As a 19-year-old gunman walked through the halls with an AR-15 style rifle and more than 600 ammunition, anxious students and teachers at a St. Louis high school locked classroom doors and huddled in corners.
Some remember hearing gunshots from outside and someone trying to open their doors. Some described jumping out of windows.
The shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School killed two people: 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 school last year and returned Monday with an extensive arsenal and a handwritten note. Remark, according to the St. Louis Police Department. He died in a hospital after a shootout with officers.
Student Alex Macias said it was just another morning until the deputy director came over the intercom with a signal they only hear during active target practice. 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 Mrs. Kuczka and I just closed my eyes,” she said. “I really didn’t want to see anything else. But when I thought he was leaving, I opened my eyes and saw him standing there and making eye contact with me. And when he made eye contact, he just left.”
That’s when students started jumping out of windows, she said.
Teacher Kristie Faulstich said Kuczka died while standing between the gunman and the students. She described her former colleague as a popular teacher loved by many.
Faulstich was at school that day and recalled hearing the phrase “Miles Davis is in the building” over the intercom — a code to alert faculty to an active gunman.
Within a minute of locking the door to her second-floor classroom, Faulstich said someone “started pushing forcibly on the stool to get in.”
Sophomore Brian Collins, 15, was in Kuczka’s class when the gunman entered the classroom and fired several shots, his mother VonDina Washington said.
Collins suffered gunshot wounds to his hands and jaw and escaped by jumping from a classroom window onto a ledge, the mother said.
“He’s very good at drawing,” Washington said. “He went to CVPA for fine arts and we hope he can draw again.”
High school Dean of Arts Manfret McGhee told KSDK he ran for his life after a bullet missed him in the hallway and hid in a bathroom. He was unaware at the time that his 16-year-old son had been shot.
Then he ran to his son’s health class.
“When I first saw him I saw a huge hole in his pant leg and all I could think of was, ‘My God, what was he shot with?'” he said, describing how he used his belt to to stop the bleeding.
After the shooting, FBI investigators found a handwritten note in the car Harris was driving to the school.
St. Louis Police Commissioner Michael Sack detailed some passages: “I have no friends. I have no family. I’ve never had a girlfriend. I’ve never had a social life. I’ve been a lonely loner all my life,” Sack said on the note. “This was the perfect storm for a mass shooter.”
The commissioner said the gunman had his firearm out in the open when he arrived at the school and was wearing a breastplate with seven magazines of ammunition. He also carried more ammunition in a bag, throwing extra magazines on the stairs and in the hallways along the way.
“It doesn’t take long to burn through a magazine if you’re looking at a long hallway or a stairwell or a classroom,” Sack said. “This could have been a horrible scene. It wasn’t by the grace of God and the officers were as close as they were, responding the way they did.”
The police commissioner has credited a quick police response, closed doors and previous training to prevent more deaths.
A report of an active high school gunman came in around 9:11 a.m. and officers came in four minutes later, Sack said. Some off-duty officers who were in the area to attend a funeral for a fellow officer also arrived on the scene.
By 9:23 a.m., officers had found the gunman and “involved in a gunfight.” Two minutes later, officers reported that the suspect was down.
Seven security personnel were also at the school when the gunman arrived, but the gunman did not enter a checkpoint where guards were stationed, said DeAndre Davis, director of safety and security at St. Louis Public Schools.
Davis said the guards stationed in the schools in the district are not armed, but mobile agents who respond to calls at schools are.
Authorities said the doors were locked and it is unclear how the gunman got in.
The St. Louis Police Commissioner declined to provide those details, saying, “I don’t want to make it easy on anyone else.”
When 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 gun. So much so that he locked himself in a secure building. The building is riddled with bullets.”
“I don’t know how much firepower it would take to stop that person. You saw the reaction of the police, it was huge. It was overwhelming,” he added. “…I know what would have been different if this high-powered rifle hadn’t been available to this person. That would have made all the difference.”
Across the country, at least 67 school shootings have taken place so far this year.
Davis said such shootings should not be normalized.
“The fact that it takes such a response to stop a shooting like this because people can access these weapons of war and bring them to our schools can never be normal,” Davis said.
“This is our worst nightmare. … And it can’t happen again.”
The District of Saint Louis Public Schools plans to add gun safety to its curriculum, said Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams.
“Not just reading, writing and arithmetic, but also reading, writing, arithmetic and weapon safety. That’s a weird kind of curriculum alignment if you like,” he said.
By helping students understand how dangerous weapons are, they will be protected at school, in their neighborhood, “honestly, everywhere now,” Adams added.