Alec McKinney, who has been identified as one of the two students accused in the mass shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch in Douglas County, Colorado, railed about “STEM kids” on social media and was, according to The Denver Channel transgender and transitioning from female to male.
The shooting left a heroic teen, Kendrick Castillo, dead and eight others injured. McKinney is identified in Douglas County court records as Maya Elizabeth McKinney and was labeled a “juvenile female” by the sheriff in a press conference, but Heavy has learned that McKinney goes by Alec McKinney and identifies as male.
McKinney, 16, is being charged as an adult with murder and a slew of other charges.
According to Daily Mail, McKinney’s father is Jose Evis Quintana, a twice-deported undocumented immigrant from Mexico who is a “serial felon” once jailed for domestic abuse.
The Denver Post has confirmed that McKinney is the juvenile suspect in the shooting. Authorities gave the name of the adult male suspect as 18-year-old Devon Erickson. (Note: You can see a round up of heroes in mass shooting tragedies, including Highlands Ranch, here.)
The judge wouldn’t allow photos or video at McKinney’s first court hearing on Wednesday. However, Noelle Phillips of The Denver Post wrote on Twitter that McKinney’s attorney confirmed that McKinney goes by the name Alec and uses the pronoun he; Denver7 reported through sources that McKinney is transgender. A friend confirmed this on social media and wrote that McKinney didn’t get the support he needed.
On social media, Heavy has learned, McKinney tweeted angrily about STEM students. His Twitter profile picture shows him with Erickson, the other accused shooter. McKinney also posted that his mother didn’t like the “new Alec.”
“F*CK stem kids i swear to f*cking god,” Alec wrote on his Twitter page in January. He wrote in April: “When you’re putting yourself in life threatening danger” without explaining but added a kiss emoji.
McKinney referred to STEM kids with an expletive on his “finsta” account. The posts on that account are privatized.
In court for the first time on May 8, McKinney’s alleged co-actor, Devon Erickson, bowed his head, his purple hair dangling over his face. He is facing multiple charges.
Denver7 reported that at least one of the suspects may have stolen the guns used in the shooting from Erickson’s parents – three handguns – as both suspects are not legally of age to purchase handguns in Colorado. The television station reported that the parents bought the guns legally.
The shooting occurred the afternoon of May 7, 2019, and it led to horrific scenes of children of all ages being led out of the evacuated building. The school is home to students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Authorities say nine people were shot, with one 18-year-old student dying of his injuries. Kendrick Castillo has been identified as the victim killed in the attack. Classmates and Castillo’s father have called him a hero, saying he rushed at one of the shooters, allowing the other teens to escape from the room. Three children remained in intensive care on the morning of May 8, 2019.
Classmate Nui Giasolli confirmed that Castillo lunged at a gunman who entered her British literature class “giving us all enough time to get underneath our desks to get ourselves safe, to run across the room to escape,” according to BBC. His father, John Castillo, told The Denver Post: “His character is about protecting people, helping people.”
Here’s what you need to know about Alec McKinney and the shooting:
1. McKinney Wrote That Feelings Are ‘Temporary’ & His Mother Hated the ‘New Alec’
The sheriff described suspect two as a “young person… a small young person.” Thus, he said, at first authorities thought the suspect was a male. Court records list the suspect as Maya McKinney, but McKinney’s social media pages are under the name Alec McKinney.
“We originally thought the juvenile was a male by appearance. I did the press release very early on before the detectives were able to get medical… were able to speak to her,” said Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock.
The Denver Channel wrote that multiple sources say “the second suspect, who is a minor, is a transgender male who was in the midst of transitioning from female to male.” The motive, the station alleges, “went beyond bullying and involved revenge and anger towards others at the school,” adding that one suspect “was involved in legal and illegal drug use and had been in therapy.” The sheriff said it was “too new” to determine the motive, though, according to Denver7.
On Twitter, McKinney wrote about his mother hating the “new Alec” and about missing his dad.
