(NewsNation) — Three people including the suspected gunman, identified as 19-year-old Orlando Harris, are dead after a shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis, according to local police.
One 61-year-old woman, identified as St. Louis teacher Jean Kirk Kuczka, was pronounced dead at a local hospital, and one 16-year-old female was pronounced dead at the scene, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Mike Sack said. Both are believed to have died from wounds sustained during gunfire.
Officers believe there are about nine victims total and that there are no other suspects. Seven teenagers received injuries and are all listed in stable condition.
Chief Sack applauded St. Louis officers for their timely response to the shooting. He says the first report of an active shooter at the high school came in at 9:11 a.m. Officers arrived at the school by 9:15 a.m. and found the suspect at 9:23 a.m. after hearing gunshots.
Students fleeing the school when officers arrived reported the suspect was armed with a long gun, Sack said.
“When he entered, it was out. There was no mystery about what was going to happen. He had it out and entered in an aggressive, violent matter,” Sack explained.
Sack says officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect and brought him down by 9:25 a.m. Harris was struck and transported to the hospital where he died, Sack said.
The scene was secure and there was no longer an active threat as of 10:45 a.m., according to police.
Harris graduated from the high school last year and had no prior criminal history. Officials raided his home in connection to the investigation.
A motive for the shooting is unclear at this time, but Sack reported that mental illness may have played a role.
Kristie Faulstich, a teacher at the high school, joined NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” to speak about the shooting. She says she knew it wasn’t a drill by the principal’s tone.
“As soon as our principal came on the intercom, she said ‘Miles Davis is in the building.’ Our administration, they are the best administration in St. Louis. So, the way she said it, I think that we all knew that it was something serious,” Faulstich said.
She said in the moment, she tried her best to stay calm and focus on keeping her students safe.
“As soon as it started happening, I locked the door, turned off the lights, got them in the corner. And immediately in my head, something started telling me this is different, this is real. This is not a drill. However, with all that being said, my brain also went to my daughter. I feel like that’s only human nature that your mind would go to your family,” Faulstich said. “But in my head at that moment, I was like, we need to focus on what we’re doing right now, which is staying safe, keeping the kids safe. I was just doing my very, very best to stay completely calm, like completely, like straight face. And I was looking at the students, they were doing exactly the same, they were staying completely calm. Even at the point we were hearing gunshots outside the room, my students still did.”
Faulstich also commended the teacher who lost her life in the shooting, Jean Kuczka. She said in her final moments, the physical education teacher positioned herself between the suspected gunman and her students.
Jean Kuczka was a loving mother and I believe grandmother. She was our PE teacher and the kids loved her. One of the kids came up to me outside after everything happened and looked at me with tears in their eyes. They said she put herself between the gunman and the students,” Faulstich said. “Jean Kuczka is one of the most loving, kind, amazing humans for God to put into this world. She loved her kids more than anything.”
Faulstich described the police response time to the shooting as “amazing.” Sentiments that were echoed by Sack. The interim police chief expressed that he is extremely proud of the quick action from officers and his communications staff who fielded calls and rapidly pushed out relevant information to investigators on the scene.
“This could have been much worse. The individual had almost a dozen, 30-round, you know, high-capacity magazines, on him. So, that’s a whole lot of victims there. But because of the quick response, that suspect didn’t have the opportunity to turn this into … It’s certainly tragic for the families. It’s tragic for the community. But it could’ve been a whole lot worse,” Sack said.
He said both on-duty and off-duty officers rushed to the scene and did not hesitate to run into the school. Some even left a nearby funeral to help with the response.
“There was no sidewalk conference. There was no discussion. They just went right in,” Sack said. “This is just how St. Louis officers are. They’re not going to hesitate. They’re not going to wait when they know there’s a threat out there.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is helping with the investigation. A representative with the agency said at a news conference they have received an uptick potential school shooting allegations in the area. They are urging parents to speak with their children about how hoaxes are not jokes.
“Since this happened this morning we have received an uptick in additional allegations of potential school shooters around here. We think what’s happening is that likely some of our kids have seen this and they’re thinking about it right now, so they have started talking about this or sharing this whether they think it’s a joke or it’s serious. We would just ask everybody please help the area deal with this appropriately. Please have a conversation with your kid if they are old enough to have a device and make sure that any hoax or any joke that they are sending right now about a school shooting right now will be taken incredibly seriously,” the FBI representative said.
The agency is asking people to submit any pictures, videos or information about the shooting to their digital collection website that will contribute to their evidence in the case.
Kim Gardner, the circuit attorney for St. Louis, extended her condolences to all families involved and said she wants the community to heal.
“We have to pray for our community and come together. Let’s pray for these kids and get them the help that they need to get past this,” Gardner said.
A meeting to figure out how and when the school will resume classes is underway. Those needing help processing what happened can call 988 to connect with behavioral health resources in the area.
This report in ongoing. Refresh for updates.