Byers' Beat is a weekly column written by the I-Team's Christine Byers, who has covered public safety in St. Louis for 15 years. It is intended to offer context and analysis to the week's biggest crime stories and public safety issues.
ST. LOUIS — The gunman began planning a massacre at his alma mater about 60 days ago, according to multiple sources familiar with the contents of his notebook and the investigation.
Most of the information contained within my column this week is based on those sources.
Orlando Harris claimed in a notebook he left behind that he told psychiatrists at least twice that he was planning a school shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, but that they did nothing.
Psychiatrists are mandated reporters.
Police found his notebook inside his sister’s car, which he used to drive to the school Monday on a mission to murder around 30 people. Jean Kuczka was not among the targets, but was killed nonetheless.
He felt certain teachers had wronged him. He circled their classrooms on a map of the school. He had issues with other students, too.
He had a countdown in his notebook to the day of the shooting.
He also looked at how police patrolled the area and figured he would have five minutes before police responded after he started shooting.
But he didn’t anticipate the sharp eye of the school’s guards, who called for help from police and armed guards as soon as they saw him break in.
They took him down within eight minutes.
But he was able to kill 15-year-old Alexzandria Bell, shoot four others and leave several others injured.
He tried to buy his murder weapon, an AR-15 at a gun show in St. Charles, but got turned down. Police are investigating whether the background check that seller ran on him returned a negative result.
Harris had a previous commitment to a psychiatric hospital in his background, and speculated in his notebook that was why he couldn’t get the gun.
So, he turned to a private seller.
Recently enacted federal law enhanced background checks for buyers younger than 21.
The new bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which Missouri Senator Roy Blunt helped craft, also cracks down on private sellers, requiring them to run background checks on gun sales, according to 5 On Your Side's Mark Maxwell.
But in Missouri, the Second Amendment Protection Act prohibits police from enforcing federal gun laws.
So, could the private seller be held accountable for the sale of that gun under federal law? Or does the state law nullify federal law and make it legal?
The Second Amendment Preservation Act says the only time local police can "provide material aid to federal prosecution" is after a violent gun crime has already been committed.
So, how would St. Louis police go about sharing evidence of an illegal gun sale with federal law enforcement?
Interim Police Chief Michael Sack told 5 On Your Side’s Sara Machi, his department will be turning over evidence to the feds regardless of the act.
“That’s just basic public safety,” he said.
Sack also said Harris’s family called the police Oct. 15.
They had been there before, according to records 5 On Your Side obtained from the police department.
On June 27, at 8 36 p.m., the Crisis Response Unit responded to his home.
On July 6, officers responded for a suicide attempt.
On July 26, the Critical Incident Team responded there due to a threat with a violent weapon.
The call for service to his home along Pennsylvania Avenue on Oct. 15 is titled, “domestic disturbance."
Sack said the shooter’s family called them because they were concerned that he got the gun given his mental history.
Had they lived in Illinois, police could have seized the gun because of what’s known as Red Flag laws. But it happened in Missouri, which doesn’t have that law.
That means the day officers went to Harris’s house, on Oct. 15, all they could do was negotiate to have it put in the care of a lawfully carrying family member and hope for the best.
When responding officers left that day, Sack confirmed the gun was in fact in the possession of a family member who was legally authorized to have a weapon.
Then, something changed.
Police determined Harris rented a storage locker at the Extra Space Storage facility along Watson Road.
He can be seen on surveillance video putting the gun in the locker he rented, and, a few days later, taking it back out.
A spokeswoman told me storing firearms there is a violation of their contract. She said the company only shares surveillance footage with police, and she would not say when Harris rented the locker.
On Monday, Harris set out to do what he wrote in his notebook and a typewritten letter he created nine hours before the murders.
Police are still trying to separate fact from fiction in the notebook and whether anyone can be prosecuted for their role in another school shooting that the shooter says took him 60 days to plan.