A friend of McKinney’s and Erickson’s wrote on Instagram that “Devon did not do what he did because he’s liberal or to make a statement. He did it due to internal struggles. They’re both struggling with mental health issues and this is a time for awareness. Alec did not do this because he’s trans, but had people supported him in the way he needed and deserved, he would not have struggled so much that he got pushed over the edge.”
The friend wrote that the pair did a “horrible thing” but called for more support for LGBT youth, saying the two didn’t allegedly act because they hated others but rather because of hate in themselves.
According to The Denver Post, McKinney’s court file is sealed because McKinney is a juvenile. “We’ve made no decisions about which charges to file,” District Attorney George Brauchler said. McKinney and Erickson are being held on investigative charges, The Post reports.
Erickson is being held for investigation of 28 charges, including murder and 25 counts of attempted murder, The Post reports. The investigative charges against McKinney aren’t available because of the seal court file.
Spurlock said officers were at the scene in two minutes time.
Quick-responding officers engaged with the shooters and caught them at the scene, according to the sheriff. At least one heroic student, Brendan Bialy, is also credited with tackling one of the two gunmen (it’s not clear which one), a family attorney says. His father told The New York Times that “his son told him that two students entered the classroom and one pulled a gun out of a guitar case.” That matches an account provided to Denver7 by another parent. You can read about Bialy’s heroism here.
The elder Bialy also told the Times that “his son and two friends tried to tackle the gunman but one of the boys was shot in the chest.” That sort of heroism is reminiscent of the recent campus shooting at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, in which student Riley Howell tackled the shooter. He gave his life for others when he did so. Brendan Bialy was not shot, but Kendrick Castillo, who was in that same group of heroes, was.
When authorities rushed to the scene, gunfire was still erupting inside the school, which had no school resource officer on site. The Sheriff said more than one student was in critical condition in his first press conference after the shooting. The school shooting led to all-too familiar scenes of terror – especially for Colorado, as the school is 10 miles from Columbine – that no student should ever have to experience.
“We will hear about very heroic things that have taken place. There was at least one that we can verify, a student that encountered the suspects. I suspect… we will find there were much more heroic things,” said the sheriff. He didn’t name that student, though. He said that officers rushed into the school. Employees, other students, staff, and officers all took heroic actions, he said.
Parents rushed to the scene only to learn, in some cases, that students had evacuated themselves, fleeing to a nearby restaurant.
“PARENTS please go to Northridge Rec Center not Elementary School to pick up children,” Sheriff’s officials wrote early on.
Authorities were evacuating “admin people” from a second floor and were checking closets for people who might be hiding in what was clearly a chaotic and frightening situation that has become all too familiar in the United States. Some children “self-evacuated to Rock Bottom Brewery and need to be rounded up,” said one law enforcement officer on the scanner. Another officer reported having 30 students who needed to “be escorted to a collection point.”
2. Alec McKinney Was Friends With Devon Erickson on Instagram & Uses the Nickname, ‘the Slump God’
Alec McKinney has an active Instagram page that follows Devon Erickson’s page. “The Slump God. Sell the kids for food ??”, McKinney’s profile reads.
The page’s most recent picture is from prom, showing McKinney with a prom date. “Let’s make a deal, Rumpelstiltskins She wanna see my purple pickle up in the wind OKAY. Prom 2019 ??” McKinney wrote with the post. “Baby, I could give you the moon. You know he can’t do what I do,” wrote McKinney with another post.
Other posts showed McKinney with friends (including one who bears a strong resemblance to Erickson). Many captions are whimsical attempts at humor. “Leave some liquid for the centipedes, they eat away my memory,” one read.
Alec offered an ode to a friend, writing, “…we have been friends for what 11 years now. You’ve been a real homie ya know. I don’t mean to get all sappy however, I love you so much there is never a dull moment with you, you’re so beautiful despite you not thinking so, you’re so DAMN funny. And I’ve enjoyed every second of our friendship I’m here for you.” Overall, there were not many posts on the page.
“I probably sucked more today than anyone in the history of kung fu. In the history of China. In the history of sucking,” McKinney wrote in another post.
