At least two dead at St. Louis performing arts high school
Updated at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24 with information from the latest police briefing, including a change in the number of those injured
Two people are dead and seven others injured following a shooting at a south St. Louis high school Monday morning.
Interim St. Louis Police Chief Michael Sack said the suspect was killed in an exchange of gunfire with police at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School.
The two people fatally injured were both female, one an adult and one 15-year-old. Sack said their identities would be made public after next of kin were notified.
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.
Kuczka was transported to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead. The teenage victim was pronounced dead at the scene.
The other victims, all teenagers, were reported to be stable, Sack said. They are:
- A 16-year-old female, who was shot in the leg.
- A 16-year-old male, who was shot in the leg.
- A 15-year-old male, who was shot in both hands and his jaw.
- A 15-year-old male, who was shot in the arm.
- A 15-year-old female, who had cuts on her face and knee.
- A 16-year-old female, who suffered a fractured ankle.
- A 16-year-old male, who had cuts on his face.
“This is a heartbreaking day for all of us,” Sack said in the first briefing around 11:15 a.m. “While on paper there are nine victims, everyone who survived here is going to take home trauma.”
The police department first received calls of shots fired at the magnet school, at 3125 S. Kingshighway, around 9:25 a.m. Sack said the shooter was killed in an exchange of gunfire with police just a few minutes after the police made entry into the school.
At a 5 p.m. update briefing, police identified the shooter as 19-year-old Orlando Harris, a 2021 graduate of CVPA. Sack said he had no prior history of criminal behavior.
“We’re working with our Force Investigative Unit and other detectives to try and come up with what might have led him to this,” Sack said. “There’s suspicions that there might have been some mental illness he was experiencing.”
The toll at the school could have been much worse, Sack said. The shooter was carrying nearly a dozen high-capacity magazines when police confronted him.
Sack said the school was closed and the doors locked. He said the school’s security team immediately notified police when the shooter attempted to gain entry, but the chief would not discuss how he was able to get in.
Sack had high praise for the officers who responded, saying they entered the building without hesitation and ran toward gunfire to protect the students.
“There was no hesitation,” he said. “They just went right in.”
Sack also praised the teachers and staff at the school who helped the students escape. There were about 700 students in the building at the time.
“Thank God for the adults,” he said.
As soon as a shooting at the school was confirmed, the St. Louis Fire Department declared a mass casualty incident, said Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson. Though he said the scene looked chaotic, medical personnel did exactly as they had been trained.
“This plan worked,” he said.
City interim Public Safety Director Dan Isom said he believed the quick actions of both school security officers and the St. Louis police who responded saved lives.
‘St. Louis on the Air’ discussion of this breaking news
The school district said in a statement released around 12:30 p.m. that it had placed all 62 of its schools on a hard lockdown for the rest of the day and canceled all after-school activities.
A hard lockdown means limited movement in and out of the schools. Guardians wanting to pick up a student must call the school in advance and let administrators know when and who will be at pickup.
Sack said while police have stepped up patrols in the neighborhood where the shooting happened, he did not believe that there were any other people involved or that the community was at risk.
Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams said seven security officers were at the school. Sack said the shooting took place on the third floor.
Schools often have a code word they use for an active shooter situation. Yurisky Velazquez Vera, a 16-year-old sophomore, said she could tell by the tone that it was not a drill.
From her hiding spot in the back corner of a room, she watched her teacher get shot. She was terrified that she was not going to see her parents or grandparents anymore.
“These things need to stop because, what’s going to happen to the future kids? What’s going to happen to them?” she said. “We deserve to go to school without having to worry that we’re going to get shot.”
Yurisky’s mother, Acucena Vera, said she wasn’t sure she would ever feel safe sending her daughter back to class.
“They have to keep going through this when they just want to come and learn,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Cori Bush urged anyone who needs resources, especially for mental health, to call her office at 314-955-9980.
“It is OK not to be OK,” she said. “It is OK to not hold it in yourself.”
People needing connection to resources can also contact the 24/7 crisis line at 988 or call Behavioral Health Response anytime at 314-469-6644. Students dealing with trauma can call 314-819-8802, chat online at www.bhrstl.com or text BHEARD to 31658.
Sarah Lewis, a 18-year-old student, said 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.
A visibly shaken Mayor Tishaura Jones said she had visited CVPA on the first day of school for students.
“We laughed, we sang, we danced. And now to be here for such a devastating and traumatic situation breaks my heart, especially as a mother,” she said.
Rep. Peter Meredith, D-St. Louis, has a niece who attends CVPA. The school is in his state House district. On Facebook, he wrote that he was praying for the students and their families.
On Twitter, Alderman Shane Cohn, who represents the 25th Ward, wrote: “Nobody should experience this at school. Nobody should experience this at work. Nobody should experience this at the movies. Nobody should experience this at a concert. Nobody should experience this at a grocery. Nobody should experience this.”
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.
Gov. Mike Parson said in a statement that he had been briefed on the shooting and was offering the assistance of any state resources to help with the investigation.
“Teresa and I are praying for the victims, their families, and the entire community,” he said.
Both candidates for president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen placed some of the blame for the shooting in the hands of the Missouri General Assembly.
“It is unconscionable that the Republican legislature has tied our hands,” said 15th Ward Alderwoman Megan Green. “We are prohibited from doing more to get guns off our streets.”
Her opponent, 7th Ward Alderman Jack Coatar, also targeted his ire at Congress.
“The complete lack of action in Jefferson City and Washington is normalizing children being killed at school,” he said.
In statements posted on Twitter, both of Missouri’s U.S. senators, Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, praised law enforcement for the quick response.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner was among those praising the adults at the school for their response.
“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.”
Gardner’s counterpart in St. Louis County, Wesley Bell, said his office was ready to offer whatever assistance it could.
“We are praying for the victims, students, faculty and anyone harmed by these senseless acts of violence. Thank you to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers who were nothing short of heroic in their response to these tragic shootings,” he said.
The FBI is also helping investigate the shooting. Anyone with photos or video of the incident can upload them to fbi.gov/CentralVPA. A spokeswoman for the FBI office in St. Louis said such coordination among federal and local law enforcement is standard.
Jay Greenberg, the special agent in charge of the office, said the shooting had brought an uptick in false calls about more school shootings in the area. He said coverage of the shooting may be the driving factor.
“If you have a kid, and they’re old enough to have a device, please have a conversation and make sure they know that any hoax or any joke that they’re sending right now about a school shooting will be taken incredibly seriously,” Greenberg said.
Central VPA High School students were sent to Gateway STEM, located at 5101 McRee Ave, for parent/guardian pickup after a school shooting.