As a 19-year-old gunman walked the halls with an AR-15 rifle and With more than 600 bullets, frightened students and teachers at St. Louis High School closed classroom doors and huddled in corners.
Some remember hearing gunshots outside and someone trying to open their doors. Some described jumping out of windows.
The shooting at Central High School for Visual and Performing Arts left two people dead: student Alexandria Bell, 15, and teacher Jean Kuchka, 61.
The gunman has been identified as Orlando Harris, who graduated from the school last year and returned Monday with a large arsenal and a handwritten note. Note, according to St. Louis police. He died at the hospital after a gunfight with officers.
Student Alex Macias said it was just another morning before the assistant principal came over the intercom with a beep they only hear during active shooter drills. Then they heard gunshots, the student told CNN affiliate KSDK.
Her health teacher, Kuchka, locked the classroom door, but the gunman was able to “shoot his way in,” Macias said.
“He shot Ms. Kuchka and I just closed my eyes,” he said. “I really didn’t want to see anything else. But then, when I thought he was leaving, I opened my eyes to see him standing eye to eye with me. And then when he made eye contact, he just walked away.”
At that point, students began jumping out the window, he said.
Teacher Christy Faulstich said Kuchka died when she got between the gunman 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 remembers hearing “Miles Davis is in the building” over the intercom, the code to notify faculty of an active shooter.
Within a minute of locking the door to her second-floor classroom, Folstich said someone began “brutally squeezing the handle, trying to get in.”
Sophomore Brian Collins, 15, was in Kuchka’s class when the gunman entered the classroom and fired several shots, said his mother VonDina Washington.
Collins suffered gunshot wounds to his arms and jaw and escaped by jumping out of a classroom window, his mother said.
“He draws really well,” Washington said. “He went to CVPA for visual arts, and we hope he’ll be able to paint again.”
High School Arts Dean Manfret McGee told KSDK he ran for his life after the bullet missed him in the hallway and hid in the bathroom. He did not know at the time that his 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,
After the shooting, FBI investigators found a handwritten note in the car Harris drove to school.
St. Louis Police Commissioner Michael Sack elaborated on some parts. “I have no friends. I have no family. I’ve never had a girlfriend. I never had a social life. I have been an isolated loner my whole life,” the post read, according to Sack. “It was the perfect storm for mass shooters.”
The commissioner said the gunman discharged his firearm when he arrived at the school and was wearing a chest strap with seven bullets. He also carried more ammunition in a duffel bag and tossed extra magazines on the steps and in hallways.
“It doesn’t take long to burn through a magazine as you look down a long hallway or up or down stairs or into a classroom,” Sack said. “This could have been a terrible scene. It wasn’t by the grace of God and that the officers were as close as they were and reacted the way they did.”
The police commissioner credited the police’s quick response, locked doors and advance training for preventing more deaths.
A 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 who were attending the funeral of a fellow officer nearby also responded to the scene.
Around 9:23 a.m., officers located the gunman and “were engaging him in a gunfight.” Two minutes later, police said the suspect fell.
Seven security guards were also at the school when the gunman arrived, 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 security guards stationed at the district’s schools are not armed, but mobile officers who respond to calls at schools are.
Authorities said the doors were locked, and it’s unclear how the shooter gained entry.
The St. Louis police commissioner declined to provide details, saying: “I don’t want to make it easy for anyone else.”
Asked if it would have made a difference if the first person to confront the shooter had a gun, Board of Education President Matt Davis said, “The attacker had a high-powered rifle. So much so that he could force his way into a safe building. The building is riddled with bullets.”
“I don’t know how much firepower it would take to stop that man. You saw the reaction of the police, it was massive. It was overwhelming,” he added. “… I know it would have been different if this high-powered rifle had not been available to this person. That would make the difference.”
There have been at least 67 school shootings across the country this year.
Davis said that such shootings should not be normalized.
“The fact that it takes this level of response to stop a shooting like this because people have access to these weapons of war and can bring them into our schools can never be normal,” Davis said.
“This is our worst nightmare. … And it can’t happen again.”
The St. Louis Public Schools District plans to add gun safety to its curriculum, Superintendent Dr. Calvin Adams said.
“Not just reading, writing and arithmetic, but reading, writing, arithmetic and gun safety. It’s a weird curriculum alignment, if you will,” he said.
Helping students understand how dangerous guns are will help protect them at school, in their neighborhoods, “quite frankly, everywhere now,” Adams added.