Who was Jean Kuczka? Missouri high school teacher, 61, who 'loved kids' died protecting students from gunman
ST LOUIS, MISSOURI: The victims of the shooting at a Missouri high school have been identified as student Alexis Bell, 16, and physical education teacher Jean Kirk Kuczka, 61. Bell was pronounced dead at the scene and Kuczka later died at the hospital. The gunman who opened fire at a high school in St Louis, Missouri, has been identified by St Louis police as Orlando Harris, 19. Harris, a former student of the same school, was dressed entirely in black as he entered Central Visual & Performing Arts High School on Monday, October 24, 2022, at 9:11 am, and began shooting.
According to witnesses, Harris' weapon jammed mid-attack. He allegedly yelled, "You’re all gonna f***ing die" before going on his evil rampage. St Louis Public Schools said cops were able to "quickly" stop the suspect by gunning him down. He exchanged gunfire with police and later succumbed to his injuries. Harris had graduated from the school in 2021.
Who was Jean Kirk Kuczka?
Victim Jean Kirk Kuczka had taught at the school since 2008. She was a grandmother of seven. "My mom loved kids," her daughter Abigail Kuczka said, adding that she died protecting the children, according to BBC. Her Facebook profile states she was a "Health and Physical Education Teacher at Central Visual and Performing Arts School High School and Teacher at St Louis Public Schools."
Kuczka's bio on the school's website reads, "I cannot imagine myself in any other career but teaching. In high school, I taught swimming lessons at the YMCA. From that point on, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I believe that every child is a unique human being and deserves a chance to learn. I also believe that Health is the most awesome subject in school, because, without your health, you cannot live to your fullest potential. I love teaching Health and Physical Education and guiding students to make wise decisions. Respect is my favorite word!"
The website further states that Kuczka was a 979 graduate of Lindbergh High School and that she excelled in the sport of field hockey. She went to Southwest Missouri State University on a field hockey scholarship where she was a member of the 1979 National Championship team. The same team was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in January 2010.
"After earning her bachelor of science in education, she began teaching physical education at Seven Holy Founders in Affton, MO. For the next 16 years, Jean developed a physical education program for the K-8 SHF students. Wanting to teach strictly middle school children, Jean began her SLPS career at Carr Lane in 2002. At first, she taught physical education, but wanted to pass on her passion for health, so she developed a health program for the middle school. After health became a state-required course for high school, Jean transferred to Central Visual and Performing Arts High School where she has taught Health, Personal Finance, and Physical Education since 2008," the website reads.
Kuczka lived in Dittmer, Missouri, with her husband and one of her five children. The website further stated, "She enjoys spending time with her 7 grandchildren and is an avid bike rider. Each year she participates in JDRF's Ride to Cure to raise money to find a cure for juvenile diabetes, a disease her 29 year old son has been living with for 19 years."
Meanwhile, after the shooting, the city's police commissioner Michael Sack said students were running out of the school when officers arrived. Harris, he said, had a "long gun". He also had around a dozen 30-round ammunition magazines with him, CNN reported. Seven security workers who were on the site acted quickly and notified other staff, and contacted the police, he said. "This is a heartbreaking day for all of us," he said. FBI agents are now assisting in the investigation.
Student Taniya Gholston, 16, told the St Louis Post-Dispatch that Harris entered a classroom she was in and tried to shoot her. "I was trying to run and I couldn't run," she said. "Me and him made eye contact but I made it out because his gun got jammed." She also said she heard the attacker saying, "I'm tired of this damn school."
The doors of the school building were locked and it is unclear how he entered. Sack refused to open up on how the shooter got in as he did not want "to give a blueprint" to other would-be shooters. "The gun laws in St Louis are very broad," Sack said, according to the Daily Mail. "If someone walks down the street with a rifle, if we have no cause we can't go and talk to them. And that's one of the greatest challenges we face."
People who were injured in the shooting are said to be suffering from gunshot wounds, shrapnel injuries, and cardiac arrest.