Only On 4: Husband remembers wife who died protecting students, questions school safety

Published: Oct. 23, 2023 at 10:31 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Last October, Jean Kuczka died protecting her students from a gunman who shot his way into their south St. Louis high school. Tuesday, Oct. 24, marks one year since the shooting.

Kuczka’s husband is remembering his wife, while also raising questions about school safety and what happened that day.

The 19-year-old gunman was a former student who shot through a side door at the shared campus of Central Visual and Performing Arts High School and the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience. The shooter injured four people and killed two, 15-year-old student Alexzandria Bell and 61-year-old health and physical education teacher Jean Kuczka.

“Would have been nice if certain things would have happened that could have prevented this. They didn’t in this school, they did not have very many safety measures in place,” Steve Kuczka said.

A year later St. Louis Metropolitan Police (SLMPD) have shared limited details about the shooting and no video has been released, making it hard to know exactly what happened.

Steve Kuczka told First Alert 4 he’s seen surveillance video from the school, and it shows a school security guard was near the door the gunman gained access through. He said the guard alerted the school to go on lockdown, but they didn’t confront the shooter.

The St. Louis Public School District has its own security team who work directly for the district, many guards are unarmed.

“It’s the first five minutes that are the most important, actually the first minutes,” Steve Kuczka said. “In the first five minutes, usually everything’s over by then, so you have to have ways to slow them down for law enforcement to get there.”

First Alert 4 took his concerns to the school district’s director of safety and security. Col. DeAndre Davis said he “didn’t see what he saw.” He also wouldn’t directly confirm what happened but did state that an unarmed security guard was the first to warn the school.

“He was our Paul Revere,” Davis said. “He sounded the alarm. He got things moving, and he was feet from this, this young man.”

Inside the school, Steve Kuczka said the shooter made it to Jean Kuczka’s classroom and shot the lock off the door. Steve Kuczka said his wife didn’t hesitate.

“She had a bunch of students behind her. Then some of them got injured jumping out of the window,” Steve Kuczka said. “She was just doing that to protect the kids. I’m sure she didn’t even think about it. She just did it out of instinct.”

There’s been little transparency in the investigation. In addition to no video being released, SLMPD says their report isn’t finished.

In the year since the shooting, First Alert 4 Investigates keeps trying to get answers and bringing concerns to St. Louis Police Chief Robert Tracy multiple times.

When asked if a year is too long without sharing more information during an interview with the I-Team in August, Tracy responded, “Well, we’ll get this out, and anyone that’s been calling up, we talk to all the schools.”

“Maybe we haven’t broadcasted it through the media, but certainly we’re having conversations behind the scenes,” Tracy added.

Tracy confirmed to First Alert 4 Investigates that the police department is using video from the shooting 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.”

The St. Louis Public School District told First Alert 4 Investigates it’s deferring any questions about whether a guard was near the door to SLMPD because the investigative report isn’t finished.

What’s happening in St. Louis is a stark contrast to other cities, including Nashville, Louisville, and Allen, Texas. All three experienced mass shootings this year, where police showed quick turnarounds on transparency.

When a shooter shot their way into the Covenant School in Nashville, killing six, police released video of the shooter and police response within a day.

In Louisville, a bank employee with an assault rifle killed five co-workers and then turned the gun on responding police. One day later department released body camera video, pictures of the gunman and a timeline.

At an outlet mall in Allen, Texas, a shooter killed eight people. It took police there two months to release a minute-by-minute timeline and body camera video.

“We know part of the story just a little bit, but we’re still waiting on a lot of things to be answered,” Steve Kuczka said.

There have been security changes at the St. Louis high school. Pictures show Jean Kuzcka’s classroom door before the shooting, it has an older lock and large windows. It has since been replaced with a new lock and a smaller window.

For Jean Kuzcka’s last act, standing in front of her students, she was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the Single Act of Heroism Award. Her family went to Washington, D.C., to receive it for her.

“That was her job, to protect the kids,” Steve Kuzcka said.

Steve Kuckza said his high school sweetheart and mother of their five children died in the same way she lived every day.

“She’s pretty much selfless; she would always put everybody else first,” Steve Kuczka said.