By Ashley Winters
At least three people are dead, including an alleged shooter, and seven others injured following a shooting incident at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School at 3125 S. Kingshighway on Monday morning.
Family members confirmed that one of the victims was Jean Kuczka, a health and physical education teacher at the school. Her daughter Abbey said she had been a teacher for 38 years, the past 20 with St. Louis Public Schools.
The identity of a teen female victim who was killed had not been released.
Interim St. Louis Police Chief Michael Sack said in 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.
“This is a heartbreaking day for all of us,” he said somberly.
“I’m heartbroken for these families who send their children to our schools hoping that they will be safe,” said St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones at the press conference.
“Our children shouldn’t have to experience this; they shouldn’t have to go through active shooter drills in case something happens. And unfortunately, that happened today.”
Congresswoman Cori Bush said, this is one of those days we pray never happens across this country.”
“Parents wake up every day praying that it is not their school, not their child. I want to make sure you know that our office is standing with you.”
Bush added those that need counseling can find it through her office and other sources.
“It is OK to not be OK. Reach out,” Bush said.
St. Louis Public Schools released the following statement:
“Today, the Saint Louis Public Schools family has been devastated by news of an active shooter who injured six and killed one adult and one teen at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School before being shot and killed by an officer.”
“Counselors are on site and will continue to avail themselves to students, staff, and families for as long as needed. Administrators and counselors are meeting with families.”
According to the statement, SLPS has placed all schools on lockdown, and they will remain that way the remainder of the day.
“There will be limited movement in and outside the schools. At dismissal, all scheduled buses will leave at the appointed time.”
“We are asking that any parents who want to come to school and pick up a student, please call the school in advance and let the office know when and who will be picking up the student. The student will be walked out to them.
All after school classes and athletic activities are cancelled for this evening.
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.”
Edneshia Hamilton, an SLPS counselor, said “many students are traumatized, shaken up, scared and afraid.”
She said some students do not want to return to the school. They may need resources outside of school for their mental health.
“Right now, we need to be a support for both the students and the staff. We need to pour into them as much as we can. Work as a team”
According to Sack and police, the school was closed, and the doors locked.
The school’s security team immediately notified police when the suspect, a 20-year-old male, attempted to gain entry. Sack did not disclose how the suspect entered the school.
The two people fatally injured were both female, one an adult and one a teenager. Sack said their identities would be made public after next of kin were notified.
Superintendent Kelvin Adams said seven security officers were at the school. Sack said the shooting took place on the third floor.
Injuries included gunshot wounds, shrapnel injuries and cardiac arrest.
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.
If you need help getting through this crisis, Behavioral Health Response (BHR), is offering the community an immediate resource through BHR’s 24/7/365 Crisis Line and Youth Connection Helpline. Speak with a clinician free of charge, by calling 988, 314-469-6644 or 314-819-8802 (youth). Youth can also chat online at www.bhrstl.com or text BHEARD to 31658. Clinicians are on standby waiting to speak with you. These services are being offered in partnership with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, and St. Louis City’s Mayor Tishaura Jones.
St. Louis Public Radio and Alvin A. Reid of the St. Louis American contributed to this report.