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2 killed, including teacher, in shooting at St. Louis high school; gunman also killed

2 killed, including teacher, in shooting at St. Louis high school 03:14

A teacher and a 16-year-old girl were killed Monday morning in a shooting inside a St. Louis high school, authorities said. The gunman was also killed in the shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, police said, and seven others were injured.

At a news conference, Police Commissioner Michael Sack said the injuries ranged from gunshot wounds to shrapnel wounds. All seven injured victims were in stable condition as of Monday night, Sack said.

"This is a heartbreaking day for all of us," Sack told reporters. "It's going to be tough. While on paper we might have nine victims ... we have hundreds of others. Everyone who survived here is going to take home trauma, even the officers who responded here and the firefighters and the paramedics who worked on people here are going to experience some degree of trauma."

Sack identified the gunman as 19-year-old Orlando Harris, and said he graduated from the school last year. Harris, who is Black, lived in St. Louis with his family and has no prior criminal history, Sack said at a press conference Monday evening.

Police have not confirmed a motive for the shooting but said they are investigating if mental illness played a part, Sack said. 

He said that the quick police response potentially saved lives.

"This could have been much worse," Sack said. "The individual had almost a dozen 30-round, high-capacity magazines on him. So that's a whole lot of victims there. But because of the quick response, that suspect didn't have the opportunity to turn this into — it's certainly tragic for the families, it's tragic for the community, but it could have been a whole lot worse."

St. Louis officials hold briefing on high school shooting that killed student and teacher 25:35

Sack said that lax gun laws make it more difficult for police to stop shootings. 

"It's very easy to get guns," he told reporters. "Gun laws in Missouri are very broad and... allow people to have weapons they can carry openly down any street and there's really nothing we can do. If someone walks down Main St. with a rifle, we've got no cause to go talk to them, so that makes it very challenging in an urban environment."

One of the victims killed in the shooting was Jean Kirk Kuczka, a teacher at the high school, her daughter, Abbey, confirmed to CBS News. Kuczka had been teaching health, personal finance and physical education at the school since 2008, according to the school's website.

Her daughter told CBS News that Kuczka loved the Peanuts character Snoopy, and that she was also a passionate fundraiser for efforts to find a cure for diabetes — which her son with diagnosed with at the age of 10, according to the school's website.  

Jean Kirk Kuczka. Facebook

Kuczka wrote on the school's website that she knew she wanted to be a teacher since she was in high school. 

"I cannot imagine myself in any other career but teaching," Kuczka wrote. "In high school, I taught swimming lessons at the YMCA. From that point on, I knew I wanted to be a teacher."

The other deceased victim was not identified, but was described by Sack as a 16-year-old Black female. St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams said Monday night that she was a student.

Sack described the wounded victims as: a 16-year-old Black male who suffered a gunshot wound to the leg; a 16-year-old Black female who was grazed in the leg; a 15-year-old Black male with gunshot wounds in both hands and the jaw; a 15-year-old Black male who was shot in the arm; a 15-year-old Hispanic female with abrasions on her feet, knee and face; a 16-year-old Black female with a fractured ankle; and a 15-year-old Black male with abrasions on his face.

St. Louis Public Schools said on Twitter that the shooter was "quickly stopped" by police.

The shooting just after 9 a.m. at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School forced students to barricade doors and huddle in classroom corners, jump from windows and run out of the building to seek safety.

Adams said seven security guards were in the school at the time, each at an entry point of the locked building. One of the guards noticed the man was trying to get in at a locked door, but couldn't. The guard notified school officials and ensured that police were contacted, Sack said.

"It was that timely response by that security officer, the fact that the door did cause pause for the suspect, that bought us some time," Sack said.

School Shooting St Louis
People gather outside after a shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts high school in St. Louis, on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022.  Jordan Opp/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP

Sack declined to say how the man eventually got inside, armed with what he described as a long gun. Central Visual and Performing Arts shares a building with another magnet school, Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, which also was evacuated. Central has 383 students, Collegiate 336.

Officers worked to get students out of the three-story brick building, then "ran to that gunfire, located that shooter and engaged that shooter in an exchange of gunfire," killing him, Sack said.

Sack declined to name the victims and did not say if the woman who was killed was a teacher.

One student, 16-year-old Taniya Gholston, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch she was in a room when the shooter entered.

"All I heard was two shots and he came in there with a gun," Gholston said. "And I was trying to run and I couldn't run. Me and him made eye contact but I made it out because his gun got jammed. But we saw blood on the floor."

Ninth-grader Nylah Jones told the Post-Dispatch she was in math class when the shooter fired into the room from the hallway. The shooter was unable to get into the room and banged on the door as students piled into a corner, she said.

Janay Douglas's 15-year-old daughter got stuck in a hallway when the school was locked down. Douglas said she received a call from her daughter, letting her know she had heard shots.

"One of her friends busted through the door, he was shot in the hand, and then her and her friends just took off running. The phone disconnected," Douglas said. "I was on my way."

The shooting left St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones shaken.

"Our children shouldn't have to experience this," Jones said at the news conference. "They shouldn't have to go through active shooter drills in case something happens. And unfortunately that happened today."

Parents were urged to pick up their children at Gateway STEM High School.

Central Visual and Performing Arts High School is a magnet school specializing in visual art, musical art and performing art. The district website says the school's "educational program is designed to cre­ate a nurturing environment where students receive a quality academic and artistic education that prepares them to compete successfully at the post-secondary level or perform competently in the world of work."

St. Louis Public Schools announced Monday night that Central Visual and Performing Arts High School and Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience would be closed Tuesday, saying that both schools were "part of an on-going investigation."

Monday's school shooting was the 40th this year resulting in injuries or death, according to a tally by Education Week — the most in any single year since it began tracking shootings in 2018. Among the 40 are the killings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May, when 19 children and two teachers died.

Monday's St. Louis shooting came on the same day a Michigan teenager pleaded guilty to terrorism and first-degree murder in a school shooting that killed four students in November 2021.

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