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St. Louis police urge vigilance around mental health following Monday’s school shooting

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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
A car passes by Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in south St. Louis.

Updated at 4:50 p.m. with graphic and to correct spelling of Alexzandria Bell's name

St. Louis police are urging parents and the community to be aware and speak up if someone who is showing signs of mental health distress begins to talk about purchasing weapons.

“It’s important that all of us be engaged so that we can try and intervene as early as possible in a person’s life to try and prevent a tragedy from occurring,” interim St. Louis Police Chief Michael Sack said Tuesday, the day after a shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School left two people dead and seven injured.

St. Louis Public Schools confirmed Tuesday that the student killed was Alexzandria Bell, 15. The injured, all teenagers, were reported to be stable with gunshot wounds, cuts and broken bones. One victim, a 15-year-old boy, required surgery.

Sack said the shooter, a former student at the magnet school in south St. Louis, left a note that indicated he was struggling with feelings of isolation and being a loner. The letter referenced a “perfect storm” for a mass shooting.

Classes were canceled Tuesday at both CVPA and Collegiate School of Medicine and Biosciences, which shares a building with Central. SLPS is making both virtual and in-person resources available for students and staff across the district. The long-term future of the building is not clear.

DeAndre Davis, the district’s director of safety and security, said officials with SLPS and the police department had undergone active shooter training a month and a half ago. He praised both the school security guards and the police officers who responded.

“And the kids did exactly what they were supposed to do,” Davis said. “They barricaded those doors, they got away from those windows, and when it came time to evacuate, they got out of that building as best they could.”

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More details of shooting emerge

A police timeline provided on Monday showed officers shot and killed the suspect within 10 minutes of arriving at the school — which probably saved lives. The shooter was carrying a high-powered rifle and more than 600 rounds of ammunition, and officers found cartridges and shell casings when they entered the building.

According to the narrative released Tuesday, responding officers were helping Collegiate students evacuate when they heard shots being fired at Central VPA. They eventually found the suspect barricaded on the third floor in a classroom used by CVPA. Officers fired their weapons when he refused multiple commands to drop his weapon and surrender, police said.

Alexzandria Bell was pronounced dead at the scene. The other victim, gym teacher Jean Kuczka, was transported to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead, after being shot in a classroom.

Kuczka’s son Joseph is a police officer in Eureka. The department said in a Facebook post Tuesday that it was heartbroken by what had occurred and “grateful for the swift response of first responders whose heroic actions saved many more lives.”

Sack did not answer questions about where and how the 19-year-old shooter was able to obtain the gun, saying it was part of the ongoing investigation. He had no prior adult criminal history, and juvenile records are sealed.

The main entrances to the school are locked during the day, and students have to pass through metal detectors, but Davis said the shooter did not enter through a checkpoint.

Photos from the school show a door on the side of the building with shattered glass, which may be how he got in.

The latest on the school shooting in south St. Louis

Also on Tuesday, police in Belleville arrested two students who had brought firearms to Belleville East High School.

In a Facebook post, the department said a parent alerted both school and law enforcement officials to social media posts that showed a 15-year-old boy handling a gun before school. The school’s campus patrol, along with the police officer assigned to the building, located both students, the 15-year-old and a 14-year-old boy. Police found a weapon and ammunition during a search.

Police said the boys did not display the weapon at school, and they do not believe there is an ongoing threat to public safety related to this incident.

In a similar case at Hazelwood West High School in north St. Louis County, police at the school for a separate investigation were notified that a student had a handgun in the building. The student, a juvenile, had a weapon in their possession when arrested.

The Hazelwood Police Department said it was taking extra security measures to “ensure the safety of the students and staff.”

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann 

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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