Devon Erickson commented on one Alec post that read,
“Then I think about the state of rapping
All the freshmans in the classes
All the super seniors mumblin’ and ramblin’
Mumblin’ and rappin’
Erickson responded to another person, writing, “Taco bell, what the hell, why the f*ck did you guys show up at my house and set off my dads car alarm just to give us taco bell when we were incapable of understanding the situation.” Another photo showed a Cheap Trick concert with the caption,
Down the street
The same old thing
We did last week??
Cheap trick and Poison was nice.”
Another McKinney caption read, “I see your drinking 1%. Does that mean you think you’re fat? Cause you’re not. You could be drinking whole if you wanted to.”
The terror the pair is accused of unleashing on the school flies in the face of their sometimes happy-go-lucky Instagram posts. One father told Denver7 in the hours after the shooting on May 7 that his son “told me he was shot three times. He’s going to be released in like an hour ago. A classmate opened fire in the classroom….He said he saw shots from everywhere.” The father said his son was 17-years-old.
The son told his father that one shooter had taken a gun out of a guitar case. Again, authorities had not confirmed that information, Denver7 reported. However, Sheriff Tony Spurlock did say that the suspects opened fire in “classrooms.”
Scanner audio obtained by Heavy captured authorities’ efforts to clear the school. Officers moved from room-to-room. Authorities painstakingly made their way through the Highlands Ranch school, checking closets and marking cleared rooms with an “X,” in a frightening scene. The initial reports were chaotic and included suspects’ descriptions. They were wearing hoodies, including a Nirvana hoodie and one with writing and a heart, according to early dispatch audio (sometimes such early reports can be wrong.) One picture on Instagram does show Alec McKinney wearing a Nirvana shirt.
Two suspects were in custody, a Sheriff’s official, Holly Nicholson-Kluth, said in the first official press conference on the incident. The sheriff confirmed that the victims’ wounds are from gunshots. Authorities scoured the school “looking for victims,” dispatch audio indicated, capturing the urgency of the situation.
The active shooter reports emanated from the STEM School Highlands Ranch at 8773 S. Ridgeline Blvd. Initially, rescue teams were going through the school.
There were scenes of great emotion as parents rushed to the scene. A 6th grader ran out of a study hall and met up with his mother, according to Denver7, which reported that some children were still inside the school. Another child texted his frantic mother that he could hear gunshots. The television station reported seeing a small parade of ambulances.
3. Both McKinney & Erickson Attended the STEM School
Alec’s mother’s Facebook page shows a family photo with her, Alec, and two smaller children. “Love this picture! Beautiful family!!:)” people wrote in 2017.
Authorities provided some details about what happened in their first press conference, but they were still sorting out information. Some of that information changed. At first, sheriff’s officials said the shooting unfolded in the middle school and that both suspects were juveniles. However, the sheriff later said the shooting erupted in the high school of the K-12 STEM school.
He said that one suspect was an adult, and the other suspect was a juvenile. Both of the students attended the STEM school, according to the sheriff. “We believe both of the suspects are students at the STEM school,” Sheriff Spurlock repeated.
Authorities did not have an age range on the victims. However, the sheriff said they were all over age 15. The motive was not yet clear.
You can listen to the scanner audio here. Early on, there were false reports of a possible third suspect.
The number of injuries grew. The first update had said two people were wounded. Unfortunately, that grew to eight and then nine.
“#stemshooting, at 1:53 pm responded to STEM school off Ridgeline Blvd in HR on call of shots fired in school, first update, 2 injured, deputies in process of identifying and locating shooter(s). Still active and unstable scene,” wrote the Douglas County Sheriff in an early report at 2:42 p.m. on May 7, 2019. The ATF and FBI had joined local authorities.
4. There Was a ‘Struggle’ in the School, Authorities Say & Reports of Heroism Are Emerging
The sheriff described how, even though they were not located on scene, deputies responded quickly and stopped the shooters on the scene.
Holly Nicholson-Kluth, the Douglas County undersheriff, said there was a “struggle” between the suspects and someone from the school “when they got there.” Spurlock said he initially couldn’t say if anyone engaged with the shooters in addition to the law enforcement officers. That was before the reports of heroism (by Castillo, Bialy) emerged from classmates.
