Devon Erickson, an 18-year-old high school student who has worked as a youth actor in Colorado, was identified by authorities as one of the two shooters accused of wounding nine students in a K-12 STEM school located in Douglas County. One of those students, 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo, died heroically in the attack after confronting one of the shooters.
Erickson appeared in court on May 15, 2019 to hear the charges against him. He’s now accused of more than a dozen charges, including murder, attempted murder, theft, and arson.
In court for the first time on May 8, Erickson bowed his head, his purple hair dangling over his face. He’s facing more than two dozen charges. He shook his head to answer some of the judge’s questions. At one point, he answered “no” when asked whether he had questions. (Note: You can see a round up of heroes in mass shooting tragedies, including Highlands Ranch, here.)
You can watch video of the court appearance here:
The second accused shooter has now been identified as Alec McKinney. You can read about Alec here. Alec is identified in court records as Maya McKinney, but a Denver television station reports that McKinney is transgender and transitioning to male. The second suspect uses the name Alec McKinney on social media, so Heavy is using that name. The Denver Post confirmed the second suspect’s name. The judge didn’t allow video or photos in McKinney’s court hearing; Noelle Phillips of The Denver Post reported that McKinney’s lawyer said McKinney goes by Alec and uses the pronoun he. According to social media accounts reviewed by Heavy, McKinney had used expletives to refer to “STEM kids.”
One friend described the pair as struggling with “mental health issues.” The friend 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 that he needed and deserved, he would not have struggled so much that he got pushed over the edge.”
The friend also wrote that the two suspects didn’t allegedly act because of hate for others but rather “hate in themselves” and called for more support for LGBT youth. She added that they did a “horrible thing.”
McKinney’s Twitter profile picture shows him with Erickson.
The Wednesday court hearings came after a horrific set of events unfolded in Colorado at the STEM school. One shooter pulled a gun out of a guitar case in a classroom and opened fire, two parents whose children were in the school described to different media outlets. Kendrick Castillo’s father confirmed to NBC News that he was the student who died. A Telemundo correspondent reported that Castillo “died as a hero, faced the gunmen…seeking to save the lives of his companions.” 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.”
Grim details began to emerge about the accused shooters. Devon Erickson’s now-deleted Facebook page says he lives in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. John Fenton, a news producer with CBS Denver, wrote that the “car towed from #stemshooting suspect’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.”
The sheriff said in a May 8 press conference that suspect two, McKinney, is a “juvenile female,” adding, “We originally thought the juvenile was a male by appearance,” the sheriff said. “I did the press release very early on before the detectives were able to get medical… were able to speak to her.”
However, 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.”
Erickson’s social media pages show he is a fan of videogames, paintball, skateboarding, and The Walking Dead. His Facebook posts indicated that he was a guitar-playing youth theater actor who once sent his resume to TWD. Scanner dispatch reports indicated a suspect had purple or pink hair. Asked on Instagram if he’d turned his hair blonde, he wrote, “it was purple then pink for a little too ?.” On Twitter, he indicated, “I make music I guess.” He filled a now-deleted YouTube channel with videos showing him singing cover songs and playing the guitar. That page gives his Snapchat account name as “devonkillz.”
On social media, Devon Erickson, a registered Democrat, expressed hatred for some Christians, and shared posts criticizing Donald Trump and praising Barack Obama, which you can see later in this article.
“You know what I hate? All these Christians who hate gays, yet in the bible, it says in Deuteronomy 17:12-13, if someone doesn’t do what their priest tells them to do, they are supposed to die. It has plenty of crazy stuff like that,” he wrote in one Facebook post a couple years ago. “But all they get out of it is ‘ewwwwww gays.'” In 2015, Erickson put a celebrate pride filter onto a Facebook picture.
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 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.
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. In the Highlands Ranch shooting. Brendan Bialy was not shot. Castillo, who was part of that same group, died. A woman who goes by the name Suz Perc on Twitter wrote that Kendrick Castillo saved her daughter’s life. “He and his classmate saved my daughter’s life today. Both amazing hero’s (sic), their bravery stopped more senseless tragedy. My daughter is home safe because of his sacrifice. True hero’s,” she wrote.
