The attack at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School just after 9 a.m. Monday forced students to barricade doors, huddle in classroom corners, jump out of windows and run out of the building.
A terrified girl said she was able to run away, confronting the shooter before his gun apparently jammed.
Speaking at a news conference, Police Chief Michael Zack said the quick actions of a security guard and police officers who rushed to the scene helped end the shooting before more people were killed or injured. He said the shooter is believed to be in his 20s, but he has not been identified and a possible motive is not yet known.
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.”
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 the gunman trying to get through the locked door, but couldn’t. The guard notified school officials, who contacted police, Zack said.
“It was the timely response of that security officer that caused the suspect to pause at the door, giving us some time,” Zack said. He declined to say how the man got in armed with what he described as a long gun. 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.
Officers worked to get students out of the three-story building, then “ran into that gunfire, found that shooter, engaged that gunfire,” killing him, Zack said.
Monday’s school shooting was the 40th this year, according to Education Week, which caused the most injuries or deaths in any year since shootings began tracking in 2018. The deadly attacks included the killings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. 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.
Some of the six people hospitalized in Monday’s attack suffered gunshot wounds, while others were hit with shrapnel, Zack said. He did not give any information about their conditions.
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. He and I made eye contact, but his gun jammed and I pulled it out.”
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.
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 kids were screaming and running and fighting. He walked straight up two doors and pointed a gun at me because I was in the 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 got shot in the arm, and then she and her friends took off running. The phone hung up,” Douglas said. “I was on my way.”
The shooting shocked St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones.
Jones said at the press conference that our children should not have to experience this. “They don’t have to go through active shooter drills if something happens. Unfortunately that happened today.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said more action is needed to stop gun violence.
“Every day the Senate fails to send an assault weapons ban to the president’s desk, or waits to take other common-sense steps, is a day too late for families and communities affected by gun violence,” Jean-Pierre said.
The school district put all of its schools on lockdown for the rest of the day and canceled all after-school activities, including sports.