Hero teacher killed in South St. Louis City school shooting

After a school shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, the message board is adorned in a yellow ribbon. (Mason Heller)

Editors’ note: This story contains graphic accounts of gun violence. 

A man in a tie-dye t-shirt glances at me as he walks up to place another bouquet of flowers among a sea of roses. Two men are lighting candles in front of their former school. Sobbing students murmur behind staring reporters. At the vigil down the street, voices shout. People cry. Someone hands out water bottles to blank-staring students. A person faints, and the sirens of an ambulance bring students back to what happened hours earlier. 

At approximately 9 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 24, Central Visual and Performing Arts High School graduate Orlando Harris entered his former school and opened fire. Three people, including the gunman, were killed. Seven others were injured. 

Health and Physical Education teacher Jean Kuczka was one of the victims. Student Alex Macias was in the classroom where Kuczka was killed. 

“I took her P.E. class last year,” Macias said. “I never had a super strong connection with her, but when you’ve seen someone [almost] everyday, and they’re dying right in front of you, it just doesn’t feel real [sic].”

Macias said the students were piled up in the corner of the room. Kuczka stood in-front of the door to shield her students from Harris’ gun. 

“We had piled up in the corner of the room, and he walked in,” Macias said. “She was in-front of the [door]. She was trying to protect us.” 

After shooting Kuczka once, Harris left the classroom. Macias said students scrambled to evacuate from the third-floor room. 

“She didn’t have any last words. One shot and she hit the floor.

— Alex Macias

“She didn’t have any last words. One shot and she hit the floor,” Macias said. “[Harris] looked at me before he left. Everyone else jumped out the window after that.”  

Macias and his friend barricaded themselves in the classroom. Until police evacuated the pair, they hid under Kuczka’s desk. 

“The police told us to put our hands up and start running,” Macias said. “We ran straight down to the Schnucks a block away.”

Brady Grossmann, Collegiate Prep student who shares the building with CVPA, evacuated past a deceased student after police directed him out of the building.

“The [police] ordered us and we ran out of the building,” Grossmann said. “I walked past a dead student on the ground as I was leaving the building.”

Grossmann said he didn’t realize it wasn’t a drill at first. When he evacuated, he was relieved. 

“It [felt] so surreal. I still can’t comprehend it,” Grossmann said. “Just feeling my mom’s hug, knowing that [I] wasn’t gonna die. I was so relieved.”

Grossmann said security personnel didn’t always thoroughly examine bags, but other security measures, including constantly locked doors, were instituted. Grossmann said he felt prepared because of the drills Collegiate and CVPA practiced. 

“The security doesn’t check bags, they just open them. All the doors are supposed to be locked, though,” Grossmann said. “The [teachers] knew what to do though. That training probably helped save our lives.”