The AR-15-style rifle used in the deadly St. Louis school shooting had been removed from the gunman’s possession during an interaction with police about a week before the attack, and it’s unclear how he recovered it, according to the police.
The shooter, Orlando Harris, 19, opened fire on Monday, killing student Alexandria Bell, 15, and teacher Jean Kuczka, 61, and injuring several others at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. Harris later died in a hospital after a shootout with school officers.
Prior to the shooting, his family had contacted St. Louis police to have a firearm removed, St. Louis Police Commissioner Michael Sack said Wednesday at a press conference. “The mother at the time wanted him 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 police statement Wednesday evening.
“Officers responded and determined at that time that the suspect was legally entitled to possess the firearm,” said the statement obtained by CNN affiliate KMOV. “A known third party of the family has been contacted and has taken possession of the firearm so that it is no longer stored at the home.
On Wednesday evening, police confirmed that the gun taken from the home that day was the rifle used in the school shooting.
“How he acquired it after that…we don’t know,” Sack said. “We are looking into that.”
The firearm has a serial number and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is working to locate it, Sack said.
The teenager’s family had been worried about him. In addition to trying to have the gun removed, they also checked him into a mental health facility, searched his room, tracked what he got in the mail and tried to make sure he was engaging with people and feeling loved, Sacked said.
“They made every effort they reasonably thought they could,” Sack said. “I think that’s why the mother is so heartbroken by the families who paid for her episode.”
The shooter, who graduated from the same school last year, “broke into the school” with the rifle and a large amount of ammunition, some strapped to his chest, Sack said.
The shooting left the building riddled with bullets and turned an ordinary Monday at school into one where frightened students and teachers locked their doors, huddled in corners and jumped out of windows for their lives as the sound of gunfire echoed through their hallways.
After the attack, FBI investigators found a letter and a notebook in the car Harris was using to drive to 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 shooter arrived, but the shooter did not enter through a checkpoint where security officers were posted, said DeAndre Davis, director of security and of the security of the public schools of Saint Louis.
“He had to force his way in and that’s good for us because it buys us time,” Sack said on Wednesday.
Officers were at the schools four minutes after the active shooter was reported, and confronted the shooter eight minutes later, according to Sack.
The police commissioner has repeatedly credited the quick police response, locked doors and advance training with preventing more deaths.
Authorities also thanked students for following their professors’ instructions and locking their doors after being alerted to the threat on campus.
“We had teenagers and athletes – they don’t always listen – but on Monday they certainly did,” Sack said. “They did what their teachers told them to do, they did what the officers told them to do, despite the fact that you can see a lot of them were traumatised. You can see their faces, you can read their eyes.
Students and teachers rushed to lock and barricade classroom doors after hearing a coded message broadcast over the intercom.
The shooter managed to enter Jean Kuczka’s health class, where she and her students were crammed.
Student Keyshawn Brooks told CNN affiliate KSDK he saw the gunman make his way into his classroom and shoot his teacher.
“They had knocked down the door to our classroom and a man opened the door and he said, ‘You’re all going to die today,'” Brooks said.
“He shot the teacher first. She fell to the ground. Another boy was shot in the hand and bleeding. Two other girls got shot,” Brooks said. “When he left the room, we opened the window and jumped out.”
Student Alex Macias described looking the shooter in the eye after Kuczka was shot.
“He shot Ms. Kuczka, and I just closed my eyes,” she said. “I really didn’t want to see anything else. But then, just as I thought he was leaving, I opened my eyes to see him standing there, making eye contact with me. And then after making eye contact, he just walked away.
The students then started jumping out the window, she said.
Teacher Kristie Faulstich said Kuczka died while standing between the shooter and the students. She described her former colleague as a popular teacher who was loved by many.
Authorities are considering making it harder to get into classrooms, the police commissioner said.
As the investigation continues and students and teachers mourn Kuczka and Bell, it is taking two months before they are allowed to return to campus, school officials said.
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