ST. LOUIS – A hero speaks.
For the first time, one of those who confronted the gunman in the St. Louis school shooting Monday, spoke publicly to FOX 2.
There were also new revelations about that gunman and his weapon at Wednesday news conferences.
St. Louis City Public Schools have unarmed security officers in schools. Having them unarmed is seen as better for developing relationships with students. The district also has armed security officers who respond to schools when needed.
Captain Misty Dobynes is one of those armed officers. She was one of the first armed responders to Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, and the first to confront the gunman, Orlando Harris, 19, who graduated from the school last year.
“In this role you have to keep in mind, ‘What if?’” she said. “I just heard a call for assistance. I could tell in the voice that it was urgent. Anybody who says they’re not scared, that’s not true. You’re scared but then you still know you’ve got to go.”
Dobynes rushed to the school and entered with a St. Louis Public Schools security partner. There was already blood in a hallway.
“I could smell the gunpowder … I could just hear gunshots, you know, ‘pow pow,’” she said.
Twenty-one years on the job and the moment this St. Louis City Public Schools graduate (Beaumont ’85) trained for but never truly expected was at hand.
Everything seemed to pass through her mind: her daughter, now age 29, her brother who was killed at age 16 in the St. Louis National Market shootings in the 1980s, friends and family calling and texting to check on her as news of active shooter situation began to spread, the students and school (nearly 800 people total) who were suddenly in danger or dying.
She carried it all with her as she and her partner searched classrooms, following the sound of gunfire to third floor of the main building.
Training kicked in, she said. The district’s 126-member security staff stays current with active shooter training with a major session over summer break and refresher courses every couple of months.
“I just went to where the sound was coming from, because that’s what they say you do,” Dobynes said.
They followed the sound to third floor of the main building. Someone ran by her in a hallway near the stairwell.
She recalled the suspect’s description and, in an instant, processed in her mind that this person was not the gunman.
It turned out the gunman was close behind that student who ran by her.
“I know what an ‘AR’ (AR-15 style rifle) looks like. He had it down. When I saw that, I was like, ‘he’s got an AR,” Dobynes said.
Along with the gun, Harris had more than 600 rounds of ammunition, according to police. Harris shot and killed teacher Jean Kuczka, 61, and student Alexandria Bell, 15, police said. Seven other students were wounded, four of them by gunfire.
In a news conference Wednesday, police revealed Harris had been receiving treatment for mental health issues and that his family called police after he bought the gun in a private purchase.
“The officers in their response handed (the weapon) over to somebody else, an adult who was lawfully able to possess it,” said St. Louis Police Interim Chief Michael Sack. “The mother wanted it out of the house. So, (police) facilitated that. This other party had it. How (Harris) acquired it after that, we don’t know.”
The family monitored his mail and social interactions as much possible, the chief said. They had Harris committed for treatment at times and focused on making him feel loved, Sack said.
Police also revealed more from a notebook found in his car, said to include a list of past school shootings.
“The notebook I think was really insightful,” Sack said. “It shows where he was, what place he was in. He just couldn’t come out of it. I recall reading, ‘Nobody really knows and can’t tell that I’m doing this and getting ready.’”
Sack previously revealed Harris described himself as a loner who never had friends and became the “perfect storm” for a school shooter.
Dobynes said only that she “engaged” Harris then retreated slightly for protection. Two police officers arrived. More followed. She helped direct them where to go as police took the lead in the search, she said. Moments later, officers took down the gunman.
Dobynes then began clearing classrooms, so impressed with students leaving the building with their hands raised as she instructed.
“I remember that from a (training) video,” she said. “I started saying ‘Walk out with your hands up.’ I was really impressed with them. Sometimes you think kids are rebellious, but when it came down to it, they did what they were do supposed to do. It made me feel proud.”
Finally, she made it to the principal’s office, where staff, like the students, were still afraid to remove barricades from their doors.
“(The principal) came out. She said, ‘She came out because she heard my voice, because ‘I knew Dobynes was there,’” Dobynes said. “It wasn’t just me. It was everybody. Everybody played a part.”
After all of that, their parts weren’t finished. They went on to the next task of helping the nearly 700 frightened reunite with their equally frightened parents.