HIGHLANDS RANCH — One student was killed and eight more were wounded in a shooting Tuesday afternoon at STEM School Highlands Ranch allegedly committed by two of their peers, authorities say.
Two shooters, one adult and one juvenile, entered the school just before 2 p.m. and “got deep inside the school and engaged students in two separate locations,” Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said.
Both suspects, who are in custody, are students at the charter school, which is about 20 miles south of Denver, Spurlock said. He said investigators have recovered two handguns.
The suspected shooters had not been on law enforcement’s radar, he said. He also said deputies still are investigating a motive, but that they did not appear to be targeting anyone in particular.
“We have no information about anyone being targeted,” Spurlock said.
The student who died has been identified as 18-year-old Kendrick Ray Castillo. He was three days from graduation.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office identified the adult suspect in the shooting as 18-year-old Devon Erickson. The second suspect, a juvenile, has not been identified. Authorities initially said that person was a male, but on Wednesday morning corrected that to identify the second shooter as a female.
“We originally thought the juvenile was a male by appearance,” Spurlock said.
Authorities were focusing on a car apparently belonging to the suspects that had been left in the school’s parking lot. Additional search warrants for their homes were being sought and carried out.
Douglas County prosecutors said Erickson would go before a judge for his first hearing at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday. As for the second suspect, they were weighing whether to charge that person as an adult.
“It’s something that we’re going to explore,” said 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler.
The school has been cleared and investigators are no longer looking for additional suspects, Spurlock said.
There was no school resource officer at the campus, authorities said. The school, however, does have private security who apprehended one of the suspects.
The pair were taken into custody separately.
Douglas County Undersheriff Holly Nicholson-Kluth said the victims, who had gunshot wounds, were taken to local hospitals. Spurlock said all the victims were age 15 or older, but that none were staff or teachers at the school.
Five patients were transported to Littleton Adventist Hospital, three were treated and released, and two others are in serious condition, spokeswoman Wendy Forbes said. One victim was transported to Children’s Hospital Colorado South Campus and is in good condition. Two others went to Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree and are in stable condition.
School resource officers and deputies from a substation a block away were on site within two minutes of the shooting, reported just before 2 p.m. by a middle school administrator. Nicholson-Kluth said the officers heard gunfire as they arrived and as they entered the building.
“Our officers were inside and we engaged the suspects. We did struggle with the suspects and they are in custody right now,” Spurlock said. “… We did not exchange any gunfire with them.”
Nicholson-Kluth called the shooting a “very serious situation” and said that “quite a few shots were fired.”
“This is a terrible event,” Spurlock said. “This is something no one wants to have happen in their community.”
Deputies were going through the 1,850-student K-12 school room by room for at least an hour after the shooting, Nicholson-Kluth said. By about 5 p.m., some emergency vehicles were leaving the scene.
The school, at 8773 S. Ridgeline Boulevard, is separated into elementary, middle and high school divisions.
The area outside the school was extremely congested, with more than two dozen emergency response vehicles blaring their sirens and flashing their lights, including fire trucks, ambulances and police cars.
South Metro Fire Rescue said 79 units, approximately 148 fire and medical personnel, and three medical helicopters from across the metro area responded to the shooting.
Nicholson-Kluth asked parents not to drive down Plaza Drive toward the school. Students from the STEM school were being bused about a mile away to Northridge Recreation Center, at 8800 S Broadway. Parents must present identification to pick up their students.
At the recreation center, the scene was one of immense emotion.
A sheriff’s officer shouts directions to parents crowded into a gym at Northridge Recreation Center in Highlands Ranch after a shooting at nearby STEM School. Officers released students to their parents by calling out their names or their grade level, and then parents were escorted to meet them. (Jennifer Brown, The Colorado Sun)
Outside the center, law enforcement officers were directing tearful parents inside a gymnasium, the site of a “parent reunification” center. School buses full of children were arriving.
Parents crowded into a gym to wait for their children. Many looked stricken, wiping away tears and hugging each other. Some were drenched in rain after parking blocks away, filling up a nearby church parking lot, and running to the center.
A man moved through the crowd passing out water bottles as the packed gym grew stifling, parents filling the gym floor and the upper level.
