Orlando Harris’ gun was taken away over mental health fears. How did he go on to commit the St Louis shooting?

It has been revealed that the gunman had a history of mental illness and that the firearm used in the deadly attack had been taken away from him just over one week earlier

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
,Graeme Massie,Rachel Sharp
Thursday 27 October 2022 17:50 BST
St Louis school shooting results in multiple fatalities

St Louis police took away his gun.

His family sought mental health treatment and had him committed to an institution.

The school doors were locked.

So how did Orlando Harris manage to get his hands on an AR-15 and 600 rounds of ammunition, enter the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School (CVPA) and fatally gun down two victims?

That is one of the questions that remains answered as yet another American community finds itself torn apart by gun violence.

Harris entered the CVPA in St Louis City, Missouri, on Monday morning and opened fire in what has become the latest in a growing list of mass shootings.

Alexzandria Bell, a 15-year-old 10th grade student, and Jean Kuczka, a 61-year-old health teacher, were killed in the attack.

Kuczka, a 20-year veteran educator looking forward to retirement, has been described as a charismatic and kind teacher who was always there for her students, one of her former pupils told The Independent.

Meanwhile, Alexzandria has been remembered as an outgoing teenager with a passion for dancing.

Another seven students aged 15 and 16 were wounded in the attack, before Harris was shot dead by police eight minutes into the rampage.

As new details continue to emerge about the gunman, it has been revealed that he had a history of mental illness and that the firearm used in the deadly attack had been taken away from him just over one week earlier.

Gun was confiscated one week earlier

The AR-15-style rifle used to kill the two victims and wound seven more in the mass shooting was the very same firearm that was taken away from Harris just days earlier, it has been revealed.

St Louis police confirmed on Wednesday night that the 19-year-old mass shooter – who was known to have mental health issues and whose mother feared he should not have a firearm – somehow got the gun back and used it to go on a shooting rampage in his former high school.

On the evening of 15 October, Harris’s mother had contacted law enforcement concerned after discovering a gun among her son’s possessions in their home.

She asked officers to remove it but, when officers arrived on the scene, they “determined at that time the suspect was lawfully permitted to posses the firearm”.

Instead, someone known to the family was contacted and they took possession of the firearm.

Somehow, Harris then got the gun back.

St Louis school shooter Orlando Harris is seen in a yearbook photo
St Louis school shooter Orlando Harris is seen in a yearbook photo (St Louis Public Schools via KSDK)

Nine days later, he used that same gun to carry out his shooting rampage.

It is not yet clear how Harris got his hands on the gun after it was taken from him – whether it was given back to him or he took it by force.

“While it is not yet clear when or how the suspect came to be in possession of the firearm after this incident, we can confirm that the firearm involved in this incident is the firearm used in the shooting Monday,” the police statement read.

An investigation is now under way to determine how it happened.

At a press conference earlier on Wednesday, St Louis Police Commissioner Michael Sack said that the gun used in the attack was “believed to be” the same one taken from Harris days earlier.

Officials were waiting for confirmation from the ATF as to whether the serial numbers were a match.

In a note left in the gunman’s car, Harris said that he originally bought the AR-15-style rifle from a private dealer after he was rejected from a purchase at a gun show in St Charles County.

Now, confirmation that the firearms are a macth raises fresh questions as to how Harris was able to get his hands on the gun – after his family raised concerns to law enforcement and sought repeated mental health intervention for the troubled 19-year-old.

Mental health issues

Police have praised the preventative steps taken by the gunman’s family prior to the attack and said that they are cooperating with the investigation.

“They contacted us, said that he had a firearm,” Commissioner Sack said.

“The mother at the time wanted it out of the house. The officers, in their response, handed it over to somebody else, an adult who was lawfully able to possess it.”

Harris was known to struggle with his mental health and his family sought mental health treatment and also had him committed him to a mental institution.

They would also search his room on occasion “because they were concerned” and monitored his mail and interactions with other people, said the police commissioner.

Police said this firearm, an AR-15-style rifle, was used by Orlando Harris
Police said this firearm, an AR-15-style rifle, was used by Orlando Harris (St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department)

“They were constantly in touch with the medical providers who were providing medical care for him,” he said.

