St. Louis school shooting: Police moved in about 4 minutes after gunman with high-capacity magazines opened fire



CNN

When a 19-year-old gunman opened fire at a school in St. Louis on Monday, killing two and wounding several others, he was armed with a long gun and nearly a dozen high-capacity magazines — enough ammunition for a “much worse” situation, police said.

Authorities credited locked doors and a quick police response — including from on-duty officers — for preventing more killings at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School.

“This could have been a lot worse,” Police Commissioner Michael Sack said. “The person had almost a dozen 30 round … high capacity magazines on them. That’s a whole lot of victims there.”

But the tragedy is still devastating for the victims’ families and the entire community, he said.

Student Alexandria Bell, 15, and teacher Jean Kuczka, 61, were killed in the shooting.

Alexandria Bell, left, and Jean Kuczka

Alexandria was looking forward to her Sweet 16, her father told CNN affiliate KSDK. Kuczka was looking forward to retiring in a few years, her daughter told CNN.

The gunman died at a hospital after a gun battle with officers, Sack said. He was identified as Orlando Harris, who graduated from the school last year.

Across the country so far this year, at least 67 shootings have taken place on school grounds.

As the shooting unfolded in St. Louis, a Michigan prosecutor who just heard a guilty plea from a teenager who killed four students last fall said she was no longer shocked to hear of another school shooting. “The fact that there’s another school shooting doesn’t surprise me — which is terrible,” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said.

“We have to keep the public and inform the public … about how we can prevent gun violence. It’s preventable and we should never ever allow it to be something we just have to live with.”

Students mourn near the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, where two people were killed.

Alexandria had an outgoing personality, loved to dance and was a member of her high school’s junior varsity dance team, her father Andre Bell told KSDK.

Her friend Dejah Robinson said the two planned to celebrate Halloween together this weekend. “She was always funny and always had a smile on her face and made everyone laugh,” Robinson said, fighting back tears.

Kuczka, a health and physical education teacher, was looking forward to retirement in the next few years, her daughter Abigail Kuczka told CNN.

“Jean was passionate about making a difference and enjoyed spending time with her family,” Abigail Kuczka said in a statement.

Alexis Allen-Brown was among the alumni who fondly remembered Jean Kuczka’s influence on her students. “She was kind-hearted. She was sweet. She always made you laugh, even when you weren’t trying to,” Allen-Brown said.

“She made you feel real, inside the class and outside. She made you feel human. And she was just so sweet.”

In her biography on the school’s website, Kuczka said she had attended Central VPA High School since 2008. “I believe that every child is a unique human being and deserves a chance to learn,” she wrote.

Seven other teenagers were injured, some with gunshot wounds or lacerations. One had a broken ankle. They were all in stable conditions, the police commissioner said.

It is unclear how the perpetrator gained access to the school. Authorities have said the doors were locked.

The police commissioner declined to detail how the shooter got in. “I don’t want to make it easy for anybody else,” Sack said.

The gunman did not hide his weapon when he entered the school, Sack said.

“When he came in, it was out … there was no mystery as to what was going to happen,” the commissioner said. “He got it out and went in in an aggressive, violent manner.”

Adrianne Bolden, a freshman at the school, told KSDK that the students thought it was a drill until they heard the sirens and saw that their teachers were scared.

“The teacher, she crawled over and she asked for help to move the lockers to the door so they can’t get in,” Bolden said. “And we started hearing glass breaking outside and gunshots outside the door.”

Adrianne told KSDK the class remained seated until the students saw their assistant principal approach one of the classroom’s locked windows. “We opened it, the teacher said he had to come, and we all had to jump out the window,” Bolden recalled.

Math teacher David Williams told CNN that everyone went into “drill mode,” turned off lights, locked doors and huddled in corners so they couldn’t be seen.

He said he heard someone trying to open the door and a man yelling, “You’re all going to die.”

A short time later, a bullet came through one of the windows in his classroom, Williams said.

Williams’ classroom is on the third floor, where Sack said police engaged the shooter.

Eventually, an officer said she was outside, and the class ran out through nearby emergency doors.

Security personnel were at the school when the gunman arrived, St. Louis Public Schools Communications Director George Sells.

“We had the seven employees working in the building who did a wonderful job of getting the alarm out quickly,” Sells said.

Sack said he did not know if the security guards at the school had weapons.

“Not all of the public safety officers are armed,” the police commissioner said.

He said the school’s doors being locked likely delayed the gunman.

“The school was on lockdown and the doors were locked,” Sack told CNN affiliate KMOV. “The security staff did an excellent job of identifying the suspect’s efforts to gain entry and immediately notified other staff members and ensured we were contacted.”

After widespread controversy over the delayed response to confront school shooters in Uvalde, Texas, and Parkland, Florida, Sack said responding officers in St.

“There was no sidewalk conference. There was no discussion,” Sack said. “There was no, ‘Hey, where are you going?’ They just walked right in.”

A call about an active shooter at the high school came in around 9:11 a.m., according to a timeline from the commissioner.

The police arrived at the scene and entered four minutes later, at 9.15am

Officers found the gunman and began “engaging him in a gun battle” at 9:23. Two minutes later, officers reported that the suspect was down.

Asked about the eight minutes between officers’ arrival and contact with the gunman, Sack said “eight minutes is not a very long time,” and that officers had to maneuver through a large school with few entrances and crowds of students and staff who was evacuating.

Police found the suspect “not just by hearing the gunshot, but by talking to kids and teachers as they went,” Sack said.

When phone calls came in from people hiding in various places, the officers jumped out and searched for students and staff to escort them out of the building.

Officers who were at a church down the street for a fellow officer’s funeral also responded to the shooting, the commissioner said.

A SWAT team that was together for a training exercise was also able to quickly load up and get to the school to conduct a secondary sweep of the building, Sack said.

Some officers were “off duty; some were in T-shirts, but they had their (ballistic) vests on,” the commissioner said. “They did an excellent job.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect age of 15-year-old Alexandria Bell, who was killed in the shooting.

Leave a Comment