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By JIM SALTER
01/16/13 11:34 PM ET EST
ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis college student who was charged Wednesday with shooting an administrator in a dispute over financial aid has a history of mental illness and at least one earlier violent crime.
Prosecutors charged 34-year-old Sean Johnson with first-degree assault, armed criminal action and two firearms violations in Tuesday’s attack at the Stevens Institute of Business & Art. He doesn’t have an attorney yet and a woman who answered the phone at his home declined an interview request.
Investigators say Johnson, a part-time student, shot the school’s financial aid director, Greg Elsenrath, once in the chest during a meeting in Elsenreth’s fourth-floor office, then shot himself in the torso. The school said the two had a heated exchange Monday during a meeting about Johnson’s financial aid.
Both men underwent surgery Tuesday. Authorities haven’t said how Johnson is faring, but 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,” the posting said.
The gunshots sent teachers, administrators and the roughly 40 students in the five-story building scrambling for safety. Some of those who couldn’t get out took cover under desks or in closets until officers arrived, police Chief Sam Dotson said.
According to the probable cause statement, police found Johnson in a stairwell between the third and fourth floors, bleeding from a wound in his side. His 9mm handgun, with three rounds still inside, was found nearby.
As a convicted felon, Johnson is prohibited from owning or handling a gun, which accounts for one of the new firearms charges. The other stems from the scratched-out serial number on the weapon, according to prosecutors.
Until last spring, Johnson was serving five years’ probation for trying to slash a cab driver with a box cutter in 2009 while they were driving on Interstate 70 in St. Louis County. The cab crashed into the median, and Johnson and the driver engaged in a struggle until police arrived, according to court records.
Johnson pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and a weapons charge, and was ordered to remain on a medication for an undisclosed mental illness.
But in May, Johnson’s probation was revoked, although court records don’t indicate why. A warrant was issued for his arrest three days after his probation was revoked, but court records don’t indicate if he was ever arrested.
Johnson’s 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. Police say Elsenrath is in his 40s.
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.
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.