STEM School Highlands Ranch asked the private security company hired last year to patrol the K-12 campus to make sure its security guards were unarmed.
But when two students began a deadly attack at their school in May, the on-duty guard not only had a gun, but court records indicate he shot and wounded an uninvolved student while accidentally firing at a responding sheriff’s deputy.
Additionally, the gun the guard was carrying appears to have been concealed because “STEM administration and leadership were not aware that the guard was armed,” the school said in a written statement.
Douglas County School District policy forbids private security guards from carrying concealed guns on its campuses.
The Colorado Sun discovered STEM School’s stipulation to the security company, BOSS High Level Protection, through an open-records inquiry filed after the school declined to answer questions about whether it had asked for unarmed guards. This week, after the documents were delivered, the school confirmed the Sept. 5, 2018, request to BOSS.
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“STEM’s security needs and challenges are different than other schools in that our student population includes kindergarten through 12th grade all at the same campus,” STEM School Highlands Ranch said in a written statement Monday. “While it is more common to have armed security personnel at high schools, it is uncommon at elementary schools. Given the diverse population at our school, we made the decision to request an unarmed guard in an effort to balance these different interests.”
When asked if the school had disclosed to parents that the guard on duty the day of the shooting was not supposed to be armed, STEM said it wanted to avoid interfering with the ongoing criminal investigation of the guard’s actions.
Douglas County School District policy also says armed, private security guards must be certified by Colorado’s Peace Officer Standards and Training protocols.
A lawyer for BOSS High Level Protection would not answer questions about whether the guard’s certification was current. The guard, however, previously worked as a Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputy where the training is required.
The revelations raise more questions about the security of the STEM School campus prior to the May 7 shooting, which left one student dead and eight others wounded. STEM School did not have a school resource deputy because of a disagreement with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office at the end of the 2017-18 school year.
It hired BOSS to provide protection at the school in September 2018. In an email to the company on Sept. 5, 2018, STEM School Director Leanne Weyman said: “We do not want an armed guard at this point. Do you do unarmed guards? If so, is the price reduced?”
BOSS wrote back that was OK and that “this would be the same caliber of guard as our other schools, just unarmed.”
In a statement released soon after the shooting, STEM School said its contract with the private security company, supplemented by paying off-duty sheriff’s deputies to manage traffic, actually gave them “a significant increase in protection for our staff and students” over having a resource deputy alone.
“The unfortunate fact is that schools with and without (school resource officers) have experienced violence,” a spokesman said in a written statement released on May 10.
The school said Monday it stands by that statement and said the agreement actually “gave our school more security personnel onsite than previous years.”
The security officer who was on scene that day has been credited with stopping one of the two student-shooters accused in the attack, but court documents say he accidentally fired two rounds at a responding Douglas County sheriff’s deputy in the chaos of the response.
“The security guard stated he saw a muzzle come around the corner,” the documents say.
Both shots missed the officer, but one bullet passed through a wall and wounded a female student who was in a classroom, according to a probable cause statement for the arrest of 18-year-old Devon Erickson, one of the alleged shooters.
Erickson and Alec McKinney, who was 16 at the time of the shooting, are accused of murder and attempted murder. McKinney has been charged as an adult, but his attorneys are seeking to return the case to juvenile court.
Kendrick Castillo, an 18-year-old senior at STEM School, was killed in the attack. He died trying to subdue one of the shooters.
The security guard’s name has not been publicly released, and BOSS High Level Protection declined to comment. “At this point we just can’t say anything about it,” Robert Burk, a lawyer representing BOSS High Level Protection and the guard, said Monday.
BOSS and Burk have previously defended the guard’s actions as having prevented more carnage at the school. “He acted bravely, heroically and his actions helped protect lives,” Burk told television station CBS4 in the days after the shooting.
The Sun is not naming the guard because he has not been charged with a crime.
However, his actions are being reviewed by 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May’s office, which was appointed as a special prosecutor specifically to examine whether there was any criminal wrongdoing on the guard’s part. There has been no public update on where that review stands or a timeline for when it might be complete.
The school said Monday it could not continue its contract with BOSS High Level Protection because of the ongoing investigation.
“BOSS will not be providing services to STEM this upcoming school year,” STEM spokesman Chris Arnold said. “For the upcoming school year, we were able to arrange for a full-time school resource officer from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, and will continue to supplement that level of security with private security, including off-duty police officers.”
The school declined to say whether its private security guards will be armed moving forward, saying it wants to keep that information private “in order to protect their effectiveness.”
Emails obtained by The Sun show that STEM School reached back out to the company in July for help hiring a new security team.
“The school year is getting ready to start and we are in need of security again for the 19-20 school year,” the school’s chief financial officer wrote. “We know that we are no longer able to hire your group on as a security option, but wondered if you could advise or refer a company that you would recommend as comparable to you and what your team does. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.”
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