Nashville mass shooting suspect misidentified on social media

  • This article is more than one year old.
  • Published on March 29, 2023 at 16:50
  • 6 min read
Social media users claim four photos show the person who killed three children and three staff members in the Covenant School mass shooting in the US state of Tennessee. This is false; the pictures do not depict Audrey Hale, who police killed at the scene and later identified as the assailant. The images are unrelated and, in one case, recycled from a long-running internet hoax.

"BREAKING: Nashville Police have positively identified the corpse of the suspected Nashville Covenant School shooter as 31 year old Samantha Hyde," says a tweet shared shortly after the March 27, 2023 shooting. "Social media posts indicate Samantha was a trans woman who previously went by the name Samuel."

Dinesh D'Souza, a political commentator who has previously spread misinformation, amplified the claim by using the hashtag #SamanthaPreviouslyKnownAsSam on Gettr, a social media platform catering to conservatives.

Another now-deleted tweet claimed the suspected shooter was someone else: "Clara Sorrenti, (a) 26-year-old female."

Screenshot from Twitter taken March 27, 2023
Screenshot from Twitter taken March 27, 2023



The posts followed a rampage at the Covenant School in which a heavily armed former student killed six people before dying in a shootout with police. Nashville Police Chief John Drake later named the suspect as 28-year-old Audrey Hale, who he said left behind a manifesto and had maps of the small Christian academy.

Shortly after police described Hale as transgender, social media users shared other photos they claimed showed the suspect.

"Audrey Hale, the trans shooter who shot up the Nashville school," says one March 27 tweet featuring two photos, one of which shows a person smiling with glasses and a baseball cap.

Screenshot from Twitter taken March 28, 2023

The same image appeared in several other social media posts about Hale -- including one from Donald Trump Jr, the former US president's eldest son.

Other posts claimed to show a picture of Hale holding a sign showing firearms alongside text that says: "Trans rights ... or else."

"This is the trans shooter, Audrey Hale," said John Sabal, who organizes conferences for supporters of the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory and is known online as "QAnon John," in one such tweet. "This person was a TRANS TERRORIST using that as a REASON to kill Christians, as the sign makes clear."

Screenshot from Twitter taken March 28, 2023

Some of the posts also shared what appear to be authentic photos of Hale. But all four images AFP identified do not show the suspected shooter, whose attack was captured on school security footage and on police officers' body cameras.

A Nashville Police Department spokesperson pointed AFP to a headshot of Hale and other information the agency has made public.

A longstanding hoax and a trans streamer

Posts blaming the massacre on "Samantha Hyde" are the latest iteration of a years-long hoax that originated as a meme on 4chan, a fringe message board.

The picture is an altered photo of comedian Sam Hyde, who has been falsely tied to several past tragedies, including the November 2022 shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Clara Sorrenti, meanwhile, is a transgender activist and video game streamer known to her fans as "Keffals." Sorrenti was forced to flee her home in Canada after she was targeted in an online harassment campaign, NBC News reported.

AFP reached out to Sorrenti on Twitter for comment, but no response was forthcoming. Sorrenti posted February 21 that she was taking a break from social media to enter rehab.

A Pennsylvania Etsy seller

The headshot of a smiling person in a baseball cap shows a creator who makes and sells dioramas of old and abandoned buildings on Etsy.

"This picture is being shown all over Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and that is me," said the account "Aiden Creates" in a March 27 video posted to TikTok and Instagram. "And apparently I'm being confused with the Nashville incident that happened today. I have nothing to do with that. I live in Pennsylvania. So please, if you see any of these posts anywhere that have my photo in it, please report it."

The user, whose age on Etsy is listed as 19, added a similar clarification to their Instagram biography: "PLEASE NOTE: I AM NOT CONNECTED TO THE SHOOTER IN ANOTHER STATE WITH SIMILAR NAME."

"Aiden" is the name that Hale reportedly used on some social media accounts, which also listed he/him pronouns.

PimEyes, a facial recognition tool, matched the person in the photo misrepresented online to the profile picture associated with the "Aiden Creates" TikTok and Instagram accounts.

AFP reached out to the user on Etsy and Instagram for further comment, but no response was forthcoming.

A protester in Oklahoma

The activist pictured carrying a "Trans rights ... or else" sign is also not Hale, the photographer who took it confirmed to AFP.

"The person in the photo I took is NOT the shooter," said "Chels," who requested AFP use their Twitter account name due to safety concerns, in a March 28 direct message.

The user said they snapped the picture during a March 27 protest in Oklahoma City called "Bigotry is Bad for Business."

The original photo, which AFP found using a reverse image search, was tweeted that same day with the caption: "Today in Oklahoma..."

Screenshot from Twitter taken March 28, 2023

In response to another tweet that inaccurately connected the photo to the Nashville shooting, Chels said such claims were "completely false."

The Instagram page that appears to have first suggested the photo showed Hale later walked back the claim, saying: "This is NOT the Nashville shooter."

AFP has debunked misinformation about other US shootings here, here, here and here.

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