Student, teacher killed in south St. Louis school shooting; suspect identified
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - A student and a teacher were killed in a mass shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in South City Monday morning. Responding officers shot and killed the gunman.
Officers with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said a teenage girl was shot and killed at the school and Jean Kirk Kuczka, 61, was shot and later died at the hospital from her injuries. The teen was later identified by family members as Alexzandria Bell. She would’ve turned 16 on November 18.
The shooter, who police later identified as 19-year-old Orlando Harris, was shot and killed by responding officers. Harris graduated from the school last year, according to police.
Seven other victims were taken to a hospital and listed in stable condition. According to police, Four of those hospitalized were shot. The three others who were hospitalized suffered from either abrasions or a broken bone. They were all either 15 or 16 years old.
Police said the call for the shooting came out around 9:10 a.m. Officers arrived as students were running from the building. The shooter was reportedly armed with a long gun. Police told News 4 that officers encountered the shooter and exchanged shots.
The FBI is investigating and has set up a website for people to submit information related to the shooting.
According to the St. Louis Public School District website, Kuczka was a 1979 graduate of Lindbergh High School and then attended Southwest Missouri State University. She taught at Seven Holy Founders in Affton, Missouri before moving to the St. Louis Public School District in 2002, where she taught at Carr Lane before moving to the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in 2008.
Her teacher message on the district’s website states, “I cannot imagine myself in any other career but teaching. In high school, I taught swimming lessons at the YMCA. From that point on, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I believe that every child is a unique human being and deserves a chance to learn. I also believe that Health is the most awesome subject in school, because, without your health, you cannot live to your fullest potential. I love teaching Health and Physical Education and guiding students to make wise decisions. Respect is my favorite word!”
Following the shooting, police located the suspect’s car and searched it. Inside his blue car, which was found near the school after the shooting, a handwritten note was found. Police said the note read, in part, “I Don’t have any friends I don’t have any family, I’ve never had a girlfriend, I’ve never had a social life, I’ve been an isolated loner my entire this. This was the perfect storm for a mass shooting.”
In a media briefing Tuesday morning, St. Louis Police said Harris had one gun in his possession at the time of the shooting. The weapon was described as an AR-15-style rifle. In addition, he reportedly had 600 rounds of ammunition.
The evacuated students were taken to Gateway STEM at 5101 McRee Ave. Around 11 a.m., police said the scene was secure, and there was no active threat. The school district has said that counselors were on-site and available to students, staff and their families.
St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson told News 4 he heard the calls and hoped it wasn’t correct. He said the department trains for school shooting situations but they hope they never have to use it. He also highlighted the police department’s response.
“The response from the police department was more than impressive,” he said. “The job that they did provided an impactful ending.”
Police later released a detailed timeline of their response. The call for an active shooter came in at 9:11 a.m. and officers arrived on the scene four minutes later. At 9:23 a.m. officers engaged with the suspect, then two minutes later the suspect was reportedly downed. At 9:32 a.m. officers said the suspect was secured. At 9:52 a.m. the building was cleared.
The St. Louis Police Department is asking the public to avoid the area of S. Kingshighway from Southwest to Arsenal until further notice. Several blocks in the area are closed and were expected to remain closed for several hours.
The St. Louis Public School District later stated that “out of an abundance of caution” all schools would be on hard lockdown for the remainder of the day. Parents who want to pick up a student at any of the district’s schools need to call the school in advance and then their student will be walked out to them. The district also canceled all after-school classes and activities for the evening.
News 4 Chief Investigative Reporter Lauren Trager was outside of a home in south St. Louis hours after the shooting occurred. She reported seeing FBI and ATF agents surrounding the home for hours. She also said totes of evidence and a computer were taken from the home.
Lawmakers React To Shooting
Lawmakers from Missouri sent out statements reacting the shooting in the hours following.
Senator Josh Hawley’s statement read, “Devastating news in St. Louis. I’m grateful for the swift response of local law enforcement. My office is in contact with local authorities, and we stand ready to offer all assistance possible.”
Senator Roy Blunt also thanked first responders in his statement, writing, “Tragic news from Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis. Thank you to law enforcement officers who quickly responded.”
