As a 19-year-old walked the hallways with an AR-15-style rifle and More than 600 rounds of ammunition, terrified students and teachers closed the classroom doors and gathered in the corners of the high school in San Luis.
Some remember hearing shots from outside and someone trying to open the doors. Some described jumping out of windows.
The shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School left two dead: student Alexandria Bell, 15, and teacher Jean Kuczka, 61. Several other students were also injured in the shooting.
The gunman was identified as Orlando Harris, who graduated from the school last year and returned Monday with an extensive arsenal and handwritten notes. note, according to St. Louis police. He died in a hospital after a shootout with officers.
Student Alex Macias said it was just another morning until the assistant principal came to the intercom with a signal only heard during active shooters. Then they heard gunshots, the student told CNN affiliate KSDK.
Her health teacher, Kuczka, locked the classroom door, but the gunman was able to “shoot his way in,” Macias said.
“He shot Ms. Kuczka, and I closed my eyes,” he said. “I didn’t want to see anything else. But then as I thought he was going to leave, I opened my eyes to see him standing there making eye contact with me. And then, after making eye contact, he walked away.
The students started jumping out of the window at that point, he said.
Teacher Kristie Faulstich said Kuczka died by putting herself between the gunfire and the students. He described his former colleague as a popular teacher who was loved by many.
Faulstich was at the school that day and recalled hearing over the intercom the phrase “Miles Davis is in the building,” the code for teachers to alert them of an active shooter.
Within a minute of locking the door to the second-floor classroom, Faulstich said someone began “brutally banging on the handle, trying to get in.”
Second-grader Brian Collins, 15, was in Kuczka’s class when the gunman walked into the classroom and fired several shots, his mother VonDina Washington said.
Collins was shot in the hands and jaw and escaped by jumping from a classroom window to a ledge, the mother said.
“He’s really good at drawing,” Washington said. “He went to CVPA for visual arts, and we hope he can draw again.”
The high school’s Dean of Arts, Manfret McGhee, told KSDK that he ran for his life after being hit by a bullet in the hallway and hiding in a bathroom. At the time she did not know that her 16-year-old son had been shot.
Then she ran to her son’s health class.
“When I first saw him, I saw a huge hole in his pant leg and all I could think was, ‘Oh my God, what did they shoot him with?'” she said, describing using a belt to stop the bleeding.
After the shooting, FBI investigators found a handwritten note in the car Harris drove to school.
Michael Sack St. Police Commissioner Louis detailed some passages: “I have no friends. I have no family. I’ve never had a girlfriend. I have never had a social life. I’ve been a lonely loner all my life,” the note read, according to Sack. “This was a perfect storm for a mass shooter.”
The commissioner said the gunman had an open firearm when he arrived at the school and was wearing a breastplate with seven cartridges of ammunition. He also carried more ammunition in a duffel bag and dumped extra magazines in the stairwells and corridors along the way.
“It doesn’t take long to smoke a magazine while you’re looking down a long hallway or up or down a flight of stairs or into a classroom,” Sack said. “This could have been a terrible scene. It wasn’t by the grace of God that the officers were as close as they were, and the way they responded.”
The police commissioner credited the police’s quick response, locked doors and advance training for preventing more deaths.
The call about an active shooter at the high school came in around 9:11 a.m., and officers entered four minutes later, according to Sack. Some off-duty officers in the area also responded to the scene where they were attending the funeral of a fellow officer.
By 9:23 a.m., officers found the gunshot and were “engaging in a shootout.” Two minutes later, officers reported the suspect was down.
Seven security personnel were also at the school when the gunman arrived, but the shooter did not enter a checkpoint where security guards were present, said DeAndre Davis, director of safety and security at St. Louis Public Schools.
Davis said the security guards stationed at the district’s schools are not armed, but the mobile officers who respond to calls at the schools.
Authorities say the doors were locked, and it’s still unclear how the shooter got in.
St. Police Commissioner Louis declined to provide those details, saying: “I don’t want to make it easy for anyone else.”
If the first person who confronted the shooter had a gun, Board of Education Chairman Matt Davis said, “The attacker had a high-powered rifle. So much so that he could have forced him into a safe building. The building is riddled with bullets.”
“I don’t know how much firepower it would take to stop that person. You saw the police response, it was terrible. It was awesome,” he added. “… I know how different it would have been if this high-powered rifle had not been available to this individual. That would have made a difference.”
Nationwide, there have been at least 67 school shootings this year.
Davis said such shootings should not be normalized.
“That it takes this level of response to stop a shooting like this because people can get these weapons of war and bring them into our schools can never be normal,” Davis said.
“This is our worst nightmare. … And it can’t happen again.”
The Saint Louis Public Schools district plans to add gun safety to its curriculum, Superintendent Kelvin Adams said.
“Not just reading, writing and arithmetic, but reading, writing, arithmetic and gun safety. It’s a rare kind of resume alignment, if you will,” he said.
Helping students understand how dangerous guns are can help protect them at school, in their neighborhoods, “frankly, everywhere now,” Adams added.