Victims of the shooting in St. Louis is ‘awesome’
ST. LOUIS –
The girl’s father said the teenager was killed in a school shooting in St. Louis is a “playful, wonderful” girl.
Alexandria Bell, 15, was dead Monday morning when Orlando Harris broke into Central High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and started shooting. Teacher Jean Kuczka also died and seven other students were injured. Police killed Harris in a gun exchange just minutes after they arrived.
St. Public Schools. Louis on Tuesday confirmed that the victims were Bell and 61-year-old gym teacher Jean Kuczka. Earlier, police said the boy was 16 years old.
“Alexandria is my everything,” Andre Bell told KSDK-TV. “She’s fun, great, and a great person.”
Alexandria, a 10th grader, is outgoing, loves to dance and is a member of the school’s junior varsity dance team.
“She’s the girl I love to meet and love to hear from. No matter how I feel, I can always talk to her and it’s okay. That’s my baby,” Andre Bell said.
The attack forced students to barricade doors and gather in classroom corners, jumping from windows and running out of the building in search of safety. A terror-stricken girl says she confronted the shooter before his gun seemed to jam and she was able to run out. Several people in the school said they heard Harris’ warning, “You’re all going to die!”
Harris, 19, graduated from the school last year. The FBI is assisting police in trying to determine a motive, but police commissioner Michael Sack said at a news conference that mental health issues could be a factor.
Abby Kuczka said her mother was killed when the gunman burst into her classroom and she moved between him and her students.
“My mother loved the kids,” Abbey Kuczka told St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “She loves her students. I know her students look at her like she’s their mother.”
The seven injured students were all 15 or 16 years old. All have been listed in stable condition. Sack said four people suffered gunshot or graze injuries, two suffered bruises and one broke an ankle.
Schools south of St. Louis was locked, with seven security guards near each door, the Superintendent of St. Louis, said Kelvin Adams. A security guard was initially alarmed when the gunman tried to enter one of the doors. He was armed with a gun and “there was no mystery as to what was going to happen. He pulled it out and walked in in an aggressive, violent way,” Sack said.
That security guard alerted school officials and made sure police were contacted.
Harris managed to get inside anyway – Sack declined to say how, saying he didn’t want to “make it easy” for anyone else who wanted to break into a school.
Sack gives a timeline of these events: A 911 call arrived at 9:11 a.m. alerting police to an active shooter. The staff – some dressed in street clothes – arrived at 9:15 am. Police located Harris at 9:23 a.m. and began shooting at him. Harris was shot at 9:25 a.m. He was protected by the police at 9:32 a.m
Harris is equipped with nearly a dozen 30-piece high-capacity magazines, Sack said.
“This could be much worse,” Sack said.
The Performing and Visual Arts Center shares a building with another specialized school, the Collegiate School of Medicine and Biological Sciences. Central has 383 students, College 336.
Monday’s school shooting was the 40th time this year that resulted in injury or death, according to Education Week statistics – the most in any year since it began tracking shootings in 2016. 2018. Deadly attacks include the murder at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May, when 19 children and two teachers died. The shooting in St. Louis on Monday occurred the same day a Michigan teenager pleaded guilty to terrorism and first-degree murder in a school shooting that left four students dead in December 2021.
Taniya Gholston said she was saved when the shooter’s gun jammed as he entered her classroom. “All I heard was two shots and he went there with a gun,” the 16-year-old told the Post-Dispatch. “I was trying to run and I couldn’t. He and I made eye contact but I went outside because his gun jammed.”
The gunman pointed the weapon at Raymond Parks, a dance teacher at the school, but did not shoot him, Parks said. The kids in his class hid outside and Parks tried to stop the traffic and get someone to call the police. They arrived quickly.
“You couldn’t ask for better,” Parks said of the police response.
Ashley Rench said she was teaching advanced algebra to sophomores when she heard a loud bang. Then the school intercom announced, “Miles Davis is in the building.”
“It’s our code for intruders,” says Rench.
She said the gunman tried to break down the classroom door but was unable to get in. When the police started pounding, she wasn’t sure if it was really law enforcement at first until she was able to look outside and see the officers.
“Let’s go!” she told the children.
Kuczka, the slain teacher, taught medicine at Central for 14 years and recently began training cross-country at Collegiate, her daughter said. Abbey Kuczka said: “She’s definitely looking forward to retirement. She’s close.”
Kuczka’s biography on the school’s website states that she is a married mother of five and a seven-year-old grandmother. She was a cyclist and a member of the 1979 national championship hockey team at Missouri State University.
“I can’t imagine myself doing anything other than teaching,” Kuczka writes on the website. “In high school, I taught swimming at the YMCA. From there, I knew I wanted to be a teacher.”
AP reporter Margaret Stafford of Liberty, Missouri, contributed to this report. Salter reports from O’Fallon, Missouri.