An armed former student stormed into a St. Louis high school Monday morning, shouting, “You’re all going to die!” Before fatally shooting a teacher and a teenage girl, and injuring seven others, he would be killed in a police shootout.
The attack, which happened just after 9 a.m. at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, forced students to barricade doors, huddle in classroom corners, jump out of windows and run out of the building to seek safety. A terrified girl said she was able to run away, confronting the shooter before his gun apparently jammed.
Speaking at a news conference Monday afternoon, Police Chief Michael Zack identified the shooter as 19-year-old Orlando Harris, who graduated from the school last year.
Zack said the motive is still under investigation, but “it is suspected that he has some mental illness that he suffers from.” Investigators later searched Harris’ home, Zack said.
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Authorities did not release the names of the victims, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch identified the dead teacher as Jean Kushka. Her daughter said the mother was killed when the gunman burst into her classroom.
“My mother loved children,” Abby Kuska told the newspaper. “She loved her students. I know her students looked up to her like their mother.
Zack said the deceased was a 16-year-old girl who died at school.
Seven other students, aged 15 and 16, four boys and three girls, are all in stable condition. Four students suffered gunshot or graze wounds, two had bruises and one had a broken ankle.
Zack declined to say how Harris was able to enter the building, which has security guards, locked doors and metal detectors.
“If there’s anybody who has a will, they’re going to understand, and we don’t want to make it easy for them,” Zack said. “We need to do our best to extend the time it takes them to get into the building to buy us time to respond.”
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Harris pulled out a gun when he arrived at the school, saying, “There was no mystery what was going to happen. He pulled it out and entered in an aggressive and violent manner.
Harris had about a dozen high-capacity ammunition magazines with him, Zack said. “It’s all victims. … It’s certainly tragic for the families, it’s tragic for our community, but it could have been a lot worse.
St. Louis Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams said seven security guards were at the school at the time of the attack, each stationed at the entrance to the locked building. One of the guards noticed that the gunman tried to enter through the locked door and failed. The guard informed the school authorities and they contacted the police.
Zack said a call about a shooter came in at 9:11 a.m. and officers arrived and took Harris down by 9:25 a.m. He and others praised the quick response of officers and other emergency responders.
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Central Visual and Performing Arts shares a building with another magnet school, the Collegiate School of Medicine and Biosciences. Central has 383 students and college has 336 students.
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Monday’s school shooting was the 40th this year, according to Education Week, the highest number of injuries or deaths in a year since shootings began tracking in 2018. 19 children and two teachers died in May. Monday’s St. Louis shooting came the same day a Michigan teenager pleaded guilty to terrorism and first-degree murder in connection with a December 2021 school shooting.
Tanya Gholston said she was saved when the shooter’s gun jammed as she entered her classroom. “All I heard was two shots and he came in there with a gun,” the 16-year-old told the Post-Dispatch. “I tried to run and I couldn’t run. He and I made eye contact, but I avoided it because his gun was jammed.
Two teachers recounted near-miss encounters with the shooter.
Ashley Wrench told The Associated Press that she was teaching advanced algebra to sophomores. Then the school intercom announced, “Miles Davis is in the building.”
“That’s our code for intruders,” Wrench said.
Students took cover under desks and behind podiums as the shooter tried to enter the locked classroom.
“I don’t know why he decided to break my windows or shoot through the lock,” she said.
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Raymond Parks was about to teach a dance class for juniors when he was approached by a man dressed in black. At first Parkes thought the man was carrying a broom or stick. That’s when I realized it was a gun.
“The children started screaming and running and fighting. He walked straight up two doors and pointed the gun at me because I was in front,” Parks said.
For some unknown reason, Parks said, the shooter pulled the gun away from him and allowed Parks and about a dozen other students to leave the room. “That’s what I don’t understand. He let me go,” Parks said.
Janay Douglas’ 15-year-old daughter was trapped in the hallway when the school went into lockdown. Douglas said she received a call from her daughter saying she heard gunshots.
“One of her friends walked through the door, he was shot in the arm, and then she and her friends started running. “Hang up,” Douglas said. “I was on my way.”
Kushka, the slain teacher, taught health at Central for 14 years and recently started coaching cross-country at Collegiate, her daughter said. “She was definitely looking forward to retirement. “She was close,” Abby Kushka said.
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Kuska’s biography on the school’s website said she was a married mother of five and grandmother of seven. She was an avid bike rider and was part of the 1979 national championship field hockey team at what is now Missouri State University.
“I can’t imagine myself in any career other than teaching,” Kuska wrote on the website. “In high school, I taught swimming lessons at the YMCA. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be a teacher.
The shooting shocked St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones.
“Our kids shouldn’t have to go through this,” Jones said. “They don’t have to go through active shooter drills in case something happens. Unfortunately that happened today.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said more action is needed to stop gun violence.
“Every day that the Senate fails to send an assault weapons ban to the president’s desk, or waits to take another common-sense step, is a day too late for families and communities affected by gun violence,” said Jean-Pierre.
The school district put all of its schools on lockdown for the rest of the day and canceled all after-school activities, including sports.
AP News Editor Julie Wright contributed from Kansas City, Missouri. Reporter Margaret Stafford contributed from Liberty, Missouri. Salter reported from O’Fallon, Missouri.