The family of a 19-year-old who killed two people and injured others in a shooting at a St. Louis high school went to great lengths to prevent him from harming himself or others, including having police remove a firearm he had acquired and transfer it to someone else, officials said Wednesday.
"The impression that I get from the investigator who spoke to the mother is that they’ve done everything that they could possibly have done," interim St. Louis Police Chief Michael Sack said during a news conference, "but sometimes that’s not enough."
The shooter, identified as Orlando Harris, was shot and killed by a responding police officer after Harris opened fire at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School on Monday, killing a 16-year-old student and a 61-year-old teacher and wounding seven others. Police have said Harris, who had graduated from the school last year, did not have a prior criminal history, but his family told investigators they had been helping him with his mental health issues.
"They’ve hooked him up with a professional mental health provider," Sack told reporters. "Whenever they noticed him kind of stepping out of line or going out of turn, they always worked to try and get him back on his medication, back into therapy, or whatever it is that he needed."
Sometime in the last few months, the family had reached out to the St. Louis Police Department to transfer a firearm the shooter had acquired to another adult because his mother wanted it out of the house, Sack said. She and her daughter then continued to monitor him, tracking what came in the mail and even occasionally searching his room.
Still, Sack said he believes the gun used in the attack may have been the same one his family had removed from their home.
"How he acquired it after that, you know, we don't know," he said. "That's what we’re looking into."
The shooter was armed with a .223-caliber AR-15-style rifle and brought more than 600 rounds of ammunition with him to the school, police said. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is working to trace the firearm, but Sack noted that private gun deals can be more challenging to investigate. A motive for the shooting is not yet known. The investigation is ongoing.
During the news conference, local officials repeated calls for stronger gun control measures and referred to gun violence as a public health crisis and epidemic. Gun violence is a leading cause of premature death in the country, responsible for more than 38,000 deaths annually. As of Oct. 26, at least 16,680 people have died from gun violence this year, with an additional 19,734 dying by suicide, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. Experts say guns are also the leading cause of death for children and teens in the US.
"I echo the White House’s call to renew the assault weapons ban," St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said. "No one can watch what happened in our city this week and think doing nothing is working."
US Rep. Cori Bush demanded that the Senate take action on a bill that would ban selling, manufacturing, transferring, and possessing assault weapons.
"A ban on assault weapons would save lives," Bush said. "And the truth of the matter is that it may have saved the lives of those who were killed this Monday and protected those who were injured and those who are traumatized."
On Tuesday, police said the shooter had left behind a handwritten note that said he had no friends, family, or girlfriend and had been "an isolated loner" his whole life.
"This was the perfect storm for a mass shooter," he wrote, according to police.
Referring to the note, Sack said on Wednesday that the shooter himself said nobody knew what he was up to and that he may have "hid some of his feelings and thoughts" from his family.
"They were just really very engaged and attuned to him," Sack said. "Mental health is a difficult thing and it’s hard to tell when somebody is going to be violent or act out."