’s massacre at The Covenant School. A photo of her on the programs, with a big smile and a bright pink headband pushing back her light blond hair, filled the room for the celebration of her life.

Mourners embrace after a funeral service held for The Covenant School shooting victim Evelyn Dieckhaus at the Woodmont Christian Church Friday, March 31, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.
Mourners embrace after a funeral service held for The Covenant School shooting victim Evelyn Dieckhaus at the Woodmont Christian Church, in Nashville, Tenn., on Friday.Wade Payne / AP

“She was an incredible girl,” Stauffer told mourners, who included Mayor John Cooper and Chief of Police John Drake.

Attendees, who filled the church that was less than 3 miles from the site of the attack, arrived in springtime colors as a tribute to the child's spirit. A spectrum of pinks, blues and greens filled the venue and overflow areas. Many wiped away tears as they wept, while children held stuffed animals given out by the church in memory of Evelyn.

The shooting killed three students and three adults. In addition to Evelyn, authorities identified the victims as Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, both age 9; school head Katherine Koonce, 60; substitute teacher Cynthia Peak, 61; and school custodian Mike Hill, 61.

The horrific act of violence was committed by a former Covenant student who police officers gunned down as the suspect opened fire on arriving law enforcement, authorities said. A motive has not yet been made public.

Stauffer thanked police and first responders, saying, “All of you are amazing. Thank you for everything that you do for our city.”

The recognition was met with loud and sustained applause. 

In an obituary published in the Tennessean, the 9-year-old's family described Evelyn as "strong but never pushy," with a self-composure beyond her years.

She also loved music.

"Whether she was singing along to her favorite songs (especially from her well-played Hamilton or Taylor Swift albums) or composing her own songs on the piano, guitar, or ukulele, Evelyn had a wonderful sensibility for music. Her voice was angelic," her obituary reads. 

Evelyn Dieckhaus, lower left, with her family.
Evelyn Dieckhaus, lower left, with her family.Courtesy Dieckhaus family

Evelyn's uncle, Jeff Dieckhaus, said during the service that his niece was “our family’s shining light” and was “always happy, always smiling.”

“She had the courage of a tiger and a spirit that far outsized her 9-year-old body,” he said.

The most important thing to Evelyn was her family, he said. She also loved babies and animals and nature, he said.

She was also known as an “adoring little sister” to Eleanor, her uncle said: The two were almost always connected — playing together, snuggling and holding hands while they walked.

They were “each other’s biggest fans,” Dieckhaus said. “At their core, they were best friends and loved each other so much.”

At the service, Dieckhaus shared some words from Evelyn’s big sister.

“Evelyn was funny, caring and super knowledgeable. She was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Earlier in the week, Evelyn’s older sister cried at a vigil at the church and could be heard saying through tears, “I don’t want to be an only child,” The Tennessean reported.

As services for other victims were scheduled for the weekend and next week, it was clear the attack had left the community grieving and stunned.

Stauffer, the pastor, tried to lift the community’s darkness.

“We’re here to celebrate Evelyn’s life, who she was, the way she loved,” he told the parishioners and mourners. “Her death is tragic, but it will not be in vain. Faith, hope and love will get us through this time.

“Evelyn has left an afterglow for our entire community."

Daniella Silva reported from Nashville. Elizabeth Chuck from New York. Dennis Romero from California.