NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Three school staff members are being hailed as heroes after a man tried to force his way onto a Nashville elementary school’s property. The moment terrified not only staff members, but students as they watched from the playground.
“Me and another teacher noticed him kind of just mingling at the bottom of the playground. You start to get the feeling that something just doesn’t feel right,” said Rachel Davis, remembering the moment she had that feeling earlier in May.
Davis, along with another teacher, noticed the man hanging out near the fence, just outside of the playground. During the initial conversation, Davis remembers speaking with the man, later identified as Onreka Gray, and telling him that if he needed assistance, he would need to go to the front office and speak with someone.
Davis said Gray wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“I just heard Mrs. Davis say, ‘He’s trying to get into the building, he’s trying to get into the building.’ So, immediately, I’m like you’re not getting into this building, like to the top of my lungs yelling, ‘You are not getting into this building,'” remembered Katrina Thomas, the security officer at the elementary school.
“As soon as the door was opened to let the kids in, he hopped the fence and started racing to come to the door,” Davis said. “I remember just grabbing him and just trying to hold on super tight, and my kids are just staring at me.”
Davis said that’s when Gray forced his way inside. Davis jumped on top of him and they fell to the ground. Other staff members jumped in to help make sure he didn’t get inside the school.
“I’m yelling at the kids, ‘Run y’all, run!’ So, all the kids got in,” said Thomas.
Shay Patton, the school’s bookkeeper who also rushed over to help. “I had my phone in my hand, and called Mrs. Croft, our principal, and said ‘Mrs Croft there’s a…’ and then he kicked my phone or punched my phone, or something.”
Patton still has a hard time being near the playground where it all started.
“The next day, I heard the playground door from in the hallway. I heard the kids in the hallway and the door buzzed and I just like stopped, you know it’s always just like that fear,” Patton said.
For Thomas, the incident hit especially close to home, as her niece was among the children outside playing when Gray tried to force his way inside.
“If something happened to her, I just don’t know. Just even thinking about that, it’s hard still. It’s still hard to think about that, and even seeing her face afterward. I had to turn around and I just lost it,” remembered Thomas.
On Tuesday, the three women faced Gray once again inside the courtroom. Gray is facing charges including assault, resisting arrest and aggravated criminal trespassing. All three said it was difficult to see him again, but coming back to the school and the playground, it’s hard not to think about what could have happened if Gray had made his way through the school.
“I remember just this strong desire, I was going to do anything to do in my power to make sure that these kids in this school building were going to be safe,” said Davis.
Thomas explained, “Imagining what could have happened. Just imagining what could have happened if it wasn’t for Mrs. Davis, me and Shay. Just imagining.”
The Metro Nashville Public School District came to the elementary school to assess the fence. There are plans underway to replace it with something taller to prevent this from happening again.