US school shooter armed with rifle, 600 rounds: Police

Officials say police responded swiftly to St Louis attack, but it remains unclear how gunman entered the high school.

Law enforcement investigates the crime scene in Missouri
Police have said the gunman who carried out Monday's school shooting in St Louis used a high-powered rifle [Jeff Roberson/AP Photo]

The gunman who killed a teacher and a 15-year-old girl in a deadly school shooting in the US city of St Louis, Missouri, was heavily armed and equipped with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, police say.

Police Commissioner Michael Sack said on Tuesday that the gunman, 19-year-old former student Orlando Harris, had an AR-15-style, semi-automatic rifle and more than 600 rounds of ammunition during Monday’s attack. Harris was killed in an exchange of fire with police.

“This could have been much worse,” Sack said, noting that the attacker had entered the school in “an aggressive, violent manner” that left “no mystery about what was going to happen”.

The attack at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School was the latest school shooting to roil the United States, where the use of high-powered rifles in such incidents has sparked debate over gun reform in the country.

Seven students, aged 15 and 16 years old, were injured in the shooting, and all are said to be in stable condition.

One of the students was injured while jumping out of a three-storey window to flee the shooting while others erected barricades against the doors or huddled in the corner of their classrooms to avoid the attacker.

One student described coming face to face with Harris but surviving because his gun had jammed.

Physical education teacher Jean Kuczka, 61, was killed after she moved herself between the gunman and her students. “My mom loved kids,” her daughter Abby told the St Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper. “She loved her students. I know her students looked at her like she was their mom.”

Student Alexandria Bell, 15, who also was killed in the shooting, was described as “joyful, wonderful and just a great person” by her father, Andre Bell.

“She was the girl I loved to see and loved to hear from. No matter how I felt, I could always talk to her, and it was alright. That was my baby,” he told local news outlet KSDK-TV.

On Tuesday, Sack read a note left behind by Harris, which described a life of loneliness and isolation that the attacker said had created the “perfect storm for a mass shooter”. Several people inside the school have said that they heard Harris yell, “You’re all going to die!”

Sack told reporters that Harris had ammunition strapped to his chest, more in a bag and some in magazines found dumped in stairwells.

The police commissioner did not say how Harris was able to enter the school, which was locked and guarded by seven security guards.

The response of law enforcement to mass shootings at schools has come under greater scrutiny following a deadly attack earlier this year in Uvalde, Texas, where it emerged that law enforcement officers had stood outside a classroom for more than an hour before confronting the shooter.

A timeline laid out by Sack on Tuesday would suggest that the response to the St Louis shooting was much more prompt, with law enforcement alerted to the attacker at 9:11am local time, officers arriving on the scene four minutes later, and the gunman shot by 9:25am.

Raymond Parks, a dance teacher at the school who was threatened by the attacker but was left unscathed, said that “you couldn’t have asked for better” from the police response.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies