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Students accused in Colorado school shooting face judge  3 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. – A 16-year-old suspect in last week's deadly shooting rampage at a suburban Denver high school will be tried as an adult on first-degree murder charges, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Alec McKinney, 16, and Devon Erickson, 18, have been jailed since the assault May 7 at the Stem School Highlands Ranch that left one student dead and eight wounded. District Attorney George Brauchler had not revealed until Wednesday whether McKinney would be charged as an adult or a juvenile.

Both suspects had court hearings Wednesday, and court documents briefly made available revealed that both face a long list of charges, including murder and attempted murder. Judge Theresa Slade ordered the documents sealed after defense attorneys asked that the charges be kept secret for at least two more weeks while they investigate the case. They argued that releasing the charges could sway witness testimony. 

“There are times when it is appropriate to suppress information," Slade said. 

During the two hearings, each defendant sat quietly, wrists and ankles shackled. Erickson, his black hair dyed with purple-pink streaks, didn’t speak or interact with anyone. McKinney spoke only once, in a clear, high voice, to acknowledge a question from the judge. McKinney's attorneys plan to ask Slade to return his case to juvenile court.

Investigators declined to discuss how the students obtained weapons. 

Wednesday's hearing took place hours before services for the lone fatality, Kendrick Castillo, a senior at STEM School Highlands Ranch.

Castillo's parents attended the morning court session. Reporters were segregated from family members of the victims and the suspects. 

“I can’t imagine going through a more difficult situation than they are going through,” Brauchler said of the Castillo family. 

The shootings rocked the community. Parents said the charter school, which is technology focused, works hard to create an environment of personal accountability and problem-solving. Students must request admission to attend the school.

Bullying isn't tolerated, said parent Candace Craig, who has three kids at the school – if anything, she said, peer pressure shuts down bullying immediately.

Craig said she believes it's important to understand why the attack occurred.

“I want to call them names and reduce them to their actions, but when it’s this close to home, there’s a piece of me that can’t reduce them to what they did,” she said. “We need to hear from them, but I don’t know how that looks in a healthy way.”

The attack unfolded nearly three weeks after neighboring Littleton marked the anniversary of the Columbine attack that killed 13 people in 1999. The two schools are separated by about 7 miles in adjacent communities south of Denver.

The Knights of Columbus, where Castillo often volunteered with his father, helped pay funeral expenses and provided an honor guard. A procession of hundreds of Jeeps – a favored vehicle of Castillo – began the service.

Friends remembered Castillo as funny, smart and modest and expressed no surprise that he protected his classmates. Castillo, a member of the school’s robotics club who loved to tinker with his own projects, would have graduated this month.

Witnesses said Castillo was among three students who tackled a classmate who opened fire in his classroom.

Joshua Jones, who fought back alongside Castillo and Brendan Bialy, was shot twice in the leg. He spoke publicly about the tragedy and Castillo's heroism for the first time Tuesday.

“There wasn’t a whole lot that was going through my mind at the time," he said at a news conference. "Adrenaline and tunnel vision are a crazy thing."

Jones, 18, a senior, described calling his mother before authorities arrived at the chaotic scene: "It was something like 'Hey, mom, there’s been a school shooting. I’ve been involved. The authorities are on the way. They’re going to get an ambulance, and I’m going to go to the hospital. That’s all I got right now for you.’ ”

He said he remains in a "funk" emotionally, but his physical wounds were healing well. He said the carnage would have been worse if all three had not worked together.

"If it was just me or just Brendan or just Kendrick, it would have been much worse for everybody in that room," Jones said.

Details about the armed school security guard who subdued the second suspect emerged this week. The man’s employer, Boss High Level Protection, was contracted to guard the school that about 1,800 students attend.

The guard, whose name has not been released, fired his weapon inside the school during the response to the shooting, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the case told The Associated Press on Thursday. Two news organizations, citing anonymous sources, reported that authorities investigated whether the guard mistakenly fired at a responding sheriff’s deputy and may have wounded a student.

Brauchler announced Wednesday that he asked an outside prosecutor to investigate the security guard's actions but declined to address specifics: “Given the information that we’ve uncovered, it’s fairest to the process, fairest to the case and fairest to him to have the 4th judicial district attorney weigh in.”

The guard’s boss called him a hero who helped stop the shooting by disarming and detaining one of the shooters.

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