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Mourners gather in Nashville to share their grief over Monday's school shooting

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

In memory of the victims of The Covenant School shooting in Nashville, people are creating memorials out of flowers, notes and teddy bears. These tributes to the three 9-year-old children and three adults who died have also become places for people to bond in their grief, as NPR's Claudia Grisales reports.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: One after another, the mourners dodged traffic by foot along a busy two-lane road to reach one of the makeshift memorials at The Covenant School. Nicole Zielinski is overwhelmed by emotion when she remembers the Green Hills neighborhood as a once peaceful place for holiday visits.

NICOLE ZIELINSKI: I used to ride with my parents to look at Christmas lights when I was little and all the million-dollar houses that are being built - just the change. And this is not a change that I thought would happen.

GRISALES: Zielinski placed six white roses at the memorial for those killed - the school's headmaster, a custodian, a teacher and three children. The 28-year-old echoes what many other mourners say during their visits - that the country's gun laws need to change.

ZIELINSKI: I want these congressmen and women to know that our generations are coming up. And we vote, and we're pissed.

GRISALES: The real estate worker says the shooting marked the end of a dream that Nashville could escape the country's rash of mass school shootings. Zielinski says she'll never drive down these roads the same again.

ZIELINSKI: We're a statistic, you know? Our bubble is burst. The Nashville bubble is burst.

GRISALES: Down the road to another entrance to the expansive property that includes Covenant Presbyterian Church and the school, more mourners gather at an even larger memorial. This is where Los Angeles artist Noah Reich and his partner are drawing admirers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Very pretty.

NOAH REICH: Thank you. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Nice of you to travel so far to do that.

REICH: Thank you. Thank you.

GRISALES: The couple came here to build large wooden altars with photos and decorative vines for each of the victims. Tragically, they have a lot of experience - building altars at Club Q in Colorado, Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, and other sites. Reich says he's worried that the identity of the shooter in Nashville as possibly a transgender person has been politicized, especially in Tennessee, where LGBTQ rights are at the center of a political storm.

REICH: We've been talking with people here. We've been praying alongside people. And we've also just been reminding people that the shooter is not indicative of an entire community.

GRISALES: And as mourners of this community gather, Reich hopes they will be on a path to healing. Claudia Grisales, NPR News, Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SOUL'S RELEASE'S "TRUTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
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