“I’ve got to give credit to the family. They made every effort that they felt that they reasonably could. And I think that’s why the mother is so heartbroken over the families that paid for his episode.”

He added: “Mental health is a difficult thing. It’s hard to tell when somebody who’s going to be violent, or act out, or if they’re just struggling, they’re depressed and they might self-harm.

“It’s just a terrible thing, and it’s hard to try and figure out what might have been in somebody’s mind.”

Harris left ‘manifesto’ with list of school shooters and had targets

In the notes found inside his car, Harris also detailed a list of other US school shootings, the names of the gunman in those cases and the number of victims killed – expressing his desire to be the next name on the list.

A map of the school was also found along with a manifesto revealing how he planned his attack.

In a note left inside the gunman’s car, Harris wrote how he felt it was the “perfect storm” for a mass shooting.

“I don’t have any friends. I don’t have any family. I’ve never had a girlfriend. I’ve never had a social life. I’ve been an isolated loner my entire life. This was the perfect storm for a mass shooter,” he wrote.

Harris also had a list of intended targets in the massacre, investigators said.

Police said this image shows the ammo found on Orlando Harris
Police said this image shows the ammo found on Orlando Harris (St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department)

It is unclear if any of the slain or surviving victims were on that list, but at least one teacher has revealed that Harris aimed his gun at them but refrained from pulling the trigger.

In the wake of the massacre, police said that Harris could have killed hundreds in the attack, given the trove of ammunition he was carrying.

Commissioner Sack said at a press conference on Tuesday that the 19-year-old had at least 600 rounds of ammunition on his person at the time.

“This could have been a horrific scene. That’s a whole lot of victims there,” he said.

Harris’ school life at Central VPA

Central VPA’s theatre director Lauren Ogundipe remembered Harris as a friendly student.

“He would laugh and joke with members of his graduating class,” Ms Ogundipe told the St Louis Post-Dispatch.

“He would talk with different teachers, he would talk about his school life. He didn’t really talk about his home life. He would talk about girls he was interested in.”

Ms Ogundipe added that Harris was always willing to help in theatre productions and stage management, and that “if something needed to be moved physically ...he would show up on his own without being asked.”

Suspect said he was ‘sick of this damn school’

David Williams, a math teacher at the school, told the St Louis Post-Dispatch that the school principal came over the loudspeaker around 9am and said the code word for an active shooter being in the building.

Mr Williams told the outlet he heard multiple shots outside his classroom, and one of the windows on the classroom door was shot out. He then heard a man say, “you are all going to f***ing die”.

Taniya Gholston, 16, a student at CVPA, told The St Louis Post-Dispatch that she did not recognise the gunman and escaped when his gun jammed. She told the newspaper that she heard him say something about being “sick of this damn school”.

Dance teacher Raymond Parks told The Post-Dispatch Harris was dressed in all-black clothing and that he pointed his firearm at him but didn’t shoot.

Evidence removed from home by FBI

The suspect lived in a neighbourhood in the south of the city. Evidence, including a computer, could be seen being removed from a home in the area by the FBI.

A woman at the residence was seen seemingly cooperating with the authorities but it remains unclear if she’s related to Harris, KOMV reported.

Student heard gunman say he was ‘tired of everybody’

A student told the St Louis Post-Dispatch that she heard the gunman say that he was “tired of everybody” at CVPA.

St Louis police Chief Michael Sack told the press that the doors were locked, the metal detectors were working, and there were seven security officers present.

The police chief said that officers shot and killed the suspect on the building’s third floor.

A student told KMOV that they were in a dance class when a male with a “long gun” stormed inside the room and asked, “are you ready to die?”

Another student, 16-year-old Taniya Gholston, recounted the moments of fear as she made eye contact with the gunman.

‘I made it out because his gun got jammed’

“All I heard was two shots and he came in there with a gun,” Ms Gholston told the St Louis Post-Dispatch.

“And I was trying to run and I couldn’t run. Me and him made eye contact but I made it out because his gun got jammed. But we saw blood on the floor.”

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