St. LOUIS (AP) – An armed former student broke into St. Louis High School Monday morning warning, “You will all die!” before fatally shooting a teacher and a teenage girl, and wounding seven others before the police killed him in an exchange of gunfire.
The attack shortly after 9 a.m. at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School forced students to barricade doors and huddle in classroom corners, jumping from windows and exiting the building in search of safety. A terrorized girl said she was eye-to-eye with the shooter before her gun apparently jammed and she could run out.
Speaking at a press 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 his motive is still being investigated but “there is a suspicion that there is some mental illness that he may be suffering from.” Investigators then searched Harris’ home, Sack said.
Authorities did not name the victim, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch identified the dead teacher as Jean Kuczka. Her daughter said her mother was killed when the gunman burst into her class and she moved between him and her students.
“My mother loves children,” Abbey Kuczka told the newspaper. “She loved her students. I know her students looked up to her like a mother.”
Sack said the other fatality was a 16-year-old girl who died at school.
Seven other 15- and 16-year-old students, four boys and three girls, are all in a stable condition. Four students suffered gunshot wounds or graze wounds, two suffered bruises and one suffered a broken ankle.
Sack declined to say how Harris was able to get into the building, which has security guards, locked doors and metal detectors.
“If someone has a will, they’ll know, we don’t want to make it easy for them,” Sack said. “We’re just going to have to do our best to extend the time it takes to get into the building for our buyers to respond.”
Harris had a gun when he got to the school and “there’s no mystery about what’s going to happen. He’s been coming in and out in an aggressive and violent way.
Harris had nearly a dozen magazines of high-capacity ammunition with him, Sack said. “It’s a lot of casualties. … It’s certainly tragic for the families and it’s tragic for our community but it could have been worse.
Louis School Superintendent Kelvin Adams said seven security guards were at the school at the time of the attack, each stationed at one entrance of the locked building. One of the guards saw the gunman trying unsuccessfully to get in through the locked door. The security guard notified school officials, who contacted the police.
Sack said the call about the shooter came in at 9:11 a.m. and officers arrived and Harris came down at 9:25 a.m. He and others praised the officers’ quick response and other emergency responders.
Central Visual and Performing Arts shares a building with another magnet school, the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience. Central has 383 students, Collegiate 336.
Monday’s school shooting was the 40th this year to result in injury or death, according to a tally by Education Week – the most in any year since it began tracking shootings in 2018. Deadly attacks include the killing at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May, when 19 children and two teachers died. Monday’s shooting in St. Louis came on the same day a Michigan teenager pleaded guilty to terrorism and first-degree murder in the school shooting that killed four students in December 2021.
Taniya Gholston said she was saved when the shooter’s gun jammed as she entered her classroom. “All I heard was two shots and he came in there with a gun,” the 16-year-old told the Post-Dispatch. “I tried to run and I couldn’t run. He and I made eye contact but I got out because the gun jammed.
Two teachers recounted a close confrontation with the shooter.
Ashley Rench told The Associated Press that she was teaching advanced algebra to second-graders when she heard a loud noise. Then the school intercom announced, “Miles Davis is in the building.”
“That’s our code for intruders,” Rench said.
Students took refuge under their desks and behind podiums as the shooter tried to enter the locked classroom before giving up and leaving.
“I don’t know why he chose not to break my windows or shoot with the key,” she said.
Raymond Parks was about to teach a dance class for juniors when a man dressed in black approached. At first, Parks thought the man was carrying a broom or a stick. Then he realized it was a gun.
“The kids started screaming and running and scrambling. He immediately came through the double doors and pointed a gun at me because I was in front,” Parks said.
For some unknown reason, Parks said, the shooter pointed the gun away from him and allowed Parks and a dozen or so students to exit the room. “I don’t understand that. He let me go,” Parks said.
Janay Douglas’ 15-year-old daughter was stuck in a hallway when the school went into lockdown. Douglas said she received a call from her daughter letting her know she heard shots.
“One of his friends blocked the door, he got shot in the arm, and then he and his friend just ran. The phone was disconnected,” Douglas said. “I’m on my way.”
Kuczka, the slain teacher, taught health at Central for 14 years and recently began coaching cross country at Collegiate, her daughter said. “He’s definitely looking forward to retirement though. He’s close,” Abbey Kuczka said.
Kuczka’s biography on the school’s website says she is a married mother of five and grandmother of seven. He was an avid cyclist and was part of the 1979 national championship field hockey team at what is now Missouri State University.
“I can not imagine myself in any other career but teaching,” Kuczka wrote on the website. “In high school, I taught swimming lessons at the YMCA. From then on, I knew I wanted to be a teacher.
The shooting left St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones shaken.
“Our kids shouldn’t have to go through this,” Jones said. “They don’t have to go through active shooter training if something happens. And unfortunately that happened today.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said additional action is needed to stop gun violence.
“Every day that the Senate fails to send an assault weapons ban to the president’s desk or waits to take other common sense action, is a day too late for families and communities affected by gun violence,” Jean-Pierre said.
The school district put all its schools on lockdown for the rest of the day, and canceled all after-school activities, including sports.
AP News Editor Julie Wright contributed from Kansas City, Missouri. Reporter Margaret Stafford contributed from Liberty, Missouri. Salter is reported from O’Fallon, Missouri.