STEM shooting suspects appear in court

DA has not decided on charges or whether to charge juvenile suspect as adult


The two suspects arrested on suspicion of shooting nine students at a Highlands Ranch school, killing one, appeared in court for the first time on May 8 at hearings attended by students who survived the shooting and family of the student who died.

One of the suspects is 18-year-old Devon Erickson. He's accused, along with another suspect, of carrying out the May 7 shooting at the K-12 charter school.

The second suspect is a juvenile student at STEM School. Colorado Community Media will not identify the juvenile suspect, who is 16 years old, unless that suspect is charged as an adult. Both suspects were expected to be formally charged on May 10.

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said on May 8 that authorities mistakenly identified the juvenile suspect as a male on May 7 only to learn after conducting further interviews the suspect was female. He could not confirm at a news conference early that morning how the suspect identifies, but said the department was considering the suspect female.

A defense attorney for the suspect told District 1 Judge Theresa Slade at the May 8 hearings the teenager uses “he” pronouns and a different name from what was listed on the docket.

Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler said he had not yet decided on charges for the suspects or if he would pursue charging the 16-year-old as an adult. If he does, the court ultimately decides whether the case would remain a juvenile case or not, he said. Charging the suspect as an adult would change the type of sentence he could face if found guilty.

“This is the beginning of what's likely to be a long process,” Brauchler said after the hearing.

When officers brought the older, 18-year-old suspect into the courtroom, he barely looked up — face buried under thick hair dyed half black and half a bright pink. He stooped deep in his chair and did not speak except for when Slade required he verbally answer a question instead of shaking his head.

The 16-year-old, with short, cropped hair and a gray collared shirt, sat upright and looked up at the judge for most of his hearing.

Seated in the courtroom were the parents of Kendrick Castillo, the 18-year-old STEM student who died in the shooting. The family did not comment during the hearing.

“These are people that are still dealing with the fact that a little more than a day ago they had a son,” Brauchler later told reporters. “Now they don't.”

Also in attendance was 17-year-old Jack Denler, a junior at STEM. Denler said he was in the hall when the shooting broke out on May 7. As alarms started to ring, he rushed to his classroom and took cover. Denler heard two loud sounds, which he later realized were gunshots. He was not aware of either suspect being bullied at school.

Before the hearings began, Brauchler requested the judge deny media requests for expanded media access during the day's proceeding. Defense attorneys also requested Slade deny the news media's request to place cameras in the courtroom.

Slade granted the expanded media coverage, allowing one pool video and audio camera and one still photo camera.

Slade temporarily granted a motion from the people to suppress the case file entirely. Brauchler said the motion was temporary, and he would move to release the documents later.

Slade also issued protection orders against both suspects that prohibit them from contacting victims named in the order, consuming alcohol or drugs, possessing firearms, visiting the STEM school or contacting each other.

Each is being held on no bond.

Brauchler said he would have 63 days following an arraignment to give notice of his plans on whether to pursue the death penalty.

Before hearing room doors opened May 8, a group of people, including the juvenile suspect's mother, stood huddled in a circle in the hallway, looking down and staying mostly silent. They did not respond to media requests for comment between their arrival and the start of the hearing.

Media were not allowed to take electronic devices like phones or computers in the courtroom. People seen with their phones out were asked to leave by officers from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.

STEM School, Highlands Ranch, Jessica Gibbs


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