Shooting in Saint-Louis: two dead at Central Visual and Performing Arts High

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correction

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the shooter was taken with eight other people to hospital after the shooting. Eight people, including the shooter, were transported. The article also misstated the name of the school where the shooting took place. This is Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, not the Center for Visual and Performing Arts. The article has been corrected.

ST. LOUIS — A 19-year-old former student opened fire at a high school here on Monday morning, killing a teenage girl and an adult woman before police shot and killed him, law enforcement officials say.

Witnesses and local media described a scene of panicked students fleeing Central Visual and Performing Arts High School as a man carried a long gun on campus.

Authorities identified the shooter as Orlando Harris, who graduated last year from the specialist school with about 400 students in the southwest corner of the city.

Police entered the school at 9:15 a.m. and had a shootout with Harris at 9:23 a.m. that lasted two minutes, Acting St. Louis Police Commissioner Michael Sack said.

Harris was taken to hospital along with seven other people, where he was pronounced dead. A 61-year-old woman died in a hospital and a 16-year-old girl died at the scene, both with gunshot wounds, police said. The injuries of the surviving teenagers ranged from gunshot wounds to abrasions and a fractured ankle.

“It’s terrible to think about,” Sack said. “Here is a safe place for children to learn, to grow, to develop, and something like that happens. It’s just heartbreaking.

St. Louis Fire Department Chief Dennis Jenkerson said “everything else became secondary in the city” when the call came. “The plan that was in place worked,” he said.

The doors to the school were locked, Sack said, and it was not immediately clear how the shooter got into the building. Police gave no motive for the shooting or why Harris came to school with a dozen 30-round magazines on him.

Harris had no criminal record, but officers are investigating “suspicions” that he suffered from mental illness. Sack did not provide information about the firearm.

During a Monday night vigil near the school, Dylan Fritt said he came across the body of another student on the ground as he was evacuating the school. “I was there to learn,” he says. “I wasn’t there to hide in a corner.”

Ashley Merideth, who said she was a special education teacher at the school, recalled looking into her students’ faces and seeing their fear as they went through drill routines to lock the door, turn off the lights and snuggle up. “The shots were right outside my door,” she said.

There have been 160 homicides in St. Louis so far this year, according to a report released Monday by the police department, and firearms have been used disproportionately. “It’s very easy to get guns,” Sack said at a Friday night news conference. “I have already said it.”

Missouri laws allow the open or concealed carrying of firearms without a license or background check. The state has one of the highest gun death rates, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which called Missouri’s gun laws “woefully weak.”

When news of the shooting broke, the mayor of St. Louis Tishaura Jones (D) tweeted: “Help us Jesus.” Cristina Garmendia, whose daughter-in-law attends the school, said the girl texted the family group at 9.16am: “There is a school shooter in my school.”

Garmendia tried to call 911, fearing that students inside the school hiding from the shooter would be unable to make phone calls. But she had to wait more than 10 minutes.

His daughter-in-law’s Advanced Placement American History teacher, an Army veteran, had planned to show students how to make a tourniquet in class on Monday, Garmendia said. They never had the chance.

Yurisky Velazquez Vera, a 16-year-old student at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio that she hid in the back corner of a room and saw his teacher getting shot.

“These things have to stop because what will happen to the future children? What will happen to them? she says. “We deserve to go to school without having to worry about getting shot.”

Taniya Gholston, another student, was in a school dance hall when she heard two gunshots. Gholston told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that she made eye contact with the shooter but escaped because her gun jammed. According to a tally by The Washington Post, there have been at least 33 school shootings this year.

Balingit, Shammas, Brasch and Somasundaram reported from Washington.