Highlands Ranch STEM School Shooting

Instead of focusing on the attackers (2 in this case), let's focus on the hero of the day - and the only fatality of the attack.

Highlands Ranch

As if Colorado hadn’t suffered enough at the hands of active shooters with Columbine and the Aurora Theater attacks, on May 7, 2019, two students entered the STEM School Highlands Ranch, a suburb of Denver, and committed another attack. As odd as it seems to say, thankfully only one person was killed and eight were wounded. Compared to the other attacks that had been committed in Colorado, this attack was “less successful.”

It’s reported that just before 2pm that day, two suspects entered the school carrying handguns and having other weapons with them carried in a guitar case. The suspects began their attack in different locations in the school. The STEM School is one of the few in the area that have a direct-to-dispatch connection with the local law enforcement agency (Douglas County Sheriff’s office) and it’s reported that responding officers were on scene less than two minutes after the attack began.

The two suspects, later identified as 18-year-old Devon Erickson and 16-year-old Maya Elizabeth McKinney, were reportedly not known to law enforcement agencies prior to the attack. Erickson committed his attack in the high school portion of the K-12 school while McKinney attacked the middle school section – where most of the injuries occurred. The post-incident investigation revealed that the weapons used had been stolen from relatives. According to the reports of investigation, Erickson had a history of “joking” about violence and some of his social media account usernames reflected a desire to commit murder or take life (i.e. “devonkillz” on Snapchat).

Maya McKinney is identified in most media outlets as a transgender ‘boy’ who went by the name of Alec. Perhaps of greatest interest are two items directly related to McKinney. The first is that she felt bullied and insulted by other students who didn’t respect her choice to identify male. The feelings resulting from being bullied and insulted made her want to seek retribution and revenge and, it’s reported, she planned the attack for a  number of weeks.

The second is that, per the post-incident investigation, Erickson found out about the pending attack via Snapchat just the night before it was to occur. It should be noted that Erickson had several options for action after he found out about the pending attack: he could have reported it to the local authorities, potentially preventing it in whole and total. He could have said nothing and just stayed home from school that day. What he allegedly reported was that he so feared McKinney that he joined her in committing the attack to prevent her from killing him. The mere existence of their connection on Snapchat and sufficient communication for her to have threatened him so convincingly is indicative of an on-going friendship that existed well prior to the attack.

The one fatality was Kendrick Castillo and he should always be remembered as the hero of the day. When Erickson brandished his weapon and warned people not to move, Castillo is reported to have immediately jumped on Erickson. Erickson responded by shooting Castillo in the chest and the wound proved fatal. Following on the heels of Castillo, however, other students jumped on Erickson and wrestled him to the ground, disarming him.

Just like happens after most attacks of this type, the event was almost immediately politicized by a variety of groups and politicians. Interestingly, in this case, the students themselves objected to being leveraged for political gain. During one vigil a disturbance occurred because the question of mental health became so prominent. That’s a shame because mental health should be at the center of any discussion about such events. A sane and stable person does not commit such an attack. There is debate among mental health professionals about the impact of McKinney’s gender confusion and the resulting bullying/insults on her motivation to commit the attack. In a different memorial event, many students walked out because the focus of the ‘memorial’ event proved to be more about the gun control agenda that remembering Castillo or the other students who had been injured in the attack.

Court proceedings are still pending in this case. The only good thing that seems to have come out of this attack is that so many students are identifying Kendrick Castillo as a hero; as an example of an admirable person. Several news articles hailed his behavior and many students have made comment about how brave he was. His sacrifice, while probably not intentional, was a side-effect of his bravery and his willingness to act. He held the courage of his convictions and that sets an example for other students. That is the end game; the goal we should all be striving for. Refusing to be a victim reduces the power and threat of the attackers.

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