This post was originally published on St. Louis American
By Ashley Winters and Alvin A. Reid
As the region mourns the deaths of 15-year-old student Alexzandria Bell and health teacher Jean Kuczka, killed during Monday’s shootings at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School at 3125 S. Kingshighway, Mayor Tishaura Jones said “the past two days have been a whirlwind, devastating.”
Speaking at a Wednesday morning press conference at St. Louis Metropolitan Police headquarters, Jones said her feelings are changing “from sad to angry.”
“With all the school shootings, it seemed like only a matter of time before it hit closer to home. The Missouri legislature’s actions have made gun violence more possible. Now, its inaction has left us unsafe and communities feeling powerless,” she said.
“If we can regulate tobacco, we can regulate guns. If you have to register your car, you should have to do so with weapons.
Police were called Monday morning when it was reported an intruder was trying to enter the school. Interim Police Chief Michael Sack announced later at a press conference the suspect was killed in an exchange of gunfire with police.
He has been identified as Orlando Harris, 19. He graduated last year from the school.
Congresswoman Cori Bush will hold a Town Hall Forum on gun violence and its prevention at St. Louis Community College – Florissant Valley at 6 p.m. Thursday Oct. 27, 2022.
She said during the press conference, “Monday was a day every parent, every community prays never happens.’
“It is unacceptable that school shootings are so ingrained into everyday lives. Our schools are targets, and that should never be,” she said.
Bush’s voice rose when she declared “our country has already broken the record for school shootings and there are [two months] left in the year.”
“We are undergoing a school violence epidemic. The Republican party needs to step up. if it means stepping away from dollars you receive, you need to do it.”
During Wednesday’s press conference Sack said he would ignore a Missouri law that could lead to a fine if he or other police officers help the FBI in its investigation.
“If I find something out, I’m going to pass it on,” he said.
Sack also announced the alleged shooter’s family has been cooperating with police throughout the investigation, and that it had tried to connect him with mental health resources, make sure he remained on his medication, and pleaded with him to speak with someone when he was down.
The family also contacted police when it learned he could possibly be in possession of a gun. The gun was taken from him by police and given to someone else [connected with the family.] “We have not facilitated how he got it back,’ Sack said.
Sack did not know if it was the same gun used in the shootings, or how he got possession of that gun or another one.
All doors at the school were locked and the shooter gained access through “a forced entry.”
Sack could not confirm a report that the shooter had attempted to buy a gun at a gun show, but was refused because of his mental health status.
“If he tried to buy a gun, and was told no. He could have got one in a private sale.”
Police have the gun’s serial number and are tracing back to where it was sold and who originally purchased it.
A frightening scene
Fahalima Faji’s son is a freshman at Visual Performing Arts.
“My son called me. He said the school had an incident. ‘Come pick me up, I’m scared’ and I told him, I’m coming to get you,” the shaken father said with tears in his eyes.
Cameron Brewer, a 9th grader at Gateway which is on the same campus, was in his second period class when students were told to stay in their classrooms. He said he knew something bad had happened.
“I was afraid because I have friends that go to that school and I was worried about them,” he said.
His mother, Samantha Brewer, said, “it’s crazy.”
“You see this anywhere else, but don’t expect this to happen in your own city. It’s so sad you can’t even send your own kid to school anymore.”
Dr. Meddy Katwla, parent of a freshman daughter at Gateway, said “Why are we not protecting our kids, we are tired of the shootings.”
He is considering online education for his daughter because “it is too soon for her to go back to school.”
Superintendent Kelvin Adams said seven security officers were at the school. Sack said the shooting took place on the third floor.
Sarah Lewis, an 18-year-old student at the school, told St. Louis Public Radio she was in a classroom directly above where the shooting took place. She said she heard “banging” and shooting.
“I honestly felt like I wasn’t going to make it out of there,” she said.
Isabella Alamo, 16, said she saw a person at the bottom of the stairs as she was evacuating the building. She said she “tried to get people to go out faster” so they wouldn’t have to see the blood.
“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,” state Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, said in a statement.
“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.
“[State legislators] 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.”
State Rep. Rasheen Aldridge agreed with Bosley, saying in a statement, “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 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. 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.”
Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said in a statement, “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 were essential in preventing further violence.
“I am personally grateful to each of them and share my deepest condolences.”
State Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, represents the district in which the schools are located. On Twitter, she asked constituents to pray for those affected by the violence.
St. Louis Public Radio contributed to this report.