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Loss of colleague hits home for athletic director after Central VPA shooting

A student and a teacher were killed, and the shooter died Monday. Seven others were injured.

ST. LOUIS — It’s been a week of indescribable emotions after the deadly shooting at Central Visual Performance Arts High School in St. Louis on Monday. Two people died in that shooting including student Alexzandria Bell and teacher Jean Kuczka. Seven others were injured.

Funeral arrangements have been confirmed by Bell's mother Friday. 

The visitation is planned for Saturday, Nov. 5 at 10 a.m. at Faith Church-Earth City. Bell will be buried at Friedens Cemetery and Mausoleum in Bellefontaine Neighbors.  

Bell's teacher, Jean Kuczka also died, and her colleague is still grieving in the aftermath of the school shooting. 

Heather Kristof, the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience Athletic director who is also a physical education and health teacher, said she worked with Kuczka daily.

Kristof sat down for an interview with 5 On Your Side’s Elyse Schoenig to share how she is trying to heal and grieve at the same time.

Schoenig: Can you talk about what this week has been like for you and everyone here?

Kristof: A lot of emotions, just a lot of emotions. The best part to me is just seeing lots of our students lately. I was at the vigil on Wednesday, and I saw a bunch of our students, and it was, "Give me a hug, I want a hug, I want to see you."

Schoenig: Another thing here is your connection with Jean Kuczka, obviously. Tell me a little bit about your relationship with her.

Kristof: It was, 'What do you need? I can help you, do you need this? Want to share our equipment?' She was very kind, very accommodating, very approachable.

Schoenig: At some point you'll realize she's not in that space anymore.

Kristof: I've already thought about that. Seeing a sign on the door that has her name on it, things like that that she made, it's going to be difficult.

Schoenig: How do you think you would best explain all the lives she touched, between students, teachers, and families?

Kristof: She was dedicated, she was such a dedicated and kind person, she is going to be missed, and she is already missed by so many. I literally can't even think about going into the building again and not seeing her.

Schoenig: What do you think your thoughts were in that moment when you didn't know how much danger you were in at that time?

Kristof: For me it was just trying to keep my students calm and safe. Like a lot of people have said, we didn't realize that it was a real threat. My students even said, is this a drill? And I said I don't know about any drill going on right now.

Schoenig: Whenever you all do make that return, nothing is going to be the same, but how do you think you'll all walk through that when it happens?

Kristof: I think the biggest thing is that we've all been through it. It's something we can lean on each other, it's something everyone has been through. We all share that experience, and we can all talk to each other about it and heal from it.

Kristof joined dozens of people from the school for a gathering located at CVPA high school to honor Kuczka, Alexandria Bell and the seven who were injured at Friday night. 

RELATED: How to help families affected by the St. Louis school shooting

Students, former teachers, and alumni, including Alexzandria Bell's parents, came together for balloon releases.

“Mrs. Kuczka was a great gym and health teacher. She made everything fun for us,” said Paris Robinson.

Robinson graduated from Central VPA High two years ago.

“It’s kind of crazy to even think about the shooting. Many people are sad, but I’m angry that this happened at my school,” said Robinson.

“Mrs. Kuczka was like a grandmother to me,” said Christian Schulte.

Schulte graduated from the school in 2019.

He too had to be at the event to comfort his hurting, fellow alums and to show support for the families of Mrs. Kuczka and Alexzandria Bell.

“You know I can’t even imagine how Mrs. Kuczka’s family feels right now," Schulte said. "I didn’t know Alex, but she was a CVPA, and so she was my sister."

“This wasn’t just a job to Mrs. Kuczka...teaching was her...it was her life because she cared for these kids,” said Robert Bloch.

Bloch, a former English and American literature teacher at the high school, also was there to comfort those who are hurting.

“I hope the families of Jean Kuczka and Alexzandria Bell can cling to the community and use the love that’s so unique in our community to help them with their grieving process for their loved ones,” Bloch said.

The St. Louis community is invited for another gathering in the aftermath of the school shooting. 

Black Healers Collective and the "T" STL are hosting a gathering at Tower Grove Park Saturday afternoon.

It goes from 1-3:30 p.m., in the Park's west end, near Arsenal and South Kingshighway.

Robert Townsend contributed to this story.

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