Gunman who killed 2 in the St. Louis school shooting had nearly a dozen high-capacity magazines
When a 19-year-old gunman opened fire at a St. Louis school Monday, killing two and injuring several others, he was armed with a long gun and nearly a dozen high-capacity magazines – enough ammunition for a “much worse” situation, police Commissioner Michael Sack said.
Authorities credited locked doors and a quick police response – including by off-duty officers – for preventing more killings at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School.
“This could have been much worse,” Sack said. “The individual had almost a dozen 30-round … high capacity magazines on him. That’s a whole lot of victims there.”
Still, he said, what happened is tragic for the victims’ families and the community.
A 16-year-old girl was killed at the scene and a 61-year-old woman was pronounced dead at a hospital, Sack said.
The woman was identified as Jean Kuczka, a health and physical education teacher who was looking forward to retiring in the next few years, her daughter Abigail Kuczka told CNN. Authorities have not identified the teenager.
“Jean was passionate for making a difference and enjoyed spending time with her family,” Abigail Kuczka said in a statement.
In her biography on the school’s website, Kuzcka said had been at Central VPA High School since 2008. “I believe that every child is a unique human being and deserves a chance to learn,” she wrote in her bio.
Seven other teenagers were injured, some of them with gunshot or graze wounds, and others with abrasions. One had a fractured ankle. They were all in stable conditions, the commissioner said.
The gunman was identified as Orlando Harris, who graduated from the school last year. He died at a hospital after a gun battle with officers, according to the Commissioner.
It’s unclear how the gunman gained access to the school, which authorities have said had its doors locked. The commissioner declined to provide those details, saying “I don’t want to make this easy for anybody else.”
The gunman did not conceal his weapon when entering the school, Sack said.
“When he entered, it was out … there was no mystery about what was going to happen. He had it out and entered in an aggressive, violent manner,” the police commissioner said.
There were seven security personnel at the school when the gunman arrived, according to St. Louis Public Schools Communications Director George Sells.
“We had the seven personnel working in the building who did a wonderful job getting the alarm sounded quickly,” Sells said.
The police commissioner said that he did not know if the security guards at the school had guns. “Not all of the public safety security officers are armed,” he said.
He did say that the school doors were locked, which likely delayed the suspect.
“The school was closed and the doors were locked. The security staff did an outstanding job identifying the suspect’s efforts to enter, and immediately notified other staff, and ensured that we were contacted,” Sack told CNN affiliate KMOV at the scene.
The commissioner said responding officers wasted no time rushing into the school.
“There was no sidewalk conference, there was no discussion, there was no ‘Hey, where are you going to?’ they just went right in.”
The call came in for an active shooter at the high school at approximately 9:11 a.m, according to a timeline provided by Sack. Police arrived on scene and made entry just four minutes later, at 9:15 a.m. Officers found the gunman and “begin engaging him in a gunfight” at 9:23 a.m. Two minutes later, officers reported the suspect was down.
Asked about the eight minutes between officers’ arrival and making contact with the gunman, Sack said “eight minutes isn’t very long” and that officers had to maneuver through a big school with few entrances and crowds of students and staff who were evacuating.
Officers found the suspect “not just by hearing the gunfire but by talking to kids and teachers as they’re leaving,” Sack said.
Officers who were at a church down the street for a fellow officer’s funeral also responded to the shooting, in addition to officers from a nearby police station, according to the commissioner.
A SWAT team that was together for a training exercise was also able to quickly load up and get to the school to perform a secondary sweep of the building, Sack added.
Some officers were “off duty; some were in T-shirts, but they had their vests on … the ballistic vests. So they did an outstanding job,” he said.
As phone calls came in from people hiding in different locations, officers fanned out and searched for students and staff to escort them out of the building.
Adrianne Bolden, a freshman at Central VPA High School, told CNN affiliate KSDK that the children thought it was a drill until they heard the sirens and saw that their teachers were scared.
“The teacher, she crawled over and she was asking for help to move the lockers to the door so they can’t get in,” Bolden said. “And we started hearing glass breaking from the outside and gunshots outside the door.”
The student told the station that the class stayed put until they saw their assistant principal come up to one of the classroom’s locked windows.
“We opened it, the teacher said to come on and we all had to jump out the window,” Bolden recalled.
Math teacher David Williams told CNN in a call that everyone went into “drill mode,” turning off lights, locking doors and huddling in corners so they couldn’t be seen.
He said he heard someone trying to open the door and a man yell, “You are all going to f**king die.”
Shortly thereafter, a bullet came through one of the windows in his classroom, Williams said.
Williams’ classroom is located on the third floor, where Sack said police engaged the shooter.
Eventually, an officer announced herself from outside and the class ran out the nearby emergency doors.