Questions remain one year after South City school shooting

Tuesday marks one year since a former student opened fire inside the shared South City campus of two high schools.
Published: Oct. 23, 2023 at 6:58 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- Tuesday marks one year since a former student opened fire inside the shared South City campus of Central Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) High School and the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience.

On Oct. 24, 2022, the 19-year-old gunman shot his way in through a side door, injuring four and killing 61-year-old health and physical education teacher Jean Kuczka and 15-year-old student Alexzandria Bell. Less than 10 minutes after arriving at the school, St. Louis Metropolitan Police said they exchanged gunfire with the shooter, killing him.

A year later, there are still many unanswered questions about the shooter and what happened inside the school.

“She was perfect for me,” said Keisha Acres, Alexzandria Bell’s mom. “It took me 10 months to admit that she was gone. Ten months. What parent wants to deal with it?”

Since the shooting, Acres said she’s finding comfort in an unlikely place: another high school. Acres quit her job in home health care and started working at University City High School.

“Being at school with those kids, I feel like I’m at home with my baby,” Acres said.

Acres hopes others will follow her lead and take the time to prioritize mental health and listen to kids to try and help them.

“I’m just the mom that understands that you have to sit and listen to kids because you’re their first outlet,” Acres added. “Five minutes of attention could keep you from planning a funeral.”

The family of Jean Kuczka wants her remembered as a wife, mother and grandmother who would do anything for her family and her students.

“My mom impacted a lot of people. Her passion was teaching,” Joe Kuczka, Jean Kuczka’s son, said during an interview earlier this year. “It’s hard when there’s milestone things; I have two daughters, one had a birthday in February, one has one next week, so it’s hard not to share those moments with my mom.”

Almost a year later, much of that day is a mystery even to the families, as the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department claims it can’t release more information.

“Could it have been prevented? We still have a lot of questions that haven’t been answered,” Joe Kuczka said.

A day after the shooting, St. Louis Metropolitan Police released a picture of the gun and some of the 600 rounds of ammunition they found.

A year later, no video has been released, the response timeline police provided is missing key moments leading up to and during the shooting, and limited information is known about the shooter, Orlando Harris.

First Alert 4 Investigates learned the shooter’s family was so concerned about his mental health that they called the police nine days before the shooting and tried to have the gun he ultimately used taken away.

“We’re missing an opportunity to keep students safe going into this school year,” said David Riedman, who started the K-12 Shooting Database, which tracks attacks on schools nationwide dating back to 1966. “If there is not transparency and there is not readily available information, then school security plans are being based on assumptions and old information.”

For months, First Alert 4 Investigates has been pressing for answers and asking for records from the day of the shooting. The St. Louis Public School District, Federal Bureau of Investigations, and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department all denied requests for records. All three are publicly funded agencies that won’t release public records in this case.

According to the FBI, the decision to release information is up to the local police who led the investigation.

First Alert 4 Investigates took concerns to St. Louis Police Chief Robert Tracy.

“It is a priority of mine as the Chief of Police, and I promise to take a look as quickly as possible,” Tracy told the I-Team in August.

When asked how schools can know if the best policies and practices are in place or if things should be expanded, Tracy answered, “Well, we’re in touch with the schools, the school superintendents, the principals and everything, and they’re going through their internal active shooter training.”

Tracy was sworn in as Chief in January 2023, almost three months after the shooting, and has touted his focus on police transparency. He confirmed to First Alert 4 Investigates video of the shooting is being used to train officers.

“I think you should see it, and you should see it sooner than later,” Tracy said. “There really is nothing to hide. We don’t hide. We’re transparent, but we want to make sure that investigation is done thoroughly.”