Months before a 19-year-old shooter opened fire Monday inside a St. Louis high school, his family told police he had a gun and had it removed from the home, officials said Wednesday.
The family was aware the gunman had mental health struggles and did “everything that they possibly could have done” to help him —including getting him therapy, medication and committing him on several occasions — but, “sometimes that’s not enough,” interim St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Michael Sack said during a news conference.
The chief did not disclose how the shooter acquired an AR-15-style rifle after police removed a weapon months before the shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. He also declined to discuss how the gunman entered the building despite locked doors, security guards and metal detectors at the school.
“Every building has weaknesses,” Sack said, adding that sharing the specifics of how the shooter entered the school could adversely impact the school district.
However, he said the gunman, Orlando Harris, 19, did make a “forced entry” into the building.
Shooter’s mother wanted gun ‘out of the house’
The shooter’s family was “aware” that he had obtained the gun, though it’s not clear when he got the weapon, Sack said. An investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is underway to track the source of that gun sale.
“[The family] worked with our department to transfer that to an adult who could legally possess one,” the chief said.
He said he believes the firearm the family contacted police about may have been the same AR-15-style rifle he used in the school shooting.
“[The family] contacted us and said he had a firearm, I believe it could have possibly been this gun. The officers, in their response, handed it over to somebody else, an adult who was lawfully able to possess it,” Sack said.
It’s not clear who the gun was transferred to or their relationship with the family.
“The mother wanted it out of the house, so they facilitated it, the party had it. How he acquired it after that, we don’t know. We’re looking into it,” he said.
Sack said the interaction with the gunman’s family and police likely took place within the past few months, though he didn’t know the specific date.
Family’made every effort to aid shooter’s mental health
The shooter’s family has been cooperative with the police, Sack said.
“The mother, the adult daughter, they worked with him. They kind of had a system where they would track what might come in the mail, his interaction with others and try to make sure that he’s engaging people, that he feels loved,” he said.
The shooter, who left behind a note describing himself as a loner and referred to mass shootings, died after exchanging gunfire with law enforcement.
Jean Kuczka, 61, a health teacher, and Alexzandria Bell, 15, a student, were killed in the shooting, officials said.
“Mental health is a difficult thing. It’s hard to tell when someone is violent and going to act out,” Sack said.
“I’ve got to give credit to the family, they made every effort that they felt they reasonably could,” he continued. “That’s why the mother is so heartbroken over the families that paid for his episode.”