Two people were killed and seven others injured after a former student opened fire Monday in a St. Louis high school before he was fatally shot by police, officials said.
The gunman, identified as 19-year-old Orlando Harris, fatally shot a 61-year-old woman and 16-year-old girl at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, St. Louis Police Department Commissioner Mike Sack said in a news briefing.
The gunman graduated from the school last year and has no prior criminal history, Sack said. He had almost a dozen 30-round, high-capacity magazines on him, Sack said.
“This is a heartbreaking day for all of us,” Sack said. “It’s gonna be tough. While on paper we may have nine victims… we have hundreds of others. Everyone who survived is going to take home trauma.”
Eight people, including the gunman, were taken to the hospital, Sack said. The woman died at the hospital, and the girl died at the school. The suspect also died at the hospital, he added.
Officers were still in the process of notifying victims’ families Monday evening, said Sack, who declined to identify the victims.
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The seven injured were stable and included male and female students ages 15 and 16, Sack said. Injuries ranged from a broken ankle to shrapnel and gunshot wounds, he said. One student was shot in the leg, one in the arm, and one had a gunshot wound to both hands and his jaw.
Officers were trying to determine a motive, Sack said. “There is some suspicion that there may be some mental illness that he was experiencing,” Sack said.
Sack described a rapid law enforcement response to the incident early Monday. Officers received a call for an active shooter at 9:11 a.m. local time, he said. Officers arrived four minutes later and “immediately” entered the school, where students informed the officers there was a shooter “armed with a long gun,” Sack said.
Officers ran to the sound of shots, exchanged gunfire with the shooter and shot him on the third floor, Sack said. According to the timeline provided by police, officers shot the gunman less than 15 minutes after the initial call came in.
“The officers did an amazing job,” Sack said. No officers were injured, he said.
“Hundreds” of students fled the building, Sack said. FOX2 livestream helicopter video of the scene showed dozens of students with backpacks running from the campus. Others could be seen attempting to climb over a fence.
Nylah Jones, a ninth grader at the school, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch she was in math class when the shooter fired into her room from the hallway. A math teacher at the school, David Williams, told the outlet that one of the windows of his classroom door was shot out.
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About 700 students at the school and adjoining Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience were impacted by the incident, St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams said.
“We’re working aggressively to try to find out what occurred and to make sure that this does not happen again,” Adams said.
Asked how the gunman gained entry to the school, Sack provided few details. The school has metal detectors, and the doors were locked, he said.
“Don’t be confused,” Sack said. “The school was closed, and the doors were locked.”
The gunman had a firearm out and entered the building “in an aggressive, violent manner,” Sack said. Seven security guards were in the school at the time, he said, but not all school safety officers are armed.
“The security staff did an outstanding job identifying the suspect’s efforts to enter and immediately notified other staff,” he said.
When pressed on the issue again Monday evening, Sack declined to provide more information, citing safety concerns.
“We’re not gonna go through how he got in. You can understand that we want to try and make schools a hard target,” Sack said.
The gunman lives locally with family, and ATF officers were at the scene of his residence Monday, Sack confirmed. Officers located the gunman’s vehicle near the school and removed some evidence from it, Sack said.
Jay Greenberg, special agent in charge of the FBI’s St. Louis office, said Monday evening his office received an “uptick” in reports about potential school shooters in the hours after the incident.
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Central Visual and Performing Arts High School is a magnet school with 400 students, according to the school’s website.
At a morning news conference, Mayor Tishaura Jones recalled visiting the school on the first day of classes. Students had been “excited” about the upcoming school year, she said.
“They were bright-eyed, bushy-tailed. We laughed. We sang,” she said. “And now to be here for such a devastating and traumatic situation breaks my hurt, especially as a mother.”
Trauma will “reverberate” in the community for “days and months to come,” she said. “Our children shouldn’t have to experience this. They shouldn’t have to go through active shooter drills in case something happens,” she said.
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Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., attended the news briefing and called on families to reach out to her office for support. “If you need help, it’s OK to not be OK,” she said. “It’s OK to not hold it to yourself. We can help.”
State Rep. Crystal Quade, Missouri House Minority Leader, took to Twitter to call on lawmakers to “do better to address the epidemic of gun violence killing Missourians.”
Asked about gun laws in Missouri, Sack said it is “very easy to get guns.”
“The gun laws in Missouri are very broad,” Sack said. “There’s really nothing we can do if someone walks down the main street with a rifle. We’ve got no cause to go talk to them.”
The incident is the 257th incident of gunfire on school grounds this calendar year, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database. It is the third active shooter situation, following the shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a prep school in Washington, D.C., according to lead researcher David Riedman.
There have been at least 39 school shootings this year that resulted in injuries or deaths, according to Education Week. That’s the most in a single year since the outlet began tracking such incidents in 2018.
“In the wake of Newtown, Parkland, Buffalo, Uvalde and countless other shootings in communities across the country, we need additional action to stop the scourge of gun violence,” Karine Jean-Pierre, White House press secretary, said during a briefing in D.C. Monday.
This summer, in the wake of a mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Illinois, the House narrowly passed a ban that would make it illegal for anyone to import, sell, manufacture, transfer or possess certain semi-automatic weapons.
“Every day that the Senate fails to send an assault weapons ban to the president’s desk or waits to take other common sense actions is a day too late for families and communities impacted by gun violence,” Jean-Pierre said.