Colorado In The Aftermath Of The STEM School Shooting: ‘This Does Not Define Us’

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<p>David Zalubowski/AP</p>
<p>Officials guide students off a bus and into a recreation center where they were reunited with their parents after a shooting at a suburban Denver middle school Tuesday, May 7, 2019, in Highlands Ranch, Colo.</p>
Photo: STEM School Shooting 6 | Tuesday Rec Center Parent Pickup - AP
Officials guide students off a bus and into a recreation center where they were reunited with their parents after a shooting at a suburban Denver middle school Tuesday, May 7, 2019, in Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Published 7:04 a.m. | Updated 3:17 p.m.

Two high school students shot and killed a classmate and injured eight others Tuesday at STEM School Highlands Ranch. Colorado marked the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting just weeks ago.

The two schools are separated by about 7 miles in adjacent communities south of Denver.

“If you had suggested to anyone behind me or in this room that within 20 years and 20 miles we would have dealt with Columbine, the Aurora theater, Arapahoe High School, the shooting of Zack Parrish and four other deputies, we'd of thought you mad. And yet here we are again,” said District Attorney George Brauchler.

The adult suspect, 18-year-old Devon Erickson, appeared in court the day after the shooting for an initial advisement. Formal charges are postponed until Friday afternoon. Erickson, with long black and pink hair that shaded his eyes, sat silently in the courtroom.

At one point the judge requested a verbal answer to whether he had any questions about the proceedings. Erickson simply replied “No.”

The second suspect appeared in court after Erickson. Pending formal charges, Colorado Public Radio will not use their name as they are a juvenile.

Kendrick Ray Castillo, an 18-year-old senior at STEM, has been confirmed as the lone death in the shooting. Sheriff Spurlock noted in the morning briefing that of the eight injured, three “are still in intensive care at area hospitals” and the rest have been released.

The school is still an active crime scene and Spurlock said that, working in tandem with the FBI, it will take at least two more days to process.

The suspects, both students at the school, were captured in separate locations, one was restrained by school security before deputies arrived.

Spurlock told reporters that the suspects had a “number of weapons.” They included two handguns that Spurlock said the suspects were not old enough to buy or own. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will assist with the location of the weapons' purchase point.

It's rare that there was more than one perpetrator in the shooting, according to Peter Langman, a psychologist who researches school shootings.

“I know of four instances, one in Brazil and three in this country including Columbine” and the shooting at STEM, Langman said. “So, if school shootings are rare, school shootings by two perpetrators are extraordinarily rare.”

Photo: STEM School Shooting 5 | Wed Media Brief Sheriff Spurlock - NNavarro
Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock addresses the media, flanked by Gov. Jared Polis to the left, and District Attorney George Brauchler to the right, May 8, 2019.

Sheriff's officials said Erickson and the younger student walked into the STEM School Highlands Ranch Tuesday afternoon and opened fire on students in two classrooms, prompting students to run shouting through the halls or to hide out of sight as gunfire echoed through school.

“First, we heard the middle school lockdown, which was sort of weird, because we didn't know what was happening,” said fifth-grader Senya Kandawala. “And then... then we heard our lockdown.”

Students in his classroom rushed into a corner like they’ve drilled in the past and wondered what was happening. Kandawala said he later heard law enforcement shouting “put your hands up, drop your weapon and that stuff.”

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said several students “were shot and injured about almost immediately after the first gunshots were fired.” Reports reached law enforcement shortly before 2:00 p.m. Tuesday and deputies responded quickly from a nearby substation and engaged the suspects.

In the initial confusion, eighth-grader Karthik Selva said they heard yelling and others in his room thought it was students yelling and it was a joke. But after the lockdown was declared, “we went to our assigned positions and after that, we heard gunshots.”

“Soon after all that stopped, there was banging on the door and it was the police,” Sleva said. “So they got in and they got us to safety.”

Gov. Jared Polis said that America has seen too many of these acts of violence, but less than 24 hours after the tragedy, the focus should be on those harmed.

“We are a resilient state,” Polis said. “Whether it's in the face of fire, floods or a human tragedy of senseless violence like this, Coloradans really come together and show support for the kids and families affected.”

DA Brauchler, who lives in Douglas County and has four kids in the school system, followed up on the governor’s comment with concern about how the area will be viewed by reports outside of the state — especially in the light of so many shootings occurring in a small geographic area.

“We are exactly what the governor said. We are a resilient people but the time for resilience isn't going to be within the first 24 hours of this. We're going to mourn. We're going to weep. We're going to take care of those who are down and pick ourselves back up, but who we are is we are a kind, compassionate, caring people,” Brauchler said.

“This does not define us. It won't today and it won't tomorrow.”

The Associated Press, CPR’s John Daley, Hayley Sanchez and Jim Hill contributed to this report