The 19-year-old gunman who killed two people and wounded several others at his former high school wrote a note saying his struggles “led to a perfect storm for a mass shooting,” St. Louis police said.
Orlando Harris, who graduated last year from Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, returned Monday with an AR-15-style rifle, more than 600 rounds of ammunition and more than a dozen high-capacity magazines, St. Louis Police Commissioner Michael Zack said.
Harris died at the hospital after a shootout with officers.
Investigators found a handwritten note in the car Harris drove to school. Zack elaborated on some of the passages:
“I don’t have any friends. I have no family. I’ve never had a girlfriend. I never had a social life. “I’ve been a lonely loner my whole life,” Zack said in the note. “It was the perfect storm for a mass shooter.”
The police chief said the tragedy “could have been a lot worse” given the gunman’s extensive arsenal.
Authorities credited the locked doors and quick law enforcement response — including off-duty officers — with preventing more deaths at the school.
But the shooter did not enter a checkpoint manned by security guards, said DeAndre Davis, director of safety and security for St. Louis Public Schools.
Davis said the security guards stationed at the district’s schools are not armed but are mobile officers who respond to calls at the schools.
“It’s going to be kind of jarring for some people,” Davis said Tuesday. “For us, for our officers, for the normalcy of the school for the kids, we thought it would be better not to have armed officers in the school.”
Student Alexandria Bell (15) and teacher Jean Kushka (61) were killed in the attack.
Kristy Folstich, one of the teacher’s colleagues, said Kuchka died protecting her students.
During the rush to evacuate students from the school, “a student looked at me and said, ‘They shot Ms. Kuska.'” She said Ms. Kuska had wedged herself between the gunman and the students, Folstich said.
Kuschka was looking forward to retiring in a few years, daughter Abigail Kuschka told CNN.
Alexandria was looking forward to her Sweet 16, her father, Andre Bell, told CNN affiliate KSDK.
“It’s a nightmare,” Bell said. “I am very upset. I need someone – the police, community people, anyone – to make sense of this.”
He joins a growing list of parents grappling with the reality of their child being killed at school.
Nationwide, there have been at least 67 shootings on school grounds so far this year.
St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams said.
It may take up to two months for the school to be ready for individual classes, he said.
Adams said the district plans to include gun safety in its curriculum.
“The gun safety initiative is, quite frankly, a plan to address the kinds of issues that happen outside of our school district, outside of our school buildings, given the number of students who have been shot and killed in the city. In St. Louis, it’s the result of incidents that happen outside of school premises, quite frankly, that are dying,” he said. Said.
Bell, the father of the slain teenager, said he is struggling to get answers about what happened.
“I really want to know: How did that man get inside the school?” He told KSDK.
The doors were locked, authorities said. But the St. Louis police commissioner declined to elaborate on how the shooter got inside.
“I don’t want to make it easy on anybody else,” Zack said.
The gunman did not conceal his weapon when he entered the school, Zack said.
“When he entered, it was out … there was no mystery as to what was going to happen,” the commissioner said. “He pulled it out and entered in an aggressive, violent manner.”
The school’s principal came over the intercom and used the code phrase, “Miles Davis is in the building,” to alert faculty that an active shooter was in the building, Faulstich said.
“I instantly but calmly went to lock my door and turn off the lights,” said the teacher. “Then I turned to my kids and told them all to get in the corner.”
Within a minute of locking the door to her second-floor classroom, Falstich said, someone “violently hit the handle and tried to get in.”
“I applaud my students for their response,” Falstich said. “They stayed quiet even when they heard gunshots all around, and I know they did it to keep each other safe.”
Adrianne Bolden, a freshman at the school, told KSDK that students thought the school was holding a drill — until they heard sirens and noticed their teachers freaking out.
“The teacher, she crawled over and asked for help to move the lockers to the door so they couldn’t get in,” Bolden said. “We started hearing glass breaking outside and gunshots outside the door.”
Sophomore Brian Collins, 15, was shot in the arms and jaw. His mother Vondina Washington said he escaped by jumping from a classroom window to a ledge.
“He told me they heard an active shooter announcement over the intercom, so everyone in the class took cover,” Washington said. According to her son, the gunman came into the classroom and fired several shots before leaving.
After the gunman left the third-floor classroom, another student opened a classroom window and some of them jumped out, Washington said.
Brian has numbness in his hands and difficulty moving some of his right fingers.
“He’s really good at drawing,” Washington said. “He went to CVPA for visual arts and we hope he can draw again.”
Math teacher David Williams told CNN that everyone went into “drill mode,” turned off the lights, locked the door, and huddled in corners so they couldn’t be seen.
He said he heard someone trying to open the door and someone yelling, “You’re all going to die.”
A short time later, a bullet came through one of his classroom windows, Williams said.
His classroom is on the third floor, where police assigned the shooter, Zack said.
Finally, an officer said she was out, and Klaas ran out the nearest emergency door.
St. Louis Public Schools Communications Director George Sells said security personnel were at the school when the gunman arrived.
“We had seven officers working in the building and they did an amazing job of sounding the alarm quickly,” Sells said.
The Commissioner said that the school doors were locked which delayed the assailant.
“The school was closed and the doors were locked,” Zack told CNN affiliate KMOV. “The security staff did an excellent job, recognizing the suspect’s attempts to break in and immediately alerting other staff and making sure we were contacted.”
After widespread controversy over delays in responding to school shooters in Uvalde, Texas, and Parkland, Florida, responding officers in St. Louis wasted no time rushing to the school and stopping the gunman, Zack said.
“There was no pavement meeting. There’s been no discussion,” Zack said. “Hey, where are you going?’ They went right in.”
According to a timeline provided by the commissioner, a call came in about an active shooter at the high school around 9:11 a.m.
The police reached the spot four minutes later and entered.
Officers located the gunman and began “engaging the gun” at 9:23 a.m. Two minutes later, officers reported that the suspect was down.
Asked about the eight minutes between officers arriving and making contact with the gunman, Zack said “eight minutes isn’t too long,” and officers had to maneuver through a large school with few entrances and a rush of students and staff evacuating. .
“Police found the suspect not just by hearing gunshots, but by talking to kids and teachers as they went,” Zack said.
As phone calls came in from people hiding in various locations, officers rushed outside, searching for students and staff to escort them out of the building.
Officers who were at a church across the street attending the funeral of a fellow officer also responded to the shooting, the commissioner said.
A SWAT team that was together for a training exercise was able to quickly load up and get to the school to conduct a secondary sweep of the building, Zack said.
Some officers are “off duty; Some were in T-shirts, but they had their (ballistic) clothes on,” the commissioner said. “They did a great job.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong age for Alexandria Bell, 15, who was killed in the shooting.