This is the suspect’s profile picture on Instagram:
The sheriff, Tony Spurlock, described in a news conference how the shooters allegedly went “deep” into the school, opening fire on students in classrooms inside the high school, killing one classmate and leaving others in critical condition. One was wielding a handgun, according to Spurlock. The Highlands Ranch STEM school shooting occurred within 10 miles of Columbine. Erickson’s mother’s now-deleted Facebook page said she’s from Littleton, Colorado. The school shooting at Highlands Ranch also comes just weeks after many schools in the area were on high alert when authorities announced a manhunt for a Florida woman obsessed with Columbine. It was later discovered that she had committed suicide.
Scanner traffic painted a horrific scene that has become all-too familiar in the United States as authorities rushed to the scene of a school shooting, this time at Highlands Ranch school. They were clearing the building floor-by-floor for some time, checking closets for hiding students and marking cleared rooms with an “X,” in a frightening scene. Dispatch audio from early on described hoodie-wearing suspects who were taken into custody at the scene, including one wearing a Nirvana hoodie and the other wearing a white hoodie with a heart on it and writing “all over it.” McKinney is a juvenile.
Fox31 reported that “nine days ago, someone added chilling notations to the Wikipedia page of the STEM School Highlands Ranch.” It’s not clear whether it was related to the shooting. However, the comments were added next to an article on the page that read, “Anti suicide programs are implemented to help lower chances of suicide and school shootings.” On April 29, this was added to the page: “Do they work? We shall see.”
“We’ve been no stranger to tragedy,” the Colorado governor said, referencing the fact it was recently the 20th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting. “We are a resilient state. Whether it’s in the face of fire, floods, or whether it’s in the face of human tragedy like this…America has seen too many of these senseless acts of violence.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Suspect Was a Student at the STEM School, the Sheriff Says & Erickson Wrote That He Was ‘Addicted to Pain’
The above photo is the most recent on Devon Erickson’s Instagram page. It dates to March 2019. He included a slew of hashtags: “#aesthetic #aestheticgrunge #aesthetictumblr #grunge #darkaesthetic #darkgrunge #softgrunge #tumblraesthetic #aestheticoutfit #grungetumblr #grungestyle #aestheticposts #tumblrgirl #aestheticgirl #cuteaesthetic #pastelgrunge #softgrunge #softaesthetic #vintagestyle
#tumblrinspo #alternative #gothaesthetic.” A tattoo reading OwO is visible on his arm. It’s a meme from the “furry community,” according to Buzzfeed, and also an “Eastern emoticon” connoting a perplexed expression.
With one post, he wrote, “I’m covered in ink and addicted to pain.” 9News reported that police were expected to search a home owned by James and Stephanie Erickson. Stephanie’s Facebook page was deleted shortly after news broke of the shooting.
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 the parents bought the guns legally.
In the court hearing May 8, a protection order was granted so Erickson’s defense can see the crime scene, and the judge suppressed the court affidavit, at least for now, because the investigation is ongoing.
Both suspects were students at the STEM school, the sheriff said. Both are in custody, Sheriff Spurlock also confirmed in his first news conference. One account said authorities used a bomb robot to search a suspect’s car (it’s not clear which suspect) because there may have been tactical gear inside.
However, on Instagram, Devon wrote in 2018, “I’m only posting one of my senior pictures so people don’t think I dropped out since I don’t take classes at stem anymore.” On Facebook, under education, he wrote, “OM NOM NOM. Banana, Congo. The Gallifreyan Academy for Timelords.” Under “work,” he wrote, “Nothing Doer.”
Devon Erickson has almost an unblemished record, with only “a Feb. 13, 2018, ticket in Douglas County for careless driving,” according to 9News.
9News reporter Katie Eastman wrote on Twitter, “A neighbor confirmed to me that Devon lived here in this blue house on Mountain Maple Avenue in Littleton. Called him a ‘great kid from a great family’ #9News.”
His Facebook posts that are visible date back a couple years. They show some interest in politics but also the mundane.
In 2016, he shared a video of Seth Meyers criticizing President Donald Trump, and the year before he shared an Occupy Democrats post praising then President Barack Obama. Newer posts aren’t visible; some of his posts were more mundane. “GO BRONCOS!!!! LETS TAKE DOWN THE PATRIOTS!!!!” read one 2016 post. Pages he liked on Facebook run the gamut, and they included pages devoted to AK47s, PewDiePie, Chuck Norris, and Bruno Mars, among many others.
Here is the other political post that’s visible on his page.
