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St. Louisans mourn shooting victims, call for an end to school gun violence

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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Atlee Winningham, 42, places their hand on Jessica Winningham, 38, on Monday during a vigil at Tower Grove Park. A gunman attacked Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in south St. Louis earlier, killing two and injuring seven.

Hundreds of parents, teachers, students and St. Louis officials gathered at Tower Grove Park for a candlelight vigil Monday to remember a teacher and student killed at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School.

Crowds gathered at the park’s Roman Pavilion to honor teacher Jean Kuczka and Alexzandria Bell, a 15-year-old student, who were both fatally wounded by a former student. Seven others were injured.

“You see this stuff on the news all the time and you never think it’s going to happen in your city or in your school,” said Alex Macias, a 16-year-old sophomore at the performing arts school. “I just don’t think that it’s fair for the families and all that that this had to happen.”

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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Community members gather on Monday at Tower Grove Park for a vigil after a shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School.

Kuczka was a health and physical education teacher at the school. Macias was in Kuczka's class when the gunman entered her third-floor classroom.

“Everyone but me and my friend jumped out the window or escaped somehow,” Macias said. “We were both too scared to jump, and we hid underneath her desk.”

Officials have not identified the 16-year-old who was killed.

Police said the 19-year-old gunman, who graduated from the school in 2021, was shot and killed in an exchange of gunfire with officers.

Students enrolled at Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, which shares a campus with the performing arts school, also were shaken by the tragedy. Dylan Fritz, a senior at Collegiate, said the shooting left him numb.

“This morning I hid in a corner terrified listening to screams down the hallway. This morning I had to run past a body in the hallway with my hands up,” Fritz said. “I’m a student, I wanted to go to school today and learn, I was there to learn, I was not there to hide in a corner. Guns do not belong in schools.”

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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Eli Carty, a 15-year-old student at Collegiate School Medicine and Bioscience, pauses on Monday during a vigil at Tower Grove Park. A gunman attacked Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, which shares a campus Carty’s school, in south St. Louis on Monday morning. " I just heard sirens, and we were in the corner,” she said. “I didn’t know where my friends were, and I was just scared.”

Eli Carty, a 15-year-old Collegiate student, attended the vigil with her mother. She said Kuczka was her cross-country coach.

“I didn't even know that she was injured until I came home and I had my friends on the cross-country team text me Coach [Kuczka] died, Coach [Kuczka’s] on the news,” Carty said. “I saw her just last week at a meet, it’s surreal, and it shouldn't have happened. That girl woke up this morning, she didn't expect to be shot and Coach [Kuczka] woke up this morning. She didn't expect to have that happen to her.”

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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Mayor Tishaura Jones speaks to community members on Monday during a vigil at Tower Grove Park in response to a gunman attacking Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in south St. Louis on Monday morning.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, U.S. Rep Cori Bush, Alderwoman Annie Rice and state Reps. Rasheen Aldridge and LaKeySha Bosley urged teachers, students and loved ones to call Behavioral Health Response, 314-469-6644, or school district counselors for support.

Bosley, who had Kuczka as a teacher, said it’s time to organize and stop the wave of gun violence at schools.

“I know that there is a bigger purpose for all of this, there has to be,” Bosley said. “We will fight, we will win, we will not give up.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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