Shooter at St. Louis career college used gun with serial number filed off

2013-01-16T13:30:00Z 2014-02-10T07:43:29Z Shooter at St. Louis career college used gun with serial number filed offBy JOEL CURRIER jcurrier@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8256, JOE HOLLEMAN jholleman@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8254 and CHRISTINE BYERS cbyers@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8087 stltoday.com

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story misidentified the weapon used in the shooting, calling it a Tec-9. The gun is a Kel-Tec 9-millimeter handgun, and this version has been updated with the correct information.

ST. LOUIS  •  The student who shot the financial aid director of the Stevens Institute of Business & Arts used a Kel-Tec 9-millimeter semi-automatic pistol with its serial number filed off, a police source said today.

The source also said that both the college official, Greg Elsenrath, and alleged attacker, Sean Johnson, are expected to survive gunshot wounds.

Court documents filed in St. Louis Circuit Court today accuse Johnson of first-degree assault, armed criminal action, unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of a defaced firearm in Tuesday's attack at the campus at 1521 Washington Avenue. Only the two men were hurt. 

Police said Johnson, 34, apparently was angry but not threatening after a meeting with Elsenrath on Monday about a loss of financial assistance, and that he returned to the downtown campus about 2 p.m. Tuesday with the pistol. Elsenrath was wounded in the chest; Johnson was found in a stairwell with a chest wound that police said might have been deliberate or accidental.

The weapon still contained three live rounds, police said. 

A police source said the serial number had been filed off the gun, but investigators have been able to read it anyway. The weapon was turned over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to be traced.

The suspected gunman was an on-again, off-again student for the past four years, Police Chief Sam Dotson told reporters Tuesday.

In 2009, Johnson was accused in St. Louis County Circuit Court of trying to slash a taxi driver with a box cutter as the cab drove along Interstate 70 near Lindbergh Boulevard. The driver said his customer reached from the back seat and thrust the cutter downward toward his neck, according to court documents. The vehicle hit a median barrier, and the two men were still struggling when Bridgeton police arrived.

Johnson was charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action, and pleaded guilty in 2011 of reduced charges of unlawful use of a weapon and second-degree assault. Court records reflect that he has a mental health condition. Judge Tom DePriest sentenced him to five years on probation, with terms requiring him to take his medication and have no contact with the victim.

That probation was revoked and an arrest warrant issued almost eight months ago, with no bail allowed. Available court documents do not reflect the nature of the violation. There also was no indication from officials about how Johnson had obtained a handgun.

Eric Barnhart, a lawyer who represented Johnson, said his client had also cut himself across the chest during the assault. “He was a productive member of society when he was taking his medication, and struggled when he didn’t,” Barnhart said.

In February, Johnson used a brick to smash the window of a St. Louis police car outside the North Patrol Station, and resisted arrest, officials said. He was named on an arrest warrant on several charges, including assault and trespassing, in that case.

A SWAT team stood by Tuesday evening as officers sealed off part of the street and served a search warrant at Johnson’s home, in the 5300 block of Cote Brilliante Avenue. Occupants of the home refused to speak with reporters Tuesday night and today.

A neighbor, Lakeisha Cummings, 22, said she had seen Johnson walking up and down the streets, often running errands for his mother. Known affectionately as “Miss Kim,” she operates a day care there. She also helps feed needy families and had taken in children in need, adopting several, Cummings said.

Neighbors described Johnson as quiet, seemingly harmless and known to have learning disabilities.

'WONDERFUL GUY'

A biography of Elsenrath on the school’s website says he worked in the field for more than 15 years and “takes a special interest in providing individualized assistance to students and parents.” He is a 1985 graduate of Francis Howell High School in St. Charles County and holds a bachelor’s degree from Missouri Valley College and a master’s from Lindenwood University.

Ginger Reinert, head of the tourism and hospitality management department at Stevens, said Elsenrath "is a wonderful guy. This is simply traumatic for all of us.”

The Rev. Phil Krahman, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Old Monroe, described Elsenrath as a mainstay of the parish, someone who is willing to do any work that needed to be done.

“He's very active in our Knights of Columbus,” Krahman said. “And because education's his thing, he became part of our board of education.”

Krahman said Elsenrath is well-known in the farming community and was liked and respected. Prayers were offered for Elsenrath at Mass Wednesday morning.

“We want to support him more in the recovery process, and this is a community that pulls together,” Krahman said.

Brittany Warner, who said she rented one of the homes Elsenrath owns in Winfield, said he is married with two young boys. “He’s a wicked nice guy,” she said, “and a very good landlord.”

SCHOOL HAD RELOCATED 

Stevens, a small for-profit school formerly known as Patricia Stevens College, relocated to the 25,000-square-foot downtown campus in an effort to expand the offerings and appeal of an institution that started in the 1940s as a finishing school for women.

While announcing the opening of its $3 million downtown campus, the school said it was adding bachelor’s degrees in several fields, including business administration, interior design and fashion merchandising. According to 2011 federal education data, it had an enrollment of 195 students, 90 percent of them women. It had seven full-time and 13 part-time faculty members, and a few administrators.

School president Cynthia Musterman could not be reached for comment.

About 40 or 50 students were present when Tuesday’s shooting started, officials said.

Angae Lowery, of Collinsville, said she drove to the school after receiving a text message from her daughter, Britanee Jones, a Stevens student. “The text said, ‘Someone’s shooting. Please help me,’ ” Lowery said. “I didn’t know what to do. I was so scared.”

As officers secured the building, Lowery stood in tears near the police tape.

Jones said she was in a fashion merchandising class with instructor Beth Schlegel and nine other students. “I heard a gunshot and got up,” said Jones, 24, also of Collinsville. “We were going to run out of the class, but (Schlegel) wouldn’t let us leave. She stood in front of the door and told us all to be quiet and get under our desk or go into a corner. Then she turned out the lights. Then some of us called 911 to tell police what was going on.”

She said, “I was just wondering if he was going to come into the room and shoot us.”

Jones said she heard another gunshot “about a minute, maybe two” after the first. “It wasn’t back-to-back.” Then police led them out.

Jameelah Tatum, 27, of St. Louis, has attended interior design classes at Stevens for about four years. She was across the street at a boutique she owns, House of Glam, when she saw a Stevens employee run out of the front door and prevent two young women from entering. “And then I saw police car after police car start pulling up,” Tatum said.

“Greg was the financial aid person, and he helped people out with their loans and things,” Tatum said. “I don’t know what the problem was, but Greg was always a real nice guy. He never showed any bad disposition, ever, to me.”

She noted, “I guess this can happen anywhere, but I’ve got one semester left and I’m thinking about finishing up through independent study.”

Marlon A. Walker, Robert Patrick, Valerie Schremp Hahn, Susan Weich, Tim Barker and Jeremy Kohler of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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