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St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones: 'It's OK not to be OK.'

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones talked with 5 On Your Side about shared grief over the Central VPA High School shooting and keeping our community safe.

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones has been emotional this past week as she  responded to the deadly shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. 

Jones recalled visiting the school on the first day of the school year when kids were "bright-eyed" and bushy-tailed." 

When she arrived on October 24 in response to the school shooting, she said she was heartbroken. 

"Our children shouldn't have to experience this," she said in a news conference. "They shouldn't have to go through active shooter drills in case something happens."

Since then, Mayor Jones has been mourning the community's loss and talking about her shared grief as a city leader, her fears as a mother to a high schooler, and her hopes for the community at large when it comes to gun safety.

Jones is part of a bi-partisan mayors' group that is hoping to curb gun violence, and during the summer, she joined President Joe Biden and other gun safety advocates at the White House to celebrate the passage of the bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

Now the work is closer to home than ever -- as the 19-year-old gunman bought his gun legally in a private sale. And though his parents tried to permanently take his gun away with the help of a third party, the gunman somehow managed to get the gun back and use it for the October 24 shooting.

Mayor Jones appeared on Today in St. Louis for an interview with 5 On Your Side's Michelle Li and Rene Knott. 

Jones said she wants people to know that a week out from the shooting, it's OK to grieve and to realize you may need help.

"It's OK not to be OK," Jones said. "If they are not, please reach out. There are tons of behavioral health resources now available to wrap our arms around our community."

Jones mentioned resources like the suicide hotline at 988 or reaching out to Behavioral Health Response. She added there are a lot of mental health resources ready to help.

Another issue Jones wants to address is school safety. Central VPA had metal detectors and other deterrents to protect students, but the shooter was still able to break into the school.

Jones said the city, school district, and other schools have been working together to do the unfortunate work of active shooter drills. She said the timing would have it that Central VPA had their active shooter drill a week before the shooting.

"The children were prepared," Jones said. "The staff was prepared, the school resource officers were prepared. Everything went according to plan. Of course, we mourn the deaths of the people who lost their lives in this tragedy, but they saved lives, and it could have been a lot worse."

The mayor and other politicians, such as Congresswoman Cori Bush, have often stood beside each other at news conferences with a shared belief and concern about gun safety. 

St. Louis police say officers lacked the authority to temporarily seize the gunman's weapon because the state of Missouri does not have a red flag law in place, even though an FBI background check stopped the gunman from buying an AR-15 from a licensed dealer before he was able to get his hands on one from a private seller.

State lawmakers like Senator Doug Beck, a democrat from Affton, announced he will again file legislation to establish a Missouri red flag law to make sure that people who pose a risk to themselves or others will not have access to firearms. 

Jones said she and her bi-partisan mayors' group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, would help prevent tragedies like the one at Central VPA. The group is comprised of 1,000 current and former mayors who are committed to ending gun violence. 

"The Missouri legislature has prohibited us from passing common sense gun safety practices on the local level," said Jones. "They've been relaxing gun laws since 2007, and it hasn't made our state or our law enforcement safer."

She says her group currently supports a lawsuit against the Second Amendment Preservation Act, and they're going to try to hold gun manufacturers accountable in the same way the federal government stepped in to fight big tobacco and keep automakers accountable. 

As Jones continues to fight the gun safety battle on the political front lines, she is also working to make sure the community grieves and understands the resources available. She also wants to show her gratitude to law enforcement officers who took down the shooter in a matter of minutes. 

"Our law enforcement did everything perfectly," said Jones. "We have the best-trained law enforcement in the country. It's unfortunate that people lost their lives and were injured in this incident, but they prevented it from being a lot worse."

Jones said to make sure you're taking time to check in with yourself, check in with your children and also check in with your kids' friends because sometimes they may not have parents who can notice what's going on.

For a list of resources for those affected by the shooting at Central VPA High School, click here.

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