At least eight students were injured and one was killed – after authorities responded to shots fired inside a K-12 STEM school in Douglas County, Colorado, sheriff’s officials say. Authorities painstakingly made their way through the Highlands Ranch school, checking closets and marking cleared rooms with an “X,” in a frightening scene.
Two suspects, both students at the STEM school, are in custody, Sheriff Tony Spurlock said. They’ve been identified as Devon Erickson and Alec McKinney. Kendrick Castillo’s father confirmed to NBC News that Castillo was the 18-year-old student who died. A Telemundo correspondent reported that Castillo “died as a hero, faced the gunmen…seeking to save the lives of his companions.”
In court for the first time on May 8, Devon Erickson bowed his head, his purple hair dangling over his face. He is facing 30 charges.
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.
On May 8, the sheriff said the second suspect is a juvenile female they originally thought was a male. Three children remained in intensive care on the morning of May 8, 2019, he said.
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. You can read about Bialy’s heroism here. Another parent wrote on Twitter that Kendrick Castillo and his classmates saved her daughter’s life. Other classmates and Castillo’s father later confirmed that he heroically lunged at one of the shooters, allowing other students to flee to safety.
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.
Authorities identified one of the accused shooters as Devon Erickson, 18. He has worked as a youth actor, and posted on social media about paintball, politics, skateboarding, The Walking Dead, and other topics. The Denver Channel reported that the second suspect was transgender but that the motive went beyond bullying. You can read about Devon Erickson here.
“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.” There are no other suspects, the sheriff 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 later reported that a student had died; authorities eventually confirmed that sad information.
“Getting reports of shots fired inside the school,” came the initial dispatch report on scanner audio. “We have a shooter…” The dispatcher then listed a specific classroom number.
“Sheriff says suspects 1 adult male, 1 juv male in custody. No other suspects. 8 students injured, several critical, area hospitals. No staff or officers injured. Working with DA to get search warrants for suspect car at school and suspects’ homes,” the Sheriff’s Department wrote on Twitter. The department later updated the injury count to 9.
Denver7 reported that the victims’ wounds are from gunshots. 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.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Shooters Were ‘Deep Inside the School,’ the Sheriff Says
Spurlock provided the first detailed accounting of the shooting. “Two individuals walked inside the STEM school. Got deep inside the school” and engaged students in “two separate locations. There were a number of students who were shot and injured,” the sheriff said. He said authorities have all of the suspects involved in custody.
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.
The school “almost immediately” notified the dispatch center. “About two minutes later, the first deputies arrived and engaged the suspects.” Spurlock said authorities didn’t have the suspects “on any radar that we know of.” He believes one suspect was an adult and one was a juvenile. He confirmed that eight students were in hospitals, and several were in critical condition. One student had not yet been unified with family members, so victims’ names were also not being released.
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.
The active shooter reports emanated from the STEM School Highlands Ranch at 8773 S. Ridgeline Blvd. Initially, rescue teams were going through the school. A 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.
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. Initial scanner traffic, which can sometimes be wrong in breaking news situations, said that the suspects had on a black Nirvana hoodie and white hoodie with writing all over it, including a broken heart.
Authorities provided some details about what happened in their first press conference, but they were still sorting out information. There were conflicting reports about where the shooting started.
A Sheriff’s official, Holly Nicholson-Kluth, said in the first official press conference on the incident that the shooting occurred in the middle school of the K-12 school, but the sheriff later said it was actually in the high school.
“This started in the middle school,” a sheriff’s official said in the first press conference. She said it wasn’t clear whether there were fatalities. “We do believe they are juveniles,” she said of the suspects. She did not have an age range on the victims. She didn’t provide much about the backgrounds of the shooters or victims. It later turned out that Erickson is 18.
The school has private security but no school resource officer, according to Spurlock. “We believe both of the suspects are students at the STEM school,” he repeated. The sheriff said the suspects opened fire in “classrooms.”
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.
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’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.
2. There Was a ‘Struggle’ in the School, Authorities Say
Nicholson-Kluth said there was a “struggle” between the suspects and someone from the school “when they got there.” (There were reports early on that “seniors” might have tackled the shooters.) The sheriff’s official was not more specific. The sheriff said he wasn’t sure if anyone else confronted the suspects in addition to law enforcement.
However, classmates later confirmed that Castillo and Bialy tackled or lunged at a shooter, saving lives.
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.
“My officers engaged them,” Spurlock said in the news conference. He said a handgun was used, but he wasn’t clear if there were any other weapons involved. He later revealed that three handguns were used.
He said authorities had no information of an employee being targeted.
Nicholson-Kluth 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.
3. School Administrators Called Police & Many Shots Were Fired
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 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 came after that account.
“We want to make sure we look at every piece of that school” before the scene is deemed safe, authorities said.
4. Some Students ‘Self-Evacuated’ to an Area Restaurant
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. Be aware that early reports in active shooter situations often end up wrong as details can be unclear.
5. The First Report From Authorities Declared the Situation Was ‘Unstable’
“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.
The Douglas County Sheriff then wrote, “STEM school incident: still getting info, believe 2 injured. Please find other routes. Media staging now on south side of AMC!”
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.
An ABC News correspondent wrote on Twitter, “A high ranking law enforcement source says ‘multiple’ victims have been shot at a school in suburban Denver. Two suspects are in custody. Police are ‘engaging’ a third. @ABC.”
“The school is not secure,” an officer indicated on the scanner around 2:22 p.m.
“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.”
This article is being updated as more information is learned.