Sheriff’s officers used a megaphone to yell out students’ names, telling parents to raise their hands if their child’s name was called. As school buses filled with students streamed in, dropping off students at a bubble-roofed tennis court, the officers began calling out grade levels, working their way up from kindergarten.
Parents were reunited with their kids in various rec center rooms — a weight room, a karate studio.
Rocio and Daniel Dixon, parents of a kindergartener and a second-grader, were rattled, tears in their eyes, as they waited in the rec center to find their children. Earlier, Rocio pulled off the side of the road near the school and went running toward it. An officer shouted at her to stop, and she did, fearing he would tackle her.
The Dixons’ children don’t have phones, so they hadn’t heard from them. “They are getting phones tomorrow,” Rocio Dixon said.
“The worst part is not being able to communicate with them,” Daniel Dixon said.
Becky Harsh, mother of sophomore and junior boys, heard from her sons on a group text at 2:01 p.m.
“We’re in a lockout,” texted one. Then another text a few moments later: “This is not a drill.”
Harsh told them both to stay calm, be smart. “Deep breaths,” she texted. “Do what you are told. If I text you and you can answer, please do.”
Two hours later, she sat leaned against the wall in the gym, knowing her boys were safe, but in shock that a school shooting happened in her community. “It’s one of those surreal things,” she said. “You read about it all the time. You see it all the time.”
Harsh’s husband was on a flight, not seeing all of the texts. When they’re all home in a few hours, Harsh said, they will talk about whatever her boys want to talk about. “We are going to open the doors for whatever they are feeling, and just feel all the feels,” she said.
Another parent, who did not want his full name used, was feeling angry. “They said they got two in custody?” said Joe, father of a fourth-grader. “They should release them into this gym and we will take care of it.”
Other law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Attorney’s Colorado and the Denver office of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, are responding. The FBI is leading the crime scene investigation.
The ATF typically investigates how a suspect obtained the gun used in a shooting. In Colorado, you must be 21 years old to purchase a handgun. At 18, someone can buy a shotgun or rifle.
Gov. Jared Polis said in a tweet that the state is making all of its public safety resources available to assist the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department in its effort to secure the site and evacuate the students. “We are monitoring the situation in real time. The heart of all Colorado is with the victims and their families,” he tweeted.
President Donald Trump has been briefed on the situation.
“Our prayers are with the victims, family members, and all those affected by today’s shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch in Littleton, Colorado,” the White House said in a written statement. “Tragically, this community and those surrounding it know all too well these hateful and horrible acts of violence. The White House has been in communication with state and local officials, and the president has been briefed and continues to monitor the ongoing situation. We offer our full support to local law enforcement and first responders and thank them for their heroism.”
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, was slated to visit the Lockheed Martin facility in Littleton on Wednesday morning, but the company says she cancelled her plans after the shooting Tuesday.
The shooting Tuesday afternoon happened not far from Arapahoe High School, where in 2013 a student shot and killed a peer, Claire Davis, before taking his own life.
Also nearby is Columbine High School, the site of a 1999 massacre committed by two students that left 12 students and a teacher dead.
For Parents: STEM Students can be picked up at Northridge Recreation Center at 8800 S Broadway, Highlands Ranch, CO.
The school — known for its emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — was founded in 2011 as a charter school in the Douglas County School District. It started with four grades, sixth through ninth, and now offers K-12 and has 1,850 students, according to the school’s website.
Staff writers and editors Chris Osher, Tamara Chuang, Larry Ryckman and Dana Coffield contributed to this report.
This reporting is made possible by our members. You can directly support independent watchdog journalism in Colorado for as little as $5 a month. Start here: coloradosun.com/join
More from The Colorado Sun
- Sunriser: How an overwhelmed sheriff keeps his cool / It’s getting warmer in Gunnison / Who wants Polis recalled? / Child abuse hotline problems
- Cory Gardner had good news for Colorado. But Trump had tweets.
- A slain deputy. A political brawl. A school shooting: How Sheriff Tony Spurlock is handling years of turmoil
- A breakdown of the latest campaign cash reports shows big money — and big spending — in Colorado
- More than a third of Colorado high school graduates need extra help to do college work