An 18-year-old student was killed and eight others were injured in a Denver STEM school shooting. Police say the two suspects are also students.
HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. – New details of how heroic students and a former U.S. Marine helped halt a suburban Denver school shooting emerged Wednesday as one of the accused shooters appeared before a judge, his shaggy, purple-streaked hair obscuring his face.
Authorities arrested Devon Erickson, 18, and a second suspect – a juvenile identified both as Maya McKinney and Alec McKinney – at the STEM School in Highlands Ranch on Tuesday afternoon.
Erickson, a student at the school, faces a murder charge and dozens of attempted murder charges in connection with the shooting that killed classmate Kendrick Ray Castillo, who is being hailed as a hero for confronting the shooters.
Authorities said Erickson and McKinney attacked two classrooms with handguns, killing Castillo, 18, and wounding eight. One of the shooters was disarmed and subdued by a former Marine working as a private security guard patrolling the school, his boss said.
Appearing in court 24 hours after the shooting, Erickson spoke only to acknowledge the judge’s questions, shaking his head or nodding at other times.
Prosecutors expect to formally charge him in the next several days, but they persuaded the judge to withhold much of the evidence in the case from public view while the initial investigation continues. Erickson is being held without bond and is due back in court Friday.
Also being held without bond is McKinney, 16. Court records listed the defendant as Maya McKinney, but a defense attorney said his client uses male pronouns and is named Alec. The sheriff’s office initially identified him as a boy and later said the suspect was a girl.
McKinney, who is being held on suspicion of murder and attempted murder, appeared in court shackled at the wrists and ankles and sat alongside his mother. He responded to the judge’s questions in a clear but quiet voice, saying, “Yes, your honor” and “No, your honor.”
District attorney George Brauchler says he hasn’t decided whether to file adult charges. McKinney is being held on suspicion of murder and attempted murder and is due back in court Friday.
As investigators piece together the shooters’ movements and motivations, accounts came to light of the heroism displayed by STEM students and the security guard who helped halt the carnage.
Gov. Jared Polis called Castillo a “hero” for charging at one of the shooters and lauded student Brendan Bialy for taking similar action. Their bravery allowed other students to run for cover and hide in closets and under desks.
“Colorado will always remember the heroism of Kendrick Castillo,” Polis said in a statement.
Castillo was set to graduate this weekend. Bialy joined the U.S. Marines and is scheduled to ship out for basic training this summer.
“Brendan’s courage and commitment to swiftly ending this tragic incident at the risk of his own safety is admirable and inspiring,” Capt. Michael Maggitti said in a statement.
Bialy said he, Castillo and another student fought back out of instinct, and even though the gunman got some shots off, Bialy wrestled the firearm from him and they were able to subdue him.
Wednesday night, hundreds of students and parents gathered in a nearby public high school to call for stronger gun control and better access to mental health. But students from the STEM school, a charter school, stormed out in frustration that their trauma was immediately being politicized.
Those STEM students said they had been told not to talk to reporters, and criticized journalists covering the event.
Earlier in the rally, Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat who represents the area, criticized politicians who offer “thoughts and prayers,” but don’t take action.
“Our children deserve action,” he said. “Tomorrow we must get to work.”
Earlier Wednesday, the family of another student who said he was involved in disarming the assailant released a statement saying he was shot twice in the attack. Joshua Jones’ family called Castillo “a special hero” and said “we consider ourselves fortunate the result was not much, much worse.”
The other shooter was apprehended by an armed security guard contracted by the school, the security company’s owner said. Grant Whitus said the guard, a former sheriff’s deputy and Marine who saw combat, ran to the sound of gunshots and took custody of the youth at gunpoint.
“God only knows how many lives he saved,” Whitus said. “He had to run down to the location, he confronted the shooter and he took the shooter into custody, and then gave the shooter to the police when they arrived.”
Still, Whitus said the guard, whose name has not been released, was upset that several of the kids he protected over the past school year got hurt. He was working in another part of the school when he heard the incident begin over his radio.
“We’re just trying to console him, because you can’t stop something like this from happening,” Whitus said.
Students and activists against gun violence are holding a memorial for Castillo and their injured classmates Wednesday evening.
Sheriff Tony Spurlock said Erickson and McKinney opened fire in two classrooms Tuesday, igniting chaos. Spurlock said deputies from a nearby substation were on the scene within two minutes.
“They immediately engaged the suspects and started rescuing the children who were injured,” Spurlock said at a news conference. Three of the eight wounded remained hospitalized Wednesday.
The suspects entered through a middle-school door on the K-12 school of about 1,800 students, which specialized in math and science, Spurlock said.
The shooters were armed with weapons they were not old enough to purchase or own, he said. The public charter school has no metal detectors, Spurlock said.
Nui Giasolli told NBC’s “Today” show she was in a literature class when Erickson came in late, walking around the room and opening and closing doors.
“The next thing I know he’s pulling a gun and he is telling nobody to move,” she said.
The assault came less than three weeks after the 20th anniversary of the shooting at nearby Columbine High School, where two teens shot and killed 12 students and a teacher. Tuesday’s tragedy was the fourth school shooting in Colorado since then.
District Attorney George Brauchler said the attack was personal to him, noting that he grew up in the area and his wife has a business near the school. As a father, he knows what parents of all the students are going through, he said.
“There are those that won’t be classified as victims that are feeling it this morning, right now,” he said. “Moms and dads who are making decisions about sending their kids to school in one of the greatest districts in the country because they don’t feel safe.”
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Douglas County School District, which includes the STEM school, canceled classes last month during an FBI manhunt for a woman “infatuated” with the Columbine shooting. The school is about 8 miles from Columbine High School.
The STEM school will be closed for the rest of this week, officials said. Polis ordered all flags lowered to half-staff on all state buildings until sunset Tuesday.
“We know that the life of a student has been taken too soon,” Polis said. “America has seen too many senseless acts of violence.”
Bacon reported from McLean, Virginia. Contributing: Kristin Lam, reporting from Los Angeles; The Associated Press
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