Loved ones raise money for employee shot outside Kansas City high school


Loved ones of a Kansas City high school employee who was shot in January have launched a fundraiser to offset medical expenses.

Kansas City Police officials have identified the injured high school employee as Austin Penca, who friends say has worked at Plaza Academy in Westport for three years.

According to the GoFundMe, Penca is a creative artist, loving husband and funny friend who’s known as a voice of reason and who’s passionate about his job at Plaza Academy, a private school that caters to non-traditional learners, according to its website.

Friends call him a valued employee of the school, and a great teacher to his students. They say he’s also known for mentoring and counseling students there.

The paraprofessional was shot just after 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 24, after an unknown vehicle approached the back of the building from Washington Street, according to Sgt. Jake Becchina, a spokesman with the Kansas City Police Department.

Police said Penca was outside the school doing his duty to ensure students could safely reenter the school when the vehicle pulled up and someone fired multiple shots. He was transported to the hospital with injuries that were not life threatening.

Jacquelyn Barry, a junior at the school, described feeling terrified after gunfire broke out, saying she and other students hid behind a barricaded door. She said the shooting happened about an hour after an altercation between a student and the staff member, who Barry said is a gym teacher.

The student threatened the teacher, saying he was going to “pull up” with guns and a family member.

Students hid in a counselor’s office after they heard gunshots, though Becchina said there’s no evidence the shooter attempted to enter the school.

Barry said the victim was her gym teacher.

“I’m just happy he’s OK,” she told The Star the afternoon after the incident. “I was so worried.”

Despite his injuries which have caused “excruciating pain” according to his friends, Penca remains optimistic, the fundraiser indicates.

“Anyone who knows Austin understands the massive impact he has had on his friends, family, and the Plaza community,” the fundraiser reads.

The Star’s Andrea Klick contributed to this report.