As a 19-year-old gunman walked through the halls with an AR-15 type rifle and more than 600 cartridges, scared students and teachers of a St. Louis High School classroom doors locked and huddled in the corners.
Some remember hearing gunshots coming from outside and someone trying to open their doors. Some described jumping from windows.
The shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School left two dead: student Alexandria Bell, 15, and teacher Jean Kuczka, 61. Several other students were also injured in the shooting.
The shooter has been identified as Orlando Harris, who graduated from the school last year and returned Monday with an extensive arsenal and a handwritten letter. Remark, according to St. Louis police. He died in a hospital after a shootout with officers.
Student Alex Macias said it was just another morning until the vice principal came through the intercom with a signal they only hear during active fire drills. Then they heard gunshots, the student told the CNN affiliate SDKs.
His health teacher, Kuczka, locked the classroom door but the shooter was able to “find his way out,” Macias said.
“He shot Ms. Kuczka, and I just closed my eyes,” she said. “I really didn’t want to see anything else. But then, just as I thought he was leaving, I opened my eyes to see him standing there, making eye contact with me. And then after making eye contact, he just walked away.
Students started jumping out the window at that time, she said.
Teacher Kristie Faulstich said Kuczka died while standing between the shooter and the students. She described her former colleague as a popular teacher who was loved by many.
Faulstich was at school that day and recalled hearing the phrase “Miles Davis is in the building” over the intercom – a code for alerting teachers to an active shooter.
Less than a minute after locking the door to his second-floor classroom, Faulstich said someone began “shoving the handle violently, trying to get in.”
Sophomore Brian Collins, 15, was in Kuczka’s class when the shooter entered the classroom and fired several shots, his mother VonDina Washington said.
Collins was shot in the hands and jaw and escaped by jumping from a classroom window onto a ledge, the mother said.
“He’s really good at drawing,” Washington said. “He went to CVPA for visual arts, and we hope he can draw again.”
High School Arts Dean Manfret McGhee said SDKs he ran for his life after a bullet missed him in the hallway and hid in a bathroom. He did not know at the time that his 16-year-old son had been shot.
He then ran to his son’s health class.
“When I first saw him, I saw a huge hole in his trouser leg and all I could think of was, ‘God, what did he get shot with? ‘” he said, describing using his belt to stop the bleeding.
After the shooting, FBI investigators found a handwritten note in the car Harris drove to school.
St. Louis Police Commissioner Michael Sack detailed some of the passages: “I have no friends. I have no family. I never had a girlfriend. I never had a social life. I’ve been a lonely loner all my life,” the note read, according to Sack. “It was the perfect storm for a mass shooter.”
The commissioner said the shooter had his firearm in the open when he arrived at school and was carrying a chest rig with seven rounds of ammunition. He also carried more ammo in a bag and threw extra magazines down the stairs and into the hallways along the way.
“It doesn’t take long to flip through a magazine as you look down a long hallway or up or down a stairwell or into a classroom,” Sack said. “It could have been a horrible scene. It was not by the grace of God and that the officers were as close as they were and responded as they did.
The police commissioner has credited rapid police response, locked doors and advance training to prevent more deaths.
A call about an active shooter at the high school came around 9:11 a.m. and officers entered four minutes later, according to Sack. Some off-duty officers attending a fellow officer’s funeral nearby also responded to the scene.
By 9:23 a.m., officers had found the shooter and were “engaging him in a shootout.” Two minutes later, officers reported the suspect down.
Seven security personnel were also at the school when the shooter arrived, but the shooter did not enter a checkpoint where security guards were stationed, said DeAndre Davis, director of security and of St. Louis Public Schools Safety.
Davis said security guards stationed at schools in the district are unarmed, but mobile officers responding to calls at schools are.
Authorities said the doors were locked and it is still unclear how the shooter got in.
The St. Louis Police Commissioner declined to provide those details, saying, “I don’t want to make this easy for anyone else.”
When asked if it would have made a difference if the first person to confront the shooter had a gun, Board of Education Chairman Matt Davis said: ‘The mugger had a high powered gun. So much so that he was able to break into a secure building. The building is riddled with bullets.
“I don’t know what firepower it would take to stop that person. You saw the police response, it was massive. It was overwhelming,” he added. “…I know what would have been different is if that high-powered rifle wasn’t available to that individual. It would have made the difference.”
Across the country, at least 67 shootings have taken place on school grounds so far this year.
Davis said such shootings should not be normalized.
“The fact that it takes this level of response to stop a shooting like this because people have access to these weapons of war and can bring them into our schools can never be normal,” Davis said.
“It’s our worst nightmare. … And it can’t happen again.
The Saint Louis Public Schools District plans to add gun safety to its curriculum, Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams said.
“Not just reading, writing, and arithmetic, but reading, writing, arithmetic, and gun safety. It’s a weird kind of program alignment if you will,” a he declared.
Helping students understand how dangerous guns are will help keep them safe at school, in their neighborhood, “quite frankly, everywhere now,” Adams added.