Before The STEM Shooting, An Alleged Shooter Spent Years In Therapy But Was Rarely In Serious Trouble

David Zalubowski/AP
Police tape remains near the scene following Tuesday’s shooting at STEM Highlands Ranch school, Wednesday, May 8, 2019, in Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Alec McKinney has spent years in therapy and was in and out of trouble in various schools in Douglas County — but until he allegedly opened fire in a high school classroom last spring, had only had one prior brush with law enforcement, according to testimony on Tuesday.

The 16-year-old is the accused planner of a May shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch that killed classmate Kendrick Castillo and injured eight others.

A judge on Monday ruled there is enough probable cause to charge the teen with 43 felony counts and more than a dozen misdemeanors. Prosecutors hope to try him as an adult while defense lawyers are trying to have the case heard in juvenile court.

McKinney showed emotion for the first time on Tuesday when his aunt, Courtney Lloyd, testified that McKinney’s father, Jose, violently abused his mother in front of McKinney when he was as young as 6 or 7. This included a time when Jose threw McKinney’s mother against a floor, requiring hospitalization. 

The father was deported to Mexico in 2010 and the teen has seen him once since then, on a trip he took to Mexico in his early teens. Lloyd said she never saw Jose abuse his son.

Douglas County school officials testified that in 2018 when McKinney was 15, he stole drugs from his mother and gave them to another student who then overdosed. She ultimately survived, but that earned him a suspension from Douglas County High School. He also landed in juvenile detention, but was given a diversion from prosecution. 

The teen was on the dean’s radar for frequent truancy, too. He left the school at the end of the school year that spring and enrolled at STEM in the fall.

Prosecutors pointed out that the teen didn’t report a lot of bullying and didn’t seek help from counselors at Douglas County High School. 

McKinney is transgender and identifies as male, though he is biologically female. He told counselors that Douglas County has been an unsupportive place for transitioning. When he left Douglas County High School last year, he said he had suicidal ideations. He also has been hospitalized and was taking anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications.

He has been incarcerated at Marvin W. Foote Youth Services Center in Arapahoe County since his May 7 arrest at the STEM school moments after the shootings. Surveillance tape shows McKinney trying to kill himself in the seconds before he got arrested, but he was unable to work the gun safety.

Counselors from Foote testified Tuesday that the teen has told them he hears voices in his head — one counselor called them hallucinations. The voices tell McKinney to hurt himself and to hurt others. He is now on suicide watch in detention.