The 19-year-old gunman who killed two people at a St. Louis high school Monday was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and over 600 rounds of ammunition, and he left behind a note referring to mass shootings, police said.
St. Louis police on Tuesday showed an image of the rifle used by Orlando Harris, who died after he exchanged fire with authorities.
“He had seven magazines of ammunition on a chest rig that he wore. He also had an additional eight magazines of ammunition in a field bag that he had carried,” Police Chief Mike Sack told reporters. “This doesn’t include the number of magazines that he left and dumped on the stairway in the corridors along the way.”
Sack said the shooting could have been worse had officers not gotten to Central Visual Performing Arts High School as quickly as they did.
“This could’ve been a horrific scene,” he said. “It was not, by the grace of God and that the officers were as close as they were and responded in the manner that they did.”
Sack, who did not clarify how the shooter got access to the weapon, stressed the importance of checking in with people who are in distress.
“If you’re aware of an individual who appears to be suffering from some kind of mental illness or distress and they begin speaking about purchasing firearms or causing harm to others, we encourage you to reach out to somebody and report that so that we can get help to that individual,” he said.
The high school and the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, which share a building, will be closed through Friday. The schools will switch to virtual learning next week while repairs are being made, according to Kelvin R. Adams, superintendent of St. Louis Public Schools.
The gunman also left a handwritten note in the car he drove to the school, police said.
Sack read part of the note at the news conference, in which the gunman described himself as a loner and referred to mass shootings.
“So, in reading this, we could see some of what’s going on inside his mind,” Sack said. “He feels isolated, he feels alone, quite possibly angry and resentful of others who have what appeared to him to be healthy relationships, and so desired to lash out.”
Harris entered the high school at around 9 a.m. Monday with what police at the time categorized as a long gun.
After a gunfight with authorities minutes later, the gunman was taken into custody and pronounced dead later, a St. Louis police official told reporters.
Jean Kuczka, 61, a health teacher, and Alexzandria Bell, 15, a student, were killed in the shooting, officials said.
Kuczka was a mother of five, a grandmother of seven and a bike rider who participated in an annual charity event to raise money to fight juvenile diabetes, which her son has, according to her profile on the high school’s website.
She began working for St. Louis Public Schools in 2002 at Carr Lane Visual Performing Arts Middle School before she transferred to the high school in 2008 to teach health, personal finance and physical education.
Andre Bell, Alexzandria’s adoptive father, who lives in Los Angeles, called losing her “a nightmare,” NBC affiliate KSDK of St. Louis reported.
Alexzandria, a sophomore who had an outgoing personality, was a member of her high school’s junior varsity dance team, Bell told the station.
“She was joyful, wonderful and just a great person,” he said. “She was the girl I loved to see and loved to hear from. No matter how I felt, I could always talk to her and it was all right. That was my baby.”
A GoFundMe campaign created to help Alexzandria’s family with funeral expenses describes her as “beautiful, talented, and charismatic.”
Sack was not able to provide any update on the other victims injured in the shooting, saying he was not aware whether any of them had been released from the hospital. They are all 15 and 16 years old and sustained injuries from gunshot wounds to a fractured ankle and facial abrasions, he said Monday.
At a brief regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting Tuesday evening, board president Matt Davis read a joint statement apologizing and calling for changes that would bring an end to school shootings.
“We are sorry that a young man with mental health issues was able to gain access to an assault rifle and we could not keep you safe,” Davis said. “All we can do is join with you in mourning. Alexzandria Bell, the dancer with the illuminating smile, and Mrs. Jean Kuczka, the teacher that loved and was beloved — we will never forget them.”