Teacher and student killed in shooting at St. Louis performing arts school, gunman dead
Police said they fatally shot the killer in an exchange of gunfire at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. At least two people are dead and six others injured.
Updated at 4 p.m. Oct. 24 with information about the teacher who was fatally shot and more reaction from officials
At least two people are dead and six others injured following a shooting at a south St. Louis high school Monday morning.
Interim St. Louis Police Chief Michael Sack said the suspect was killed in an exchange of gunfire with police at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School.
The two people fatally injured were both female, one an adult and one a teenager. Sack said their identities would be made public after next of kin were notified.
Family members confirmed that one of the victims was Jean Kuczka, a health and physical education teacher at the school. Her daughter Abbey said she had been a teacher for 38 years, the past 20 with St. Louis Public Schools.
Those injured suffered gunshot wounds, shrapnel injuries and cardiac arrest.
“This is a heartbreaking day for all of us,” Sack said in a briefing around 11:15 a.m. “While on paper there are nine victims, everyone who survived here is going to take home trauma.”
The police department first received calls of shots fired at the magnet school, at 3125 S. Kingshighway, around 9:25 a.m.
Sack said the school was closed and the doors locked. He said the school’s security team immediately notified police when the suspect, a man in his 20s, attempted to gain entry, but he would not discuss how the suspect was able to get in.
Sack had high praise for the officers who responded, saying they entered the building without hesitation and ran toward gunfire, “which is our expectation,” to protect the students.
Sack also praised the teachers and staff at the school who helped the students escape. There were about 700 students in the building at the time.
“Thank God for the adults,” he said.
City interim Public Safety Director Dan Isom said he believed the quick actions of both school security officers and the St. Louis police who responded saved lives.
The school district said in a statement released around 12:30 p.m. that it had placed all 62 of its schools on a hard lockdown for the rest of the day and canceled all after-school activities.
A hard lockdown means limited movement in and out of the schools. Guardians wanting to pick up a student must call the school in advance and let administrators know when and who will be at pickup.
Sack said that he did not know the man’s connection to the school but that police had located his vehicle. The Force Investigative Unit is handling the investigation.
Sack said while police have stepped up patrols in the neighborhood where the shooting happened, he did not believe there were any other people involved or that the community was at risk.
Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams said seven security officers were at the school. Sack said the shooting took place on the third floor.
Schools often have a code word they use for an active shooter situation. Yurisky Velazquez Vera, a 16-year-old sophomore, said she could tell by the tone that it was not a drill.
From her hiding spot in the back corner of a room, she watched her teacher get shot. She was terrified that she was not going to see her parents or grandparents anymore.
“These things need to stop because, what’s going to happen to the future kids? What's going to happen to them?” she said. “We deserve to go to school without having to worry that we’re going to get shot.”
Yurisky’s mother, Acucena Vera, said she wasn’t sure she would ever feel safe sending her daughter back to class.
“They have to keep going through this when they just want to come and learn,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Cori Bush urged anyone who needs resources, especially for mental health, to call her office at 314-955-9980.
“It is OK not to be OK,” she said. “It is OK to not hold it in yourself.”
People needing connection to resources can also contact the 24/7 crisis line at 988 or call Behavioral Health Response anytime at 314-469-6644. Students dealing with trauma can call 314-819-8802, chat online at www.bhrstl.com or text BHEARD to 31658.
Sarah Lewis, a 18-year-old student, said she was in a classroom directly above where the shooting took place. She said she heard banging and shooting.
“I honestly felt like I wasn’t going to make it out of there,” she said.
Isabella Alamo, 16, said she saw a person at the bottom of the stairs as she was evacuating the building. She said she “tried to get people to go out faster” so they wouldn’t have to see the blood.
A visibly shaken Mayor Tishaura Jones said she had visited CVPA on the first day of school for students.
“We laughed, we sang, we danced. And now to be here for such a devastating and traumatic situation breaks my heart, especially as a mother,” she said.
Parents and guardians of students attending either CVPA or the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, which shares a building with CVPA, can reunite with their children at Gateway STEM, located at 5101 McRee Ave.
Other schools in the area heightened their own security in response to the shooting at CVPA. Confluence Academies, which operates five charter schools throughout the city, prohibited visitors in all its buildings.
“There is no threat to any Confluence schools or students but we are taking this step as a precaution,” the school said on Twitter.
Rep. Peter Meredith, D-St. Louis, has a niece who attends CVPA. The school is in his state House district. On Facebook, he wrote that he was praying for the students and their families.
On Twitter, Aderman Shane Cohn, who represents the 25th Ward, wrote: “Nobody should experience this at school. Nobody should experience this at work. Nobody should experience this at the movies. Nobody should experience this at a concert. Nobody should experience this at a grocery. Nobody should experience this.”
State Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, represents the district in which the schools are located. On Twitter, she asked constituents to pray for those affected by the violence.
Gov. Mike Parson said in a statement that he had been briefed on the shooting and was offering the assistance of any state resources to help with the investigation.
“Teresa and I are praying for the victims, their families, and the entire community,” he said.
Both candidates for president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen placed some of the blame for the shooting in the hands of the Missouri General Assembly.
“It is unconscionable that the Republican legislature has tied our hands,” said 15th Ward Alderwoman Megan Green. “We are prohibited from doing more to get guns off our streets.”
Her opponent, 7th Ward Alderman Jack Coatar, also targeted his ire at Congress.
“The complete lack of action in Jefferson City and Washington is normalizing children being killed at school,” he said.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner was among those praising the adults at the school for their response.
“One thing that is clear is that lockdown procedures — which St. Louis Public School’s administrators, teachers and students at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School and first responders followed as this attack unfolded — were essential in preventing further violence. I am personally grateful to each of them and share my deepest condolences.”
Gardner’s counterpart in St. Louis County, Wesley Bell, said his office was ready to offer whatever assistance it could.
"We are praying for the victims, students, faculty and anyone harmed by these senseless acts of violence. Thank you to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers who were nothing short of heroic in their response to these tragic shootings," he said.
The FBI is also helping investigate the shooting. Anyone with photos or video of the incident should upload them tofbi.gov/CentralVPA. A spokeswoman for the FBI office in St. Louis said such coordination among federal and local law enforcement is standard.
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