A group called Far Left Youth wrote on Twitter, “To be clear, the #stemshooter wasn’t a leftist. One of our admins new him personally and knew that he had no love for socialism. What was done was evil and totally out of line with any leftist values.” The group labels itself as “Youth led grassroots group meant to educate Coloradan youth on socialist theory/history.”
“The suspect in the STEM shooting is someone I went to middle school with, Devon Erickson. This bothers me so much. Senseless act of violence,” wrote another man on Facebook.
There were two shooters at the scene, authorities confirmed early on, although there was initial confusion about whether there might be a third (there wasn’t).
Early dispatch audio indicated that a shooter “went outside.” Other reports said a shooter was “in the hallway.” A shooter was described as having multi-colored hair or pink or purple hair. A second shooter was described as wearing a Nirvana hoodie. However, an officer later said a shooter had blue and purple hair and a black hoodie and was armed with a pistol and a revolver, according to to dispatch audio of early reports. Dispatch audio said that one shooter might have been running to a car in the parking lot as the first moments unfolded.
“I need medical here, ASAP,” said an officer in the audio. “Get medical to the west side.”
Dispatch audio said that a shooter was “in a classroom.”
A Sheriff’s official, Holly Nicholson-Kluth, also spoke to reporters shortly after the school shooting. Denver7 reported that the victims were shot. Nicholson-Kluth did not have an age range on the victims, but the sheriff later said they were all age 15 and older. Authorities have not provided a motive.
The school’s full name is STEM School Highlands Ranch, and it’s located at 8773 S. Ridgeline Blvd. Initially, rescue teams were going through the school.
Denver7 said that students’ conditions were serious, fair, and stable. But the sheriff later said some of the students were in critical condition, and that television station broke the news that a student had passed away.
“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.”
There were other deeply troubling tales from 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. Students, some injured, ran to law enforcement officers. No officers or school staff members were wounded.
2. Devon Erickson Started Rock Bands With Friends & Once Dressed as Slenderman for Halloween Years Ago
Aiden Beatty told The Denver Post that Erickson was the “lead vocalist” in rock bands they made, including one dubbed Foster Home. He told the Post that Erickson had gotten a job as a vocal instructor and that the shooting came out of the blue. He also told the newspaper that Erickson “had conflicts” with other students because he was physically small.
Here’s another video from the suspect’s now-deleted YouTube channel:
In a post on Facebook, Erickson wrote, “Happy mothers day to the best mother in the world. You have always been there for me and even when I struggle to do things, and when I can’t seem to get things right (I know, I suck at math) you always help me and are super understanding. I love you mom! ??.”
He once dressed as Slenderman for Halloween, although that was in 2012, years ago.
Law enforcement officers arrived quickly to the scene and confronted the shooters. “My officers engaged them,” Spurlock said in the news conference. He said a handgun was used by a shooter, but he wasn’t clear if there were any other weapons involved.
One of the most disturbing details came from the parent of a shot teenager, Fernando Montoya. The parent told Denver7 that his son told him a shooter walked into a classroom with a gun. He said a shooter removed a gun from a guitar case (authorities have not confirmed that detail.) He said his son, a 17-year-old junior in high school, was shot three times but will survive. It wasn’t clear which of the shooters this account referred to.
Devon Erickson does make references on his Facebook page to learning guitar. He appears to have a YouTube channel that contains videos of him playing guitar and singing.
“Im really sad that I missed Shelly’s memorial service yesterday, I didn’t hear about it until this morning. She was an amazing teacher and really helped me to be a better actor. I will miss her and I was so sad when I heard she passed away. I truly wish she rests in peace,” he wrote in one post from 2015.
Responding to a comment on that post, he wrote, “Doing a lot of acting and singing. Even learning guitar. What about you?”
The sheriff did confirm that the shooting occurred in the high school inside “classrooms.” Earlier, sheriff’s officials had said the shooting occurred in the middle school.
Kelley Paulson, whose children go to the school, told Denver7, “I got a text from a friend who was actually in there. She said ‘guns, shooting, oh my god, oh my god.’ And she could hear them and that’s how I first knew. The next thing I know, I heard my son, who is calling me because all of the kids who were in middle school…all immediately ran out of the building.”
According to Denver7, her son was in study hall when he saw “a bunch of kids running out and saying ‘School shooter, school shooter!'”
