By Dan Whitcomb
(Reuters) – A 19-year-old man who went on a deadly shooting rampage at a St. Louis high school this week may have used the same firearm that his mother had removed from the family home several months earlier, the city’s police commissioner said on Wednesday.
The mother of Orlando Harris, who was killed in an exchange of gunfire with officers minutes after the attack began, had contacted police several months earlier after discovering that her son had acquired a gun, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mike Sack said during a news briefing.
Officers removed the gun from the home and gave it to a unnamed adult, he said.
“It could have possibly been this gun,” Sack said, referring to the AR-15 style rifle used in Monday’s shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. Two people were killed and seven others wounded in the attack, the latest in an epidemic of shootings at U.S. schools in recent years.
Sack deflected questions about how Harris entered the school, which was locked at the time, saying only that he had used a “forced entry.”
In a shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 people earlier this year, officials were castigated for failing to lock the entrance where the gunman entered the building.
After the St. Louis shooting, the suspect’s mother told investigators that the family was aware of his mental health issues and had “done everything they possibly could” to get him help, Sack said.
Unlike some U.S. states, Missouri does not have a “red flag” law, which allows law enforcement to confiscate firearms from individuals deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
“The mother at time wanted it out of the house. This other party had it. How he acquired it after that we don’t know,” Sack said, referring to Harris.
Agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were attempting to trace the firearm through its serial number, Sacks said. That process can be more difficult when a gun is transferred between individuals instead of sold by a licensed dealer.
Investigators believe Harris targeted individuals at the school, Sack said, but declined to say if the gunman targeted the 61-year-old teacher or 16-year-old girl who were slain in the attack.
Several other students were wounded by gunfire and two girls suffered broken ankles when they jumped out of classroom windows to flee the gunman.
“The school was the target. There was a disconnect between him and what he felt was the school community,” Sack said. “He felt isolated and alone.”
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)