STEM School Shooter Sentenced To Life Without Parole

September 17, 2021
STEM Highlands RanchSTEM Highlands RanchDavid Zalubowski/AP
Bouquet of flowers sit on the sign outside the STEM School Highlands Ranch late Wednesday, May 8, 2019, in Highlands Ranch, Colo.

More than two years after the STEM school shooting left one student dead, eight others injured and countless others scarred, Devon Erickson, one of the shooters, has been sentenced to hundreds of years in prison in addition to a life sentence without the chance of parole.

Judge Theresa Slade pointed out Erickson did not speak during his trial or hearing, but people who weren’t involved in the shooting took time to write letters. She also said the only time she saw him show emotion was when his family talked about what he will miss out on while serving a life sentence. 

She read the sentences for each of Erickson’s convicted crimes and the names of the people who survived his attack. 

“Each one of these people suffered and survived what you did,” Slade said. “Each one of those people deserves an acknowledgement and you must serve, whether it's academic or not, a sentence for what you did to each one of those people.” 

In June, Erickson was convicted of all 46 criminal counts brought against him, including three counts of first-degree felony murder for killing classmate Kendrick Ray Castillo

“Kendrick was smart, kind, full of energy. Full of dreams,” said Maria Castillo, Kendrick’s mother.

The mandatory sentence in Colorado for an adult convicted of first-degree murder is life in prison without parole. Erickson was 18 at the time of the shooting. Prosecutors asked for a report to be prepared that recommends the sentence and summarizes evidence from the trial, which could deter a future governor from considering clemency for Erickson.

The sentencing hearing was set for Friday to allow victims and their families to tell the court about their experience during the attack and its aftermath. More than two dozen people spoke, including parents, teachers and other students. 

Castillo, 18, was days away from graduating high school when he was killed. 

“I'm afraid I'll forget what it felt like to be happy with him. I don't think I'm ever going to get to experience happiness again, as I did in those moments with Kendrick,” said Alison Thompson, one of Castillo’s best friends, who spoke during the hearing. “I've never met someone who could make everyone around them so happy, so effortlessly. Now he's gone.”

Castillo and two other students, Brendan Bialy and Joshua Jones, charged Erickson. The students were in British Literature watching the “Princess Bride” when the shooters entered and started firing.  

“I know what it's like to be thrust into complete chaos in seconds. I know what it's like to not know where your friends, siblings, people that you love are for hours at a time.” Jones said in a tearful statement to the courtroom. “I know what it's like to get pains in your leg, because that's where you were shot twice by someone you thought you knew.” 

Jones, like all the other people who spoke, asked for Erickson to receive the maximum sentence possible. 

“I know so much more than I should for somebody my age, for somebody who hasn't done all that much,” he said. “I know that (Erickson) really doesn't care.”

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said that police officers and other emergency workers won’t forget the incident. 

“I was at the scene that day, and I witnessed my deputies carrying victims from the school, rushing them to ambulances and paramedics,” he said “All of these victim's lives have been changed.” 

Erickson and the second shooter, Alec McKinney, stole guns from a safe in Erickson’s family home, according to Snapchat videos McKinney took that day. Erickson then snorted cocaine before the two hid the guns in backpacks and a guitar case and headed for the school. 

During the hearing, Erickson’s family expressed their condolences and remorse for the people impacted by their son’s actions. They told stories about Erickson’s achievements and said they love him unconditionally. 

Erickson’s grandfather, Joe Hershfeldt, said his grandson was a good person who made a terrible mistake. 

“He's always had a special place in my heart. In fact, he isn't just my grandson, he's my best friend.” Hershfeldt said. “He brought a great deal of joy and happiness to me and to our entire family.”

Erickson’s father listed the names of the students who were injured and killed by the shooting and offered his condolences to the people impacted by his son. 

“We know that Devon is really sorry for what happened. He's told us so,” said Jim Erickson, Devon’s father. “We still don’t understand how he could have got involved in such a tragic event. We are still mind blown that something like this could happen. It's totally out of character for him. He cared about other people.”

McKinney, who was 16 at the time of the crime, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison, but because of a new law he will be eligible for parole after 25 years. At his sentencing hearing in June, McKinney apologized to Castillo’s parents and vowed to change.

“I don’t want you to ever think Kendrick died in vain,” McKinney said, speaking directly to the Castillos at his hearing. “Every day I wake up and try to do something positive. I don't do it for me, I do it for Kendrick … I promise to live my life as a new person.”

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