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones joined in a press conference on the school’s football field. While addressing the media, she recalled celebrating the first day of school with the students at the school. She called the situation “tragic” and stated, “this is just so unfair.”
At the same press conference, Congresswoman Cori Bush called “today one of those days that we pray never happens across this country.” She said her office is standing with the community and said anyone who doesn’t know who to talk to or who needs resources should call her office at 314-955-9980.
“Today is a day that every parent, teacher, student, and community member prays never comes,” Bush said later in a statement. “St. Louis has become the latest city and school district to endure our country’s horrific trend of gun violence in our schools. Heartbreak doesn’t even begin to capture the pain that I feel for my community right now.”
In her statement, Bush said this is the country’s 40th school shooting this year. “In all that is unclear, one thing remains certain: gun violence, especially in our schools, is a public health emergency that needs to end,” Bush said. “This is unconscionable and inexcusable. The epidemic of gun violence and the ensuing trauma it leaves in its wake needs to stop.”
Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner
“Today, St. Louis is grieving the loss of life in a place that should be free from violence: the classroom. The victims, their families and the entire St. Louis community are in my thoughts as we begin the long and complicated process of healing.
The situation is still developing and we will know more in the coming days, but one thing that is clear is that lockdown procedures – which St. Louis Public School’s administrators, teachers and students at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School and first responders followed as this attack unfolded – were essential in preventing further violence. I am personally grateful to each of them and share my deepest condolences.”
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell released the following statement:
“Thank you to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers who were nothing short of heroic in their response to these tragic shootings. Although this tragedy did not occur in St. Louis County, if there is any way we can help or any assistance we can offer, we are here for our St. Louis city family.”
State Senator Karla May issued the following statement:
“This morning, hundreds of parents in St. Louis received the phone call that every parent fears — there has been a shooting at your child’s school. We do not yet know the status of those physically injured, but we know the trauma inflicted today will affect these children and families for decades to come.
“We must do more to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals. As we move forward, I am calling for a full investigation into how this shooter acquired his weapons and his ammunition. Families should not have to live in constant fear that their kids’ school is next. Enough is enough.”
State Representative Rasheen Aldridge’s statement read:
“I want to express my deepest sadness for the students, educators, school staff and loved ones enduring this tragedy and still experiencing the trauma of the violence they have witnessed and suffered. But I also to extend my thanks to the educators and staff at Central VPA for their work to ensure the safety of students in our community, and for the first responders — the police and paramedics — who acted quickly to save lives and prevent further tragedy from befalling our community.
“Our country has suffered far too many mass shootings, our students do not feel safe at school, and here in St. Louis, we know the impact of gun trauma all too well. The horror today illustrates the continued need for Jefferson City to act. We must pass laws that will prevent tragedies like today, not enable or exacerbate them. I know myself and several colleagues have offered solutions that have fallen on deaf ears in the past.
“In the coming legislative session, I plan to continue offering solutions and working across the aisle in a bipartisan manner so we do not have to endure days like today ever again.”
State Rep. LaKeySha Bosley also released a statement:
“The City of St. Louis has suffered innumerable tragedies carried out with firearms, but the attack on the children of our community today has chilled me to the bone. No one should have to tolerate the trauma that students and educators faced today. I want to thank first responders for acting quickly and decisively to prevent further loss of life, and I also want to thank the educators, administrators and staff at Central VPA who worked to safeguard students.
“The legislature has work to do when we reconvene in January. First, we need to offer mental health resources to those who have been affected by today’s events. But then we need to act to prevent such tragedies from occurring again, and ultimately, we must pass laws that protect our children and our communities. As legislators, we have a responsibility to stop perpetuating the policies that enable violent offenders to have unfettered access to firearms and ammunition. In my last three years in Jefferson City, I have repeatedly offered legislation that would require vendors to obtain a license to sell ammunition, and it has never received a hearing. Common sense reform like this proposal — along with dozens of other gun safety bills filed and ignored every year — would see our state acting to protect people from the gun violence we have witnessed today.”
At the beginning of a White House briefing Monday, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre addressed the St. Louis school shooting. She stated, “Our hearts go out to everyone impacted by today’s senseless violence, particularly those injured and killed, their families, as well as the first responders.” She also called on the Senate to call an assault weapons ban to the President’s desk.
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