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Crime and Courts

Highlands Ranch school shooting suspects were too young to purchase handguns used in deadly attack

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said federal agents are working with his investigators to determine how the suspects procured their weapons. He said that Colorado's new red flag likely wouldn't have applied.

A Douglas County Sheriff's Office patrol vehicle outside of STEM School Highlands Ranch following a shooting that left one student dead and eight others wounded on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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Investigators on Wednesday morning are digging into how the two teenage suspects obtained a pair of handguns they allegedly used Tuesday afternoon in a deadly shooting at a school in Highlands Ranch — weapons neither are old enough to legally purchase themselves.

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock declined to go into detail about the firearms 18-year-old Devon Erickson and a juvenile female allegedly used in the STEM School Highlands Ranch assault. But he said at least two handguns were used and/or recovered from the scene.

“Neither one of them were of legal age to purchase or own a gun,” Spurlock said.

In Colorado, you must be 18 to purchase a shotgun or rifle. At 21 you can purchase a handgun.

Spurlock said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was helping the sheriff’s office investigate how the suspects procured the weapons used in the attack, which left one student dead and eight more wounded. Both suspects were also students at STEM School Highlands Ranch.

MORE: One student killed, eight more wounded in shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch allegedly committed by two peers

Officials identified the slain student Wednesday as 18-year-old Kendrick Ray Castillo. He was three days from graduation.

Spurlock also suggested that Colorado’s new red flag law, which allows judges to order the temporary seizure of firearms from people who are considered a significant risk to themselves or others, would not have applied to this case.

“As you know, the red flag law requires a tremendous amount of information and intelligence gathering before anyone is subject to a (gun seizure),” he said at a Wednesday morning news conference. “These suspects are young adults or juveniles, so their ability to create a criminal history is kind of minimal.”

Spurlock was one of the main proponents of the bill that passed the Colorado legislature this year creating the red flag law.

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock talks about the shooting at STEM School in Highlands Ranch on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

The law allows authorities or a relative to petition a judge to order for the seizure of someone’s guns and to prevent them from being able to purchase firearms.

In order for the seizure to be carried out, a petitioner must prove with evidence that the person is a significant risk to themselves or others.

MORE: Deadly attack on STEM School — by two suspected shooters — is rare among school shootings

Spurlock said Tuesday that neither suspect was on law enforcement’s radar. And, as he noted, neither was of age to purchase a handgun.

Finally, the red flag law is not set to go into effect in Colorado until next year. Courts and law enforcement are still preparing to roll out the new statute.

Spurlock said that educating students and the community about saying something when they see something suspicious is the first step in preventing a similar tragedy from happening again. He encouraged those with concerns about a fellow student to use Douglas County’s “Text-A-Tip” program or the statewide “Safe2Tell” program — both of which were created after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre nearby that left 13 victims dead.

A combined SWAT team waits outside the middle school entrance at STEM School Highlands Ranch after a shooting that wounded at least eight students. The shooting required the services of law enforcement across the Denver metro area, as well as the services of 79 fire department units, approximately 148 fire and medical personnel and 3 medical helicopters. (John Leyba, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“Those programs work wonderfully in the state of Colorado every day — that you folks don’t even know about — that we avert tragedies and disasters,” Spurlock said.

He pointed to the December 2015 arrest of two teen girls who were students at Mountain Vista High School and planning to attack their peers there. Spurlock earlier credited law enforcement’s ability to halt their plans with a “Text-A-Tip” message alerting deputies to what they were preparing for.

Those girls later pleaded guilty in Douglas County court and were sentenced for their plot.

Of the eight students wounded in Tuesday’s attack, three remained hospitalized on Wednesday morning.

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