The 18-year-old senior gunned down as he tried to tackle one of the shooters unleashing bullets inside his Colorado school was just three days away from graduating.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office confirmed student Kendrick Castillo was killed during the gunfire Tuesday afternoon at the STEM School Highlands Ranch. Another eight people, all ages 15 and older, were shot in the bloody incident and rushed to three area hospitals, where several of the wounded underwent surgery.
Five of them have since been released while three others remained in intensive care Wednesday, Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock told reporters during a morning press conference.
Student Nui Giasolli recalled during an interview on the Today show how Castillo “lunged” at one of the shooters, giving those inside her British Literature class time to take cover.
“The next thing I know [the shooter] is pulling a gun and he’s telling nobody to move, and that’s when Kendrick lunged at him,” she said. “And he shot Kendrick, giving all of us enough time to get underneath our desks, to get ourselves safe, and to run across the room and escape.”
The STEM School Highlands Ranch stood empty amid rainy weather and gray skies on Wednesday while the Douglas County community continued to mourn in wake of the shooting. It will remain closed for the rest of the week.
“I live in Douglas County and for about 18 years, I lived half a mile from where the incident took place. I want to talk to you as the DA, but first I want to talk you as the D-A-D, the dad,” District Attorney George Brauchler said.
“My heart goes out not just to the victims in this case, but there are those who won’t be classified as victims that are feeling it this morning right now — moms and dads looking at each other making decisions about whether to send their kids to school in one of the greatest school districts in the country because they don’t feel safe. That’s the dad talking to you.”
Police responded to the STEM School Highlands Ranch, located in an affluent Denver suburb, around 1:50 p.m. Tuesday after a school administrator called to report shots had been fired in the building.
Few details about how the shooting unfolded have been released. Spurlock did say the attackers entered the school, which does not have metal detectors, in the middle school area. There was a private, armed security guard already on the scene and law enforcement arrived just moments later.
Responders immediately “engaged the suspects” in separate classrooms and two suspected gunmen, both of them students, were taken into custody. They did not exchange gunfire and one of the suspects had already been detained, likely by the security guard, the sheriff said.
Authorities identified one of the alleged shooters as 18-year-old Devon Erickson, but declined to give any more details or photos “as it could jeopardize this critical ongoing investigation,” the department said in a short statement. He’s facing 30 counts, including one count of first-degree murder and 29 counts of attempted murder, according to court records obtained by CBS Denver.
The second suspect, who is a minor, has not been identified. Spurlock on Wednesday told reporters the juvenile shooter had initially been identified as male “based on appearance” — but after speaking with the suspect, authorities chose to identify her as female.
Erickson will be tried as an adult while his accused accomplice, who is not yet 18, will be charged separately as juvenile, authorities said.
Officers recovered two handguns from the suspects, but would not provide additional details on the weapons used during the attack. They also declined to speculate on the motive behind the shooting, which is still under investigation.
Spurlock also told reporters Wednesday that “we are going to hear about very heroic things that have taken place at the school,” but did not specifically name students who reportedly helped take down one of the shooters.
People across the internet on Wednesday were already lauding Castillo — an award-winning, four-year member of his school robotics team — for saving lives in the horrifying school attack. People were quick to compare him to 21-year-old Riley Howell, who lost his life earlier this month while taking down a gunman at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte.
Giasolli also named students Brendan Bialy, Jackson Gregory and Lucas Albertoni as among those “brave enough” to try and take control of the situation.
President Trump in a tweet also praised those who responded to the school and lamented the bloodshed that occurred there.
“Our Nation grieves at the unspeakable violence that took a precious young life and badly injured others in Colorado,” he wrote Wednesday afternoon. “God be with the families and thank you to the First Responders for bravely intervening. We are in close contact with law enforcement.”
The STEM School Highlands Ranch, which runs from kindergarten to 12th grade, hosts about 1,800 students. It’s located about 7.5 miles southeast of Columbine, where gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 13 people and injured 21 others on April 20, 1999.
The shooting at the STEM school comes on the heels of the massacre’s 20th anniversary. Douglas County schools last month were forced to shutdown while law enforcement searched for a Florida teen they said was infatuated with the decades-old shooting. She made threats before traveling to Colorado, where she died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“We are no stranger to tragedy,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said, calling on the community to come together. “We are a resilient state, whether it’s in the face of fire, floods or human tragedy like this.”
Brauchler continued on to reflect on some of the incidents the community has overcome while still struggling to fathom the amount of violence that has unfolded in his home over the years.
“If you have suggested to anybody behind me or in this room that within 20 years in 20 miles we would have dealt with Columbine, the Aurora theater, Arapahoe High School, the shooting of Zack Parrish and four other deputies, we’d have thought you mad, and yet here we are again,” he said.
“This is not who we are and my concern is … this becomes how people will view us.”
The FBI is currently involved in the investigation and agents with Homeland Security are also lending their support to local authorities alongside the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
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