ST. LOUIS (AP) – An armed former student broke into a St. Louis high school Monday morning warning, “You’re going to die!” before fatally shooting a teacher and a young girl, and injuring seven others before police killed him in an exchange of gunfire.
The attack just after 9 am at Central Visual Arts and Arts High School forced students to barricade doors and huddle in classroom corners, jump from windows and run out of the building to seek safety. One terrified girl said she faced the shooter before her gun apparently jammed and she was able to run away.
Speaking at a news conference Monday afternoon, police Chief Michael Sack identified the shooter as 19-year-old Orlando Harris, who graduated from the school last year.
Sack said the motive was still under investigation but “there are suspicions that he may have some mental illness.” Investigators later searched Harris’ home, Sack said.
The authorities did not name the victims, but the St. Louis Post-Sent Jean Kuczka identified the dead teacher. Her daughter said her mother was killed when the gunman burst into her classroom and moved between him and her students.
“My mom loved kids,” Abbey Kuczka told the newspaper. “She loved her students. I know her students looked up to her like she was their mother.”
Sack said the other death was a 16-year-old female who died at the school.
Seven other students aged 15 and 16, four boys and three girls, were in a stable condition. Four students suffered gunshot or stab wounds, two suffered bruised limbs and one had a broken ankle.
Sack declined to say how Harris was able to enter the building, which has security guards, locked doors and metal detectors.
“If there’s someone who has a will, they’re going to figure it out, we don’t want to make it easy for them,” Sack said. “We just had to do our best to extend that time it takes for them to get into the building to buy us time to react.”
Harris took out the gun when he got to the school and “there was no mystery about what was going to happen. He took it out and went into an aggressive, violent way.”
Harris had nearly a dozen high-capacity magazines of ammunition with him, Sack said. “That’s a lot of victims. … It’s certainly tragic for the families and it’s tragic for our community but it could have been a lot worse.”
St. Louis Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams said there were seven security guards at the school at the time of the attack, each stationed at the locked building entrance. One of the guards noticed that the gunman tried unsuccessfully to enter a locked door. The guard notified school officials, who contacted the police.
Sack said the call about a shooter came in at 9:11 a.m. and officers arrived and Harris was down by 9:25 a.m. He and others praised the quick response of officers and other emergency responders.
Visual and Performing Arts Central shares a building with another magnet school, the Collegiate School of Medicine and Biological Sciences. Central has 383 students, Collegiate 336.
Monday’s school shooting was the 40th this year that resulted in injuries or death, according to a tally by Education Week — the most in any year since it began tracking shootings in 2018. The deadly attacks include the killings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May, when 19 children and two teachers died. Monday’s St. Louis shooting came on the same day a Michigan teenager pleaded guilty terrorism and first degree murder in a school shooting that killed four students in December 2021.
Taniya Gholston said she was saved when the shooter’s gun hit her as he entered her classroom. “I only heard two shots and he came in there with a gun,” the 16-year-old told the Post-Dispatch. “I wanted to run and I couldn’t run. He and I made eye contact but I made it out because his gun was cocked.”
Two teachers told of a confrontation between near misses and the shooter.
Ashley Rench told the Associated Press that she was teaching advanced algebra to sophomores when she heard a loud bang. Then the school intercom announced, “Miles Davis is in the building.”
“That’s our code for the intruder,” Rench said.
The students took refuge under their desks and behind their podium as the shooter tried to enter the locked classroom before getting out and leaving.
“I don’t know why he chose not to break my windows or shoot through the lock,” she said.
Raymond Parks was about to teach a dance class to the juniors when a man in black approached. At first, Parks thought the man was carrying a broom or stick. Then he realized it was a gun.
“The kids started screaming and running and scrambling. He walked right into both doors and put the gun over me because I was in front,” Parks said.
For some unknown reason, Parks said, the shooter pointed the gun away and allowed Parks and the dozen or so students to leave the room. “That’s what I don’t understand. He let me go,” Parks said.
Janay Douglas’ 15-year-old daughter got stuck in a hallway when the school was locked down. Douglas said she got a call from her daughter telling her she heard shots.
“One of her friends crashed through the door, was shot in the arm, and then she and her friends took off running. The phone was disconnected,” said Douglas. “I was on my way.”
Kuczka, the teacher who was killed, taught health at Central for 14 years and recently began coaching cross country at the College, her daughter said. “She was definitely looking forward to retirement though. She was close,” Abbey Kuczka said.
Kuczka’s biography on the school’s website said she was a married mother of five and grandmother of seven. She was an avid bicycle rider and was part of the 1979 national championship field hockey team at what is now Missouri State University.
“I can’t imagine myself in any other career but teaching,” Kuczka wrote on the website. “In high school, I taught swimming lessons at the YMCA. From that point on, I knew I wanted to be a teacher.”
The shooting left St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones shaken.
“Our kids shouldn’t have to experience this,” Jones said. “They shouldn’t have to go through active shooter drills in case something happens. And unfortunately that happened today.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said more action is needed to stop gun violence.
“Every day the Senate fails to send an assault weapons ban to the President’s desk or waits to take other common sense actions is a day too late for families and communities affected by gun violence,” a said Jean-Pierre.
The school district locked down all of its schools for the rest of the day, and canceled all after-school activities, including sports.
AP News Editor Julie Wright of Kansas City, Missouri contributed. Reporter Margaret Stafford of Liberty, Missouri contributed. Salter reported from O’Fallon, Missouri.