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The Nashville school shooter fell into an emotional spiral after the recent death of a close friend, ex-classmate says

Friends of Audrey Hale, 28, still can't grasp how the "loving" teenager they knew could go launch a deadly attack that killed six people.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Audrey Hale struggled to cope with the death of a close friend in the months before the rampage that killed six people at a private Christian school, those who knew the school shooter said Wednesday.

The 28-year-old, who attacked The Covenant School on Monday, was devastated by the death in August of Sydney Shere Sims in a traffic accident, former classmate Samira Hardcastle said.

Hale and Sims attended Isaiah T. Creswell Middle School of the Arts and the Nashville School of the Arts.

"Audrey definitely admired Sydney," Hardcastle said.

One of Hale's former instructors at the Nossi College of Art & Design, Maria Colomy, said Sims' death took a great emotional toll on her former student.

"A lot of comments about 'you were all that mattered' [and] 'I’ll miss you forever,' etc.," Colomy said, paraphrasing what she saw of Hale's social media postings.

Sims' father declined to comment Wednesday.

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Hale as a teen

Hardcastle struggled to reconcile the kind teenager she knew a decade ago as the same person who fatally shot three 9-year-olds, a school administrator, a custodian and a substitute teacher Monday.

"I saw the [police] body camera videos, and the way she was dressed on Monday is exactly what she looked like in high school," Hardcastle said.

"She wore baggy clothes, kind of mixed-matched clothes. She'd wear a ball cap sometimes," Hardcastle said. "So exactly how they showed her on the bodycam footage was exactly how I remember her looking and how she always dressed."

Another high school classmate broke down in tears while speaking with NBC News on Wednesday, grieving the victims and the shooter, whom police killed.

"I doubt that there's anyone you can talk to who would even be able to answer why. It's not logical," said the woman, who asked not to be named out of fear of online reprisals. "I'll never understand, it because it's not a logical thing to do. I'm very sad for the loss of my friend, and I'm very sad for the families and the loved ones of the victims. I'm very sad for her parents, because they lost their child." 

Hardcastle, a middle school art teacher, last ran into Hale a month ago in downtown Nashville at a show by their mutual friend and radio personality Averianna Patton.

Just before the shooting at The Covenant School, Patton got a message from Hale, who warned that something bad was about to happen.

Covenant school shooting tributes
Floral tributes are left at a memorial outside the entrance to the Covenant School on Wednesday. Wade Payne / AP

Nothing in the brief encounter at Patton's show gave Hardcastle any belief something was going to go horrifically wrong.

"She seemed like she always did, just kind of quiet," she said. "But I don’t know if I could go off that two-minute interaction and say how she was feeling.” 

'So loving to everyone'

Another former classmate of Hale's, Sonia Castelar, said their high school was geared toward the arts and drew a lot of different types of students.

She recalled Hale as dressing in a "quirky, ’90s style" and seeming "nice and quiet." Now, she said, she's "in shock and disgusted with everything."

"We had other students who were transgender or LGBTQ," Castelar said. "Our high school was really accepting of that."

Investigators have stopped short of publicly assigning a motive to Monday’s attack — although Police Chief John Drake hinted that a sense of “resentment” could have fueled Hale’s assault.

The high school version of Hale showed no signs of “resentment” of anyone, Hardcastle said.

“No, definitely not. She was so loving to everyone, and I think she might have just wanted to fit in,” Hardcastle said. “Everyone was kind to her, because they knew she might have been on the spectrum, and she was so kind, so people reciprocated that energy to her.”

Erik Ortiz reported from Nashville and David K. Li from Los Angeles County.