‘Family sometimes comes second’: Oath to protect drove Covenant School response, detective says

“In instances like this, I don’t get to stop and say, ‘time out,’” Detective Sgt. Jeff Mathes said.
Detective Sgt. Jeff Mathes describes responding to The Covenant School.
Published: Apr. 6, 2023 at 1:52 PM EDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) – More than a week ago, a former Covenant School student entered the Nashville private school and opened fire, killing six inside.

One of the law enforcement officers who responded to the school and helped thwart the threat credits his training and oath to serve and protect the people of Nashville as one of the reasons there weren’t more casualties.

“Not knowing what I was walking into, I went through that door with purpose. I knew the gravity of that situation,” Detective Sgt. Jeff Mathes said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference. “... I took an oath on June 4th of 2012 to serve and protect this community. My family sometimes comes second. It has to. In instances like this, I don’t get to stop and say time out. I’m going to go talk to my wife. Talk to my kids. I’m here to make sure everybody else goes home.”

Mathes said March 27 started as a normal day. But when he and other detectives received the 9000, or active shooter call, they did not hesitate.

“When the address went out, I knew exactly where it was based on my personal life. I do frequent that area. I’ve always known that to be the church on the hill … but now, I will know that it’s The Covenant School,” he said. “My response along with three of my detectives was to run out the door. We donned our vests with ballistic protection and drove to the school.”

When Mathes arrived at the school, he armed himself and went inside with Officer Rex Engelbert, Detective Michael Collazo and others.

The officers stepped over at least one victim on their way to find the shooter. They proceeded up the stairs, walking through plumes of smoke and the smell of gunfire. The shooter was quickly found, shot and killed by the team.

But their job was not over, according to Mathes.

“In an active shooter situation, you don’t know if there are one or many,” he said.

After a week of reflection, Mathes said he will never wear red and black, the school’s colors, the same. He added that one day, he will tell his 11-month-old son about March 27 and The Covenant School shooting. But he will focus on the bravery of the responding officers and emergency personnel that day.

“The biggest thing that I will instill in him is how proud I am of the actions of not only other officers but also what I did, not knowingly doing,” Mathes said. “Our training kicked in. It’s what should have happened. It’s what happened.”