3. Erickson Was a Youth Actor Who Urged Friends to See Him in a Production of ‘Legally Blonde’
Not that long ago, Devon Erickson appeared to have a thriving future as a youth actor in local theater productions. For example, in 2015, he urged friends on Facebook to attend a Legally Blonde play held by a local youth theater organization. “Come see me…and others in Legally Blonde JR!” he wrote. A friend responded that he saw Erickson in the play and said he was “great.”
He also posted older photos of himself acting in a production of “Les Mis.” In 2014, he wrote, “Guys and Dolls Jr. Im going to miss everyone so much!” He also wrote, “Hey everyone. None of you know this but I am sending in a resume to be in The Walking Dead Season 5. The chances are 1/1000000 but I still have a chance. Wish me luck.”
Authorities provided some details early on, but they didn’t say much about the suspects – just that they thought both were juveniles. The Sheriff later updated that to say that one shooter was an adult and one was a juvenile.
Dispatch reports indicated some victims were shot in the foot or leg, among other injuries. “Juvenile female shot in…both legs. Applying a tourniquet now,” an officer said in the dispatch audio.
You can listen to the scanner audio here. Soon after the incident was reported, authorities were sending teams through the school “looking for victims.” They were going through the school with a key to look for wounded. They were marking room doors with an “X” after they had cleared them, according to scanner traffic.
One suspect had a 9mm with “lots of ammo,” authorities said in dispatch audio.
The number of injuries grew. The first update had said two people were wounded. Unfortunately, that’s grown to 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 as Officers Engaged the Suspects & Heroic Students Tackled a Gunman
As is often the case in these situations, there was heroism at the scene. The sheriff said his officers responded quickly and engaged and stopped the gunmen. He said a security officer had a shooter restrained when officers arrived and said there were at least two handguns involved. “They were not apprehended together,” he said, adding that the school does not have metal detectors.
In addition, a local attorney told journalist Katie Eastman that a student, Brendan Bialy, helped “tackle” one of the shooters.
“When I spoke to him he was still in shock and primarily concerned with the victims and their families! He was very defiant at these senseless and horrendous actions. This young man like many of our young youth are compelled by their families, communities, and own internal convictions and strength to act immediately and selflessly. His message is strength to all!” the attorney, Mark Bryant, told Eastman. Bialy was not shot, she reported. However, a classmate who tackled the gunman with him – Kendrick Castillo – was killed.
The Sheriff described how law enforcement officers “engaged” and stopped the shooters. There was no school resource officer at the school, but there was private security and a law enforcement substation a block away, authorities said.
“Our officers went in, and we engaged the suspects. We did struggle with them to take them into custody. They are in custody right now,” the sheriff said in the press conference. There are no other suspects, he said. The injured students are ages 15 and older, according to the sheriff. He said there were students in critical condition who were in surgery in the hours after the shooting. Denver7 was first to report that a student had died.
Holly Nicholson-Kluth, Douglas County undersheriff, said there was a “struggle” between the suspects and someone from the school “when they got there.” (There were unconfirmed reports that “seniors” might have tackled the shooters.) The sheriff’s official was not more specific. The sheriff wasn’t certain whether anyone, other than the officers, had confronted the shooters, at least at the first press conference he gave.
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.
She did not know how many shots were fired. 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 1,850 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. Devon Erickson Appeared to Be Interested in Skateboarding
A Facebook post by Devon Erickson read, “Made a custom longboard. Didn’t have much time so it’s just dots and not stars on the top. Lots of fun to make! Either way this is what it looks like.” It was painted with the face of a clown named “Riddles.”
He’d also checked in to play paintball in the Denver area.
Nicholson-Kluth described a frightening situation in which gunfire broke out inside the school and the school’s administrators dialed 911 as gunmen roamed the school. “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. There was no school resource officer, the sheriff later confirmed. “Two suspects were taken into custody. I don’t have any information on them right now,” she said in the initial update.
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. “Can we get a gurney for a medical evac over here for another wounded individual,” a sheriff’s deputy said in dispatch audio early on.
“Obviously, that’s a very scary call to get. We did discover we have at least two injured… 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.” She would not say whether the suspects were part of the school, either. However, the reports that 9 were wounded overall.
“We want to make sure we look at every piece of that school” before the scene is deemed safe, authorities 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.”
Earlier, the Sheriff’s Department asked people to avoid the area. According to the Denver Post, “25 and 30 schools in Highlands Ranch have been placed on lockout status” as a result of the situation.
This article is being updated as more is learned about Devon Erickson.