CASTLE ROCK • A 16-year-old arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder in the May 7 shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch was charged Wednesday as an adult, prosecutors said.
Despite Alec McKinney’s age, the seriousness of the school shooting in which one student was killed and eight were wounded warranted upgrading the charges, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler said.
“The law in the state of Colorado has changed over the years to make it more and more difficult to charge juveniles as adults, but it left open a portion where if you are 16 years old and you are accused of committing a first- or second-class felony — and first-degree murder is a first-class felony — you are eligible to be direct-filed (as an adult),” Brauchler said.
Charges also were filed against McKinney’s alleged accomplice, Devon Erickson, 18, also was charged during a pair of hearings Wednesday at the Douglas County courthouse in Castle Rock.
Most of the charges filed against the teenagers, who are being held without bond, were not read aloud in court, and little additional information was released. The case files — including information about charges — have not been made public.
Brauchler opened a news conference after the hearings by saying, “It is difficult to know what we can talk about at this point.”
According to online court documents that have since been removed, Erickson is charged with 48 crimes, including first-degree murder after deliberation, first-degree murder extreme indifference, first-degree murder after deliberation and 31 counts of attempted murder. Brauchler declined to confirm the charges.
Erickson and McKinney are accused of carrying handguns into their school and opening fire in two classrooms. Investigators have offered no motive and declined to discuss how the students got the guns.
Kendrick Castillo, 18, was killed when he and other students charged a shooter and tried to take the gun away. The last of the hospitalized students was released Sunday.
Brauchler said he has asked the 4th Judicial District to investigate claims that a school security guard who held McKinney at gunpoint fired his weapon at a sheriff’s deputy and might have wounded one of the injured students.
“This is a witness in the case, and I felt like in the abundance of caution, that a decision about the facts related to the security guard needed to be addressed by a separate prosecutor,” he said.
Brauchler declined to say how far along the investigation is, except to say, “The work that has been put into this case — from not just the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, but the FBI, I think the ATF, we’ve used, and then some of the other surrounding agencies … the number of personnel, and the amount of resources that have been invested in trying to do this thing right and quickly is remarkable.”
Attorneys have been allowed into parts of the charter school at 8773 S. Ridgeline Blvd.
“Last week, we coordinated with the defense attorneys for both defendants to gain access to — I’m making this number up — the 97 percent of the school that we do not believe is directly part of the crime scene,” Brauchler said. “They’ve had the opportunity to walk through there and do whatever they wanted to do, and that was with an eye towards returning it back to the school so that it can be used by that institution ... and they can return all the stuff back to the students and teachers and other adults that aren’t directly implicated in this crime.
“But let me be clear, they have not gone through, nor have they permitted access to, the actual place where we believe the crimes occurred.”
Castillo’s parents attended the hearings, which were followed hours later by a memorial service for their slain son in the main auditorium at Cherry Hills Community Church, 3900 Grace Blvd., in Highlands Ranch.
“Look, I’m taken with the Castillos — I can’t imagine going through a more difficult situation than they’re going through, and yet, they are a very strong couple,” Brauchler said. “It would have been easy for them to say, ‘I’m not going to make it to court today because in less than two hours, we’re about to have a memorial service for our son,’ but from the word go, they have made it clear, ‘Our intention is to be here for every single hearing,’ and today is, I think, a good example of that.”
Wednesday morning, Gov. Jared Polis tweeted a tribute to Castillo: “I declare today Kendrick Castillo Day in Colorado as we remember the life of the 18-year-old hero who died saving others in last week’s STEM School shooting in Highlands Ranch. Rest In Peace, Kendrick. Your bravery won’t be forgotten.”
Douglas County commissioners took the first step Monday toward committing $10 million to pay for security upgrades and mental health services at public schools in the county. They’ll vote May 28 after talking with experts, residents and students about how to use the money.
The Douglas County School District received a $1.5 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Safety in February to upgrade security in school buildings and vehicles and to train school personnel. County schools will use the money to update the school communications system, including replacing radios, said district spokeswoman Paula Hans. It was one of 95 grants to schools or school districts totaling more than $29 million.
The Gazette’s Liz Forster and The Associated Press contributed to this report.