The AR-15-style rifle used in the deadly St. Louis school shooting had been taken from the shooter’s possession during an interaction with police about a week before the attack, and it’s unclear how he got it back, police say.
The gunman, 19-year-old Orlando Harris, opened fire on Monday, killing student Alexandria Bell, 15, and teacher Jean Kuczka, 61, and wounding several others at the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. Harris later died at a hospital after a gun battle with officers at the school.
Before the shooting, his family had contacted St. Louis police to have a firearm taken away from him, St. Louis Police Commissioner Michael Sack said at a news conference Wednesday. “The mother at the time wanted it out of the house,” he added.
Police responded to a domestic disturbance at the family’s home on October 15 – just nine days before Monday’s shooting, according to a Wednesday night police statement.
“Officers responded and determined at that time the suspect was lawfully permitted to possess the firearm,” the statement obtained by CNN affiliate KMOV reads. “A third party known to the family was contacted and took possession of the firearm so that it would no longer be stored in the home.”
Police on Wednesday night confirmed that the gun removed from the home that day was the rifle that was used in the school shooting.
“How he acquired it after that … we don’t know,” Sack said. “We’re looking into that.”
The firearm has a serial number on it, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is working to trace it, Sack said.
The teen’s family had been concerned about him. In addition to trying to have the firearm taken away, they also had him stay at a mental health institution, searched his room, tracked what he got in the mail, and tried to make sure he was engaging with people and felt loved, Sack said.
“They made every effort that they felt that they reasonably could,” Sack said. “I think that’s why the mother is so heartbroken over the families that paid for his episode.”
The gunman, who graduated from the same school last year, “forced entry into the school” with the rifle and a large amount of ammunition, some of it strapped to his chest, Sack said.
The shooting left the building riddled with bullets and turned an ordinary Monday at the school into one where frightened students and teachers locked their doors, huddled in corners, and jumped out of windows to save their lives as the sound of gunshots echoed through their hallways.
After the attack, FBI investigators found a letter and a notebook in the car Harris used to drive to the school.
“The school was the target,” Sack said. “There was a disconnect between him and what he felt was the other school community. He felt isolated and alone.”
There were seven security personnel at the school when the gunman arrived, but the shooter did not enter through a checkpoint where security guards were stationed, said DeAndre Davis, director of safety and security for Saint Louis Public Schools.
“He did have to force entry and that’s good for us because that buys us time,” Sack said Wednesday.
Officers were at the schools four minutes after the active shooter was reported, and were confronting the gunman eight minutes after that, according to Sack.
The police commissioner has repeatedly credited the quick police response, locked doors and prior training for preventing more deaths.
Authorities have also thanked students for following their teachers’ instructions and locking their doors after they were alerted to the threat on campus.
“We’ve had teenagers and athletes – they don’t always listen – but on Monday they sure did,” Sack said. “They did what their teachers instructed them to do, they do what the officers instructed them to do, despite the fact that you can see that many of them were traumatized. You can see their faces, you can read in their eyes.”
Students and teachers rushed to lock and barricade classroom doors after hearing a coded message broadcast over the intercom.
The gunman managed to make it into Jean Kuczka’s Health classroom, where she and her students were huddled.
Student Keyshawn Brooks told CNN affiliate KSDK he saw the shooter force his way into his classroom and shoot his teacher.
“They had shot our classroom door down and a man opened the door and he was like, ‘Y’all are going to die today,’” Brooks said.
“He shot the teacher first. She fell to the floor. Another boy got shot in the hand and he was bleeding. Two other girls got shot,” Brooks said. “When he left the room, we opened the window and we jumped out.”
Student Alex Macias described looking the gunman in the eyes after Kuczka was shot.
“He did shoot Mrs. Kuczka, and I just closed my eyes,” she said. “I didn’t really want to see anything else. But then as I thought he was leaving, I opened my eyes to see him standing there making eye contact with me. And then after he made eye contact, he just left.”
Students then began jumping out of the window, she said.
Teacher Kristie Faulstich said that Kuczka died putting herself between the gunman and the students. She described her former colleague as a popular teacher who was loved by many.
Authorities are looking into making it harder to enter the classrooms, the police commissioner said.
As the investigation continues and students and teachers mourn Kuczka and Bell, it make take two months before they’re allowed back on campus, school officials have said.