Updated: 01/16/2013 1:10 PM KSTP.com By: Leslie Dyste
A part-time student with a history of crime and mental health issues was charged Wednesday for allegedly shooting an administrator at a downtown business school in a dispute over financial aid, then turning the gun on himself.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce charged Sean Johnson, 34, of St. Louis, with first-degree assault, armed criminal action and two firearms violations for the shooting on Tuesday at Stevens Institute of Business & Art.
Both Johnson and the shooting victim, financial aid director Greg Elsenrath, remain hospitalized following surgery. The school said Elsenrath is expected to make a full recovery.
A probable cause statement said Johnson and Elsenrath had a heated exchange about Johnson's financial aid on Monday. The statement said that after another discussion on Tuesday, Johnson shot Elsenrath in the chest at Johnson's fourth-floor office. Police found Johnson in a stairwell between the third and fourth floors with a bullet wound to the side.
Authorities have not released Johnson's condition, but the prognosis for Elsenrath was good. The school posted on its Facebook page Wednesday that Elsenrath "came through surgery last night with flying colors and is expected to make a full recovery."
"This unimaginable act of violence has proved the strength of our bonds as a Siba family and we intend to come out of this event with those bonds intact and stronger than ever," it said.
The shooting created what Police Chief Sam Dotson described as a "chaotic scene," as the 40 or so students in the building at the time, along with faculty and staff, scrambled to get out of the five-story historic building, some taking refuge in neighboring businesses. Others huddled in closets or under desks until police arrived.
Police arrived to find Elsenrath near an elevator. The handgun Johnson allegedly used was near where police found him in the stairwell.
A woman answering the phone at Johnson's home declined an interview request on Wednesday. He did not yet have an attorney.
Johnson has been in trouble before.
He pleaded guilty to unlawful use of a weapon and second-degree assault for attempting to slash a taxi driver with a box cutter in 2009. Court documents show that the crime happened as the cab was being driven along Interstate 70 in St. Louis County. After the cab crashed into a median, the driver and Johnson struggled until police arrived.
Johnson was sentenced to five years of probation and required to take medication for an undisclosed mental health condition. He is still on probation for that case.
His attorney at the time, Eric Barnhart, said Wednesday that Johnson was a productive part of society "when he was taking his medication," but struggled when off of it. Barnhart said he is not currently representing Johnson and declined to disclose the mental health condition or comment further.
The probable cause statement said Johnson also had prior convictions for drug trafficking and drug possession.
The school's website said Elsenrath has a bachelor's degree from Missouri Valley College and an MBA from Lindenwood University. Elsenrath, of Winfield, Mo., has worked in financial aid for 15 years.
The school has about 180 students in programs including business administration, tourism and hospitality, paralegal studies, fashion, and retail and interior design. It relocated to its current building from another downtown building in 2010.
Dotson said police arrived within one minute of getting a call about the shooting and used an "active shooter" protocol developed after a 2010 shooting spree in which a man killed four people and wounded five others at ABB Inc., a transformer manufacturing firm.
Officers went inside and hurriedly got everyone out, and using tactical teams and dogs to sweep the building in search of the shooter or shooters.
The school will be closed until 8 a.m. Tuesday. Several messages left Wednesday with the school's president, Cynthia Musterman, and members of the staff were not returned.
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