The AR-15-style rifle used in the deadly St. Louis school shooting was seized from the shooter during an interaction with police about a week before the attack, and it’s unclear how it was returned, police say.
19-year-old Orlando Harris opened fire on Monday. It killed student Alexandria Bell, 15, and teacher Jean Kushka, 61, and injured several others at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. Harris later died at the hospital after a shootout with school officials.
Before the shooting, St. Louis Police Commissioner Michael Zack said at a news conference Wednesday that his family had contacted St. Louis police to get a gun from him. “The mother then wanted it out of the house,” he added.
Police responded to a domestic dispute at the family’s home on Oct. 15 — nine days before Monday’s shooting, according to a police statement Wednesday night.
“Officers responded and the suspect was legally allowed to possess a firearm,” according to a statement obtained by CNN affiliate KMOV. “A third party known to the family was contacted and kept the gun so it would not be kept in the home.”
Police confirmed Wednesday night that the gun removed from the home that day was the gun used in the school shooting.
“How he got it after that … we don’t know,” Zack said. “We’re looking into it.”
The gun has a serial number and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is trying to trace it, Zack said.
A news release from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department revealed late Thursday that the gunman purchased the rifle from a private seller.
On October 8, the suspect attempted to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer in St. Charles, Missouri, but an FBI background check “successfully intercepted the sale,” police said.
“As a result, the rifle used in the school shooting was investigated and purchased from a suspected private seller who legally purchased the weapon from a federally licensed dealer in December 2020,” the release said. “No law exists in this case preventing a private sale between the original purchaser and the suspect.”
The teenager’s family was worried about him. In addition to trying to take away the gun, they Once he was placed in a mental health facility, they searched his room, tracked his mail, and tried to make sure he was interacting with people and being loved, Zack said.
“They made every effort they reasonably felt they could,” Zack said. “I think that’s why the mother is heartbroken about the families who paid for his episode.”
The gunman, who graduated from the same school last year, “forced entry into the school” with a rifle and a large amount of ammunition, some of which was strapped to his chest, Zack said.
The shooting riddled the building with bullets, turning into a typical Monday at the school, as terrified students and teachers barricaded doors, huddled in corners, jumped out of windows for their lives, and gunshots rang out in their hallways.
After the attack, FBI investigators found a letter and notebook in the car Harris was driving to school.
“School was the goal,” Zach said. “There was a disconnect between him and the rest of the school community. He felt isolated and alone.”
There were seven security personnel at the school when the gunman arrived, but the shooter did not enter through a checkpoint manned by security guards, said DeAndre Davis, director of safety and security for St. Louis Public Schools.
“He had to force an entry, which is good for us because it buys us time,” Zack said Wednesday.
Zack says officers were at the school four minutes after the active shooter was reported, and eight minutes after that they were engaged in a confrontation with the gunman.
The police commissioner repeatedly praised the quick police response, locked doors and advance training for preventing more deaths.
Authorities thanked students for following teachers’ instructions and locking doors after being alerted to a threat on campus.
“We’ve had teenagers and athletes — they don’t always listen — but they’ll definitely hear it on Monday,” Zack said. “They did as their teachers instructed, they did as the officials instructed, even though you could see many of them were traumatized. You can see their face, you can read their eyes.
Students and teachers rushed to lock and barricade classroom doors after hearing a coded message broadcast over the intercom.
The gunman entered Jean Kuczka’s health classroom, where she and her students were huddled.
Student Keyshawn Brooks told CNN affiliate KSDK that the shooter walked into his classroom and shot the teacher.
“They shot down our classroom door and someone opened the door and said, ‘You’re all going to die today,'” Brooks said.
“He shot the teacher first. She fell to the floor. Another kid was shot in the arm and bleeding. Two other girls were shot,” Brooks said. “When he left the room, we opened the window and jumped out.”
Student Alex Macias described looking the gunman in the eye after Kushka was shot.
“He shot Mrs. Kushka and I closed my eyes,” she said. “I really didn’t want to see anything else. But when I thought he was going to leave, I opened my eyes and saw him standing there. Then after he made eye contact he was gone.
The students then began jumping out the window, she said.
Teacher Christy Folstich said Kushka died after putting herself between the gunman and the students. She described her former colleague as a popular teacher who was loved by many.
The Police Commissioner said that the authorities are looking into the issue of making it difficult to enter the classrooms.
As the investigation continues and students and faculty mourn Kuska and Bell, school officials said it could be two months before they are allowed back on campus.