However, Nicholson-Kluth said that law enforcement officers caught the shooters. “They (the suspects) were caught by officers running into the school,” she said, indicating that the suspects were not among those injured. The sheriff confirmed this. “My officers engaged them,” Spurlock said in the news conference.
The Sheriff also said that other heroism occurred, citing students and staff as well. He said that at least one student encountered a suspect but was not more specific.
Nicholson-Kluth did not know how many shots were fired. It was a very active seen when authorities arrived. Officers “could still hear gunshots” as they were arriving and entering the school.
Authorities gave out a description of a vehicle in the live scanner audio. There were 1850 students at the school complex. A hospital in Littleton confirmed receiving five patients, according to Denver7.
The scanner provided additional details from the scene: Incident command was set up outside the school. There was a “rescue force task force.” Authorities were discussing “bringing the shooter out” at one point on the scanner audio. Authorities told rescue teams to reference a classroom map of the school.
5. The Other Suspect, Devon Erickson, Is an Actor & Musician
Devon Erickson was the first accused shooter named. He’s 18. His social media footprint is more extensive than McKinney’s and sheds light on his interests, which included videogames, paintball, and skateboarding.
In addition, at least a couple years ago, Erickson was a youth actor in various local productions. He had a role in a production of Legally Blonde, for example. He also wrote that he had sent his resume to The Walking Dead. A YouTube channel in his name shows videos of him playing guitar and singing. Erickson shared two posts about politics – one criticizing President Donald Trump and one praising Barack Obama. Erickson was a registered Democrat. His other posts were more mundane.
John Fenton, a news producer with CBS Denver, wrote that the “car towed from #stemshooting suspect’s (Erickson’s) home apparently has ‘F*** SOCIETY’ spray painted on the side. Also ‘666’ and a what looks like a pentagram sprayed on the hood.” The sheriff said the “graffiti on” the car is still being analyzed. He said he had no specific information on “what it means or where it came from.”
You can read more about Devon Erickson here.
The school’s administrators were the first people to call law enforcement when the gunfire rang out.
Nicholson-Kluth described a terrifying situation. “School admin called police,” said Nicholson-Kluth. Over the next few minutes, “many shots were fired.” A law enforcement substation was only a block away. “Two suspects were taken into custody. I don’t have any information on them right now.”
Many students “self-evacuated,” she said. “We don’t believe there’s another suspect in the school.” The latter comment came after early media reports that there might be a third shooter.
“Obviously, that’s a very scary call to get. …We do have two shooters in custody,” another Sheriff’s spokeswoman said on Denver7. “I have no information on the gender or age or anything like that. In situations like this, we always assume there will be more. We’re in the process of looking for more shooters, room for room… I don’t have any information on the extent of (the victims’) injuries…We are evacuating all of the children.”
“We want to make sure we look at every piece of that school” before the scene is deemed safe, authorities said early on.
“At STEM School Highlands Ranch we put innovation in the center of learning to unleash the potential of all students and prepare them for an exponentially changing world,” the school’s website reads.
“Welcome to STEM School Highlands Ranch. We are an innovative, free, public, charter learning community that exists to innovate K-12 education in order to prepare every student to lead change, solve problems and succeed in an exponentially changing world.”
From the start, it was clear the situation was dire.
“Unstable situation, shots fired at STEM school at Ridgeline and Plaza. Avoid area. Media go to north side of AMC,” came the first report from the Douglas County Sheriff. Early on, scanner traffic indicated there might be multiple victims, as law enforcement officers scoured the building to clear rooms. The school is located about 10 miles from the scene of the Columbine school shooting, which left scars on the Colorado psyche.
On the scanner, authorities reported finding a wounded person, a male, who had an injury to the foot. They indicated a female student was shot in her leg. “Applying a tourniquet now,” said a police officer on the scanner. “Can we get a gurney for a medical evac over here for another wounded individual,” a law enforcement officer asked dispatchers on the scanner.
“The school is not secure,” an officer indicated on the scanner around 2:22 p.m. It was later secured.