The St. Louis high school teacher killed Monday by teenage gunman Orlando Harris died after heroically protecting her students, her family said.
Jean Kuczka, who taught health and physical education, came between Harris and her students when he burst into her classroom at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School and opened fire with an AR-style rifle -15, said her daughter, Abby Kuczka, citing a detective story of the horror.
“My mom loved kids,” Abbey Kuczka told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “She loved her students. I know her students looked at her like she was their mother.
Harris, 19, also shot and killed Alexandria Bell, a tenth grader, before being killed in a shootout with police. Survivors of the attack say Harris tried to target more students, but his gun jammed.
The armed teenagers left a note in which he called his solitary life “the perfect storm for a mass shooter”.
Kuczka, 61, had mentioned security concerns at the school in the months leading up to the shooter after a student from the nearby school smuggled a gun into the building, his daughter said.
“She mentioned that, but other than that she really didn’t think anything” about the safety issues, her daughter said. “I mean, I think people think it’s never going to happen to them.”
Glenn Barnes, one of Kuczka’s CVPA colleagues, called her murder a “huge loss”.
“Jean Kuczka was an incredible teacher. She loved her students and helped them make a difference in the school and the community,” Barnes wrote on Twitter.
Kuczka recently started coaching cross country at Collegiate, an SLPS magnet school that shares a campus with CVPA.
“It was her first year of empty nesting and she was looking for something more to do,” Abbey said. “She was really looking forward to retirement. She was close.
According to her biography on the school’s website, Kuczka had taught at the CVPA since 2008. She was inducted into her alma mater Missouri State’s Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the national championship team in 1979.
Passionate about cycling, she takes part in the JDRF Ride each year to raise funds to find a cure for juvenile diabetes, a disease from which her 29-year-old son suffers.
Kuczka leaves behind a husband, five children and seven grandchildren.
“I can’t imagine myself in any career other than teaching,” Kuczka wrote. “I believe that every child is a unique human being and deserves a chance to learn.”
New York Post