Two people were killed after a shooting at a St. Louis high school Monday morning that also sent multiple people to hospitals, police said.
Chaos unfolded shortly after 9 a.m. when authorities learned of a shooter with a long gun inside the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. The school and the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, which is in the same building, were locked down.
After a gunfight with authorities, the 19-year-old gunman, Orlando Harris, was taken into custody and later pronounced dead, a St. Louis police official told reporters.
He was identified as a 2021 graduate of Central with no criminal history, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Interim Chief Mike Sack told reporters at a news conference.
Sack said the gunman entered the school with a rifle in an “aggressive, violent manner" and had almost a dozen 30-round magazines on him.
“There was no mystery about what was going to happen,” he said. Officers are still working on a motive, but Sack said there are “suspicions that there may be some mental illness that he is experiencing.”
Sack said a call came in from the high school for an active shooter at 9:11 a.m. and officers arrived on scene four minutes later. They located the shooter eight minutes after arriving on scene, engaging in a gunfight and securing him.
“While on paper we might have nine victims, eight who were transported and one remained, we have hundreds of others,” Sack said earlier. “Everyone who survived here is going to take home trauma.”
Two victims dead
Jean Kuczka, a 61-year-old health teacher at the high school, was killed, said Abbey Kuczka, her daughter.
"I found out just a few hours ago," she said Monday afternoon.
Kuczka was a mother of five, a grandmother of seven and a bike rider who participated in an annual charity event to raise money for juvenile diabetes, which her son has, according to her profile on the high school's website.
She began working for St. Louis Public Schools in 2002 at the Carr Lane Visual Performing Arts Middle School before she transferred to the high school in 2008 to teach health, personal finance and physical education.
Alexzandria Bell, 15, was identified by the St. Louis Office of the Medical Examiner as the second victim. Police initially identified her as a 16-year-old girl.
Andre Bell, Alexzandria's adoptive father who lives in Los Angeles, called losing her "a nightmare," NBC affiliate KSDK reported.
The 15-year-old sophomore had an outgoing personality and was a member of her high school's junior varsity dance team, Bell told the news station.
"She was joyful, wonderful and just a great person,” he said to KSDK. "She was the girl I loved to see and loved to hear from. No matter how I felt, I could always talk to her and it was alright. That was my baby."
Bell said his daughter had plans to go to California to spend her 16th birthday with him.
"My daughter was planning on coming out here to California and celebrate her birthday with me on Nov. 18, but now we have to plan her funeral," he told KSDK. "I really want to know how did that man get inside the school? I’m just trying to find some answers."
Four of the victims who were injured are 15 and the three others are 16, he said. They sustained injuries from gunshot wounds to a fractured ankle and facial abrasions, he said.
'I need to stay alive'
Shortly after the shooting, harrowing stories of survival started to emerge, offering a glimpse into the frightening moments inside the school and the lengths some teachers and students went to escape.
Adrienne Bolden, a freshman, said he and his classmates had to jump out a window to escape.
Asked what was going through his mind at that point, he said "that I need to stay alive."
Bolden said he initially thought the shooting was an intruder drill, but that changed when he started hearing sirens outside.
"The teacher, she crawled over, and she was asking for help to move the lockers to the door so they can't get in," he said.
Bolden helped his teacher move the lockers before he tried to jump out the classroom window overlooking concrete.
"So we had to wait a little longer before the assistant principal came up to one of the windows that was locked, and when we opened it, the teacher said to come on, and we all had to jump out of the window."
Freshman Jawae Bronner said that after someone announced a code word indicating a threat inside the school, his visual arts teacher immediately locked the classroom door and ushered about 20 students into a closet.
At one point, during the roughly the hour and a half they were inside the space, the teacher announced that he could hear gunfire, he said. Bronner said he searched for exits — a window and a vent were inside the closet — but then reconsidered.
Bronner texted his mother where he was and what was happening and saying he was OK, and he read a Bible verse — John 3:16 — to his class.
"He knows to call on God when he's in trouble," his mother, Jordette Barnes, said.
Doors were locked; unclear how gunman got in
Sack said the doors at the school were locked, which slowed the gunman. He did not clarify how the gunman was able to get into the school or how he got access to the rifle, adding that police are working with the ATF.
Seven security guards were in the school building, school officials said.
The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives responded. The FBI's St. Louis field office asks anyone with pictures or videos of the shooting to submit them to authorities.
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones called the shooting "a devastating and traumatic situation."
"I'm heartbroken for these families who send their children to our schools hoping that they will be safe," she said at the news 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."
Central and the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience are closed Tuesday due to the ongoing investigation, but the rest of the schools in the district remain open, Superintendent Kelvin Adams said in a letter shared with families and staff.
"We are all devastated by the loss, and we remain laser focused on students, staff and families impacted by this terrible tragedy," he said. "Counseling is underway and will continue as we avail ourselves of additional resources so generously offered by our medical, mental health and school district communities."
Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., visited the school to talk to students and their families.
"We’ve been going from family to family talking with the students," Bush, whose district includes St. Louis, told NBC affiliate KSDK. "Some of the students are still here because they just they don’t feel ready to leave yet."