Jean Kuczka died while shielding her students from gunfire
Students and loved ones of Jean Kuczka packed into Kutis Funeral Home and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis today to honor the former Central Visual and Performing Arts High School teacher who died one week ago.
Kuczka, 61, was one of two victims of last week’s shooting at the magnet school in south St. Louis. Those who gathered to honor Kuczka filled the Afton funeral home; a funeral procession to the Cathedral Basilica stretched at least a mile long.
Everyone who knew Kuczka personally and spoke to the RFT
described her as a caring person who always went the extra mile for her students.
“Mrs. Kuczka was a jewel,” Rayquand Strickland says. Kuczka taught him gym, personal finance and sex education. “She truly loved all of us and wanted us to live life to the fullest.”
Kuczka died shielding her students from alleged gunman Orlando Harris. The 19-year-old attended Central Visual and Performing Arts High School last year. Police do not believe the shooter targeted Kuczka or Alexzandria Bell, a 15-year-old student at the high school who also died of gunshot wounds.
Student Keshaun Brooks was in health class with Kuczka at the moment the shooter entered the building.
Brooks and his classmates hid, but when the shooter entered the classroom, he says Kuczka stood in front of him and his classmates: “That’s when we got out of the window.”
“I wouldn’t expect her to be gone,” Brooks says. He wondered why anyone would want to shoot “Mrs. K.” “I don’t know what made him shoot her or do any of it.”
According to her family, Kuczka fell in love with education after teaching swim lessons at the YMCA in high school. Her career included 18 years at Seven Holy Founders and 20 years with St. Louis Public Schools.
She loved Tom Petty, diet coke, hummingbirds, Jimmy Buffet, margaritas and Snoopy. She and her husband, Steve, had five children. The couple would have celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary in January.
“She was the most selfless person we’ve known,” Stephen Kuczka, one of Kuczka’s two sons, said at his mother’s memorial mass. “I know many of you would agree.”
Though her death came as a shock, the way Kuczka died did not shock her friend and former field hockey teammate Linda McQueen.
“That’s just who Jean was,” McQueen says. “She would do anything for anyone and she always put others above herself.”
McQueen was one of at least a dozen of Kuczka’s former teammates who attended memorial services for her. Kuczka was a goalie on Southwest Missouri State’s field hockey team from 1979 to 1982. The "really unique" team became national champions in 1979 and kept in contact with each other through the years.
Kuczka's teammates gathered outside the St. Louis Basilica after her memorial mass and hugged. All who spoke about her to the RFT
remembered Kuczka as an incredibly caring person.
That’s what anyone would say about Kuczka, who was there for “anyone who needed her,” according to her eldest son.
“That was the common thread of Jean’s life,” Stephen Kuczka said. “Let’s celebrate that life.”