It started off like any other Monday morning at Central VPA High School in St. Louis – students and teachers were just getting settled into the new day. Around 9 a.m., chaos broke out when an active shooter sent those same students and teachers into a panic – running for their lives.
The shooter, who was killed by a police officer, was identified as 19-year-old Orlando Harris, a former student. He didn’t have a criminal history prior to the shooting and while a motive has yet to be determined, officials believe the suspect’s mental illness played a role in his behavior.
The incident didn’t last very long thanks to a swift response by security officers, but not before the teenage gunman left two people dead – a 16-year-old tenth grader Alexandria Bell and a 61-year-old physical education teacher Jean Kuczka. Seven other teenagers were injured.
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Bell’s mother opened up about the chaotic morning that resulted in her losing ‘my heart in human form,’ as she described her daughter. Once the shooter was shot and killed, she rushed to the school like every other parent – hoping to be reunited with her child, like everyone else.
After not seeing Alexandria in the parking lot with other students, she called her to make sure she was safe. “I can’t find her. She’s not answering her phone. It’s going straight to voicemail. Everybody’s leaving, and my baby is not found,” she said before learning of her death.
As for Jean Kuczka, she was a passionate health and physical education teacher at Central VPA High School and absolutely loved what she did on a daily basis. She leaves behind five children – one of which has juvenile diabetes – and seven grandchildren. She ‘couldn’t imagine [herself] in any other career.’
“My mom loved kids,” said one of Kuczka’s daughters, Abigail. “She loved her students. I know her students looked at her like she was their mom.” Not only were seven others injured, but there are hundreds of other students and faculty members who will now face PTSD as a result.
Central VPA High School Security Guard Praised for Quick Response
In a press conference following the shooting, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Commissioner Michael Sack praised the quick response of a Central VPA High School security guard – who was the first to notify the police that an armed individual was entering the school.
The commissioner noted that the doors to the school were locked and all the necessary precautions were being executed at the time. He avoided explaining how the gunman entered the building, citing it would put other schools across the country at risk of a similar outcome.
“It was that timely response by that security officer, the fact that the door did cause pause for the suspect, that bought us some time,” Sack said in the press conference. “They’ve got the doors locked, they’ve got the metal detectors — they’re taking all the reasonable precautions.”
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Our hearts are with the families of those affected, the students and faculty at Central VPA High School, and the community – it’s times like these that we must band together in support. Gun violence is a public health crisis and we need to do whatever possible to prevent future attacks.
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