STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting: ‘How in the world could this happen?’

One killed, eight wounded in attack at STEM in Highlands Ranch; two suspects in custody

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Students held their arms up high before being allowed to lower them and hold hands for comfort amid the chaos after filing out of the school. A massive law enforcement presence stood watch, with snipers’ rifles trained on exits from STEM School Highlands Ranch, where nine students had been shot, one fatally, the afternoon of May 7.

Just before 2 p.m., Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to the school at 8773 S. Ridgeline Blvd. DCSO deputies were joined by law enforcement personnel from around the metro area as they looked for the shooters and helped evacuate students at the K-12 charter school with an enrollment of about 1,800.

Two suspects were arrested, one juvenile female and one man, following a shooting less than 10 miles away from Arapahoe and Columbine high schools, sites of fatal shootings in 1999 and 2013, respectively.

Jolene, parent of a STEM student who didn't want her last name used, said, “This is proof it can happen anywhere.”

A sheriff’s office substation on Highlands Ranch Parkway sits less than a mile from the school, and deputies were on scene within two minutes of the call, Sheriff Tony Spurlock said.

“I have to believe that the quick response of our officers likely helped save lives,” Spurlock said.

There is no school resource officer assigned to STEM, but the school does employ a private security firm, Spurlock said.

An 18-year-old male student was killed, Spurlock said. The county coroner's office identified him as Kendrick Ray Castillo.

Spurlock was joined at a press conference the morning of May 8 by District Attorney George Brauchler and Gov. Jared Polis in Highlands Ranch.

“Our hearts are hurting for them,” Spurlock said of the victims and the STEM community.

By the morning of May 8, three victims remained in intensive care at area hospitals, while five had been treated and released, Spurlock said.

The youngest victim was 15 years old, according to Spurlock.

Spurlock said he was confident the community would hear about “very heroic things” as more information is released.

The sheriff said video footage shows that officers rushed in to rescue children, carrying some at least 100 yards to the nearest ambulance.

Neither suspect had been on the sheriff’s office’s radar and they did not appear to be targeting anyone in particular, Spurlock said. The night of May 7, the sheriff’s office identified the adult male suspect as Devon Erickson, 18, of Highlands Ranch. The juvenile’s name had not been released. Erickson was scheduled for a court appearance the afternoon of May 8.

One of the suspects is a student at STEM and the other previously was a student there, the sheriff said. He added deputies “struggled” to take the suspects into custody. Two handguns were recovered during the investigation, Spurlock said.

Authorities were working to get search warrants for the suspects’ residences and a vehicle, the sheriff added. The FBI was assisting with the investigation.

No motive for the shooting had been released as of the morning of May 8.

The shooting happened in the high school portion of STEM, which also has elementary and middle school sections, all sharing one campus in an area brimming with businesses and offices. The school was placed on lockdown, while all other schools in Highlands Ranch were placed on lockout, authorities said. According to DCSD’s website, a lockout is in response to a threat outside of a building and secures the building’s perimeter. A lockdown is in response to a threat inside of a building and classrooms’ doors are locked.

STEM, which opened in 2011, was recently named a top Colorado high school by U.S. News and World Report. The college preparatory school is known throughout the Denver metro area for its focus on science, technology, engineering, math and innovation.

Parents were being reunited with their children at nearby Northridge Recreation Center, 8800 South Broadway. Cars were parked along both sides of Broadway from Dad Clark Drive to Highlands Ranch Parkway, about a mile long, and as far as one could see on Plaza Drive, which runs just north of the school. Parents streamed down the sidewalks — many without umbrellas or jackets in the rain — to the rec center. Buses carrying students from the school drove into the rec center parking lots with police escorts.

At about 3 p.m. at the rec center, James Suh, father of two students, said he knew that one child was safe, while the other one had left her phone in the locker room.

“I’m just angry,” he said.

Sarah Feldman was on her way to pick up her 7-year-old son, Joshua, from school when she got a call from her mother. 

News media had reported a shooting was underway at Joshua’s school, her mother said. Feldman couldn’t believe it. 

The Littleton woman was among scores of families at the rec center roughly three hours after the shooting. She was reunited with Joshua, a first-grader, there and able to take him home at about 4:45 pm.

The shooting didn’t make sense to Feldman.

“How in the world could this happen?”

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