“The Perfect Storm for a School Shooting;” St. Louis Reeling from a Parent’s Worst Nightmare

By Kendall McElroy

Students and families around the country have been forced to grapple with the reality and prevalence of school shootings. It’s any parent’s worst nightmare to receive that out-of-the-blue “I love you” text from their son or daughter, followed by the news of an unknown gunman entering their child’s school.

Early Monday morning, that nightmare became a reality for the parents of Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis. According to witnesses, 19 year-old Orlando Harris, a graduate of the school in question, entered carrying an AR-15 style long-gun, over a dozen high-capacity magazines, and more than 600 rounds of ammunition. Amongst those injured, two were shot fatally by Harris, including a 15 year-old student and a 61 year-old physical education teacher. 

Alexandria Bell, the 15 year-old victim was pronounced dead on campus, her father stating, “It’s a nightmare, I am so upset. I need somebody – police, community folks, somebody – to make this make sense.” Jean Kuczka, celebrated teacher and mother of 5, died later in the hospital after putting herself between the gunman and her students, saving their lives in the process. One of Kuczka’s colleagues, Kristie Faulstich explained to officers, “One student looked at me and she said, ‘They shot Ms. Kuczka.’ And then she said that Ms. Kuczka had put herself between the gunman and the students.” 

The seven other students that received gunshot injuries, thankfully, were not fatally wounded. According to Commissioner Micheal Sacks, Harris’ weapon jammed, greatly minimizing the potential damage he could have dealt. However the survivors will still carry their personal bone-chilling accounts of the event around for the rest of their lives. Taniya Gholston, a sophomore, was in dance class when the shooting began. She recounts, “He said like, ‘I’m tired of this damn school,’ and, ‘I’m tired of everybody in this damn school,’” All in all, the shooting lasted approximately 4 minutes before the campus was surrounded by police and S.W.A.T, and an ensuing shootout left Harris dead. 

Staff and students could be seen vacating the building, hands raised in the air, filing into the parking lot of a Schnucks grocery store. There, students and parents were able to reunite. One student could be observed comforting his distraught mother saying, “I’m glad it’s over. My friends are alive. It’s OK, Mom. It’s OK, I’m here.”

Commissioner Sacks explained that Harris was, in fact, a high risk individual. After discovering a plethora of handwritten texts in the gunman’s car, the contents reveal the “perfect storm for a mass shooter” according to Sacks. “I don’t have any friends. I don’t have any family. I’ve never had a girlfriend. I’ve never had a social life. I’ve been an isolated loner my entire life.” Coupled with Harris’ considerable arsenal, St. Louis police believe the tragedy could have been much worse. 

This, however, does not negate the trauma these students and staff will have to work through. Elijah Pohlman, a 15 year-old sophomore, who nearly dodged one of the victim’s lifeless bodies during his escape, told police, “I don’t even know how to deal with it, I’m scared.”

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