HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. (Reuters) – The older of two students accused of opening fire in a suburban Denver high school, killing one classmate and injuring eight others, was being held on Wednesday on murder and attempted-murder charges, court records showed.
The 18-year-old suspect being charged as an adult, Devon Erickson, was due for an initial appearance later on Wednesday in Douglas County District Court in Castle Rock, Colorado, a short distance from the scene of Tuesday’s gun violence.
His accused accomplice, who is under the age of 18 and has not been publicly identified, is being charged separately as a juvenile, authorities said.
The two teenagers are accused of opening fire on fellow students in two classrooms at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, about 25 miles (40 km) south of Denver.
The 18-year-old student killed in the shooting, identified by his family as Kendrick Ray Castillo, was a senior just days away from graduation, police said on Wednesday as they continued to search for a motive in the attack.
Erickson was being held on suspicion of a single count of first-degree murder and 29 counts of attempted murder, according to court records, although it was not immediately clear how prosecutors arrived at that number of charges. Eight students wounded in the shooting survived.
Denver’s ABC television affiliate, citing an unidentified police source, reported on Tuesday that one of the suspects, apparently the younger of the two, was born male but identified as female and had been bullied for it.
Sheriff Tony Spurlock declined to answer a reporter’s question about whether the younger suspect was transgender.
“Right now we are identifying the individual as a female, because that’s where we’re at,” he said. “We originally thought the juvenile was a male by appearance.”
Spurlock said the suspect had been identified as male “before the detectives were able to get the medical – and detectives were able to speak to her.”
ECHOES OF COLUMBINE
Some of the worst mass shootings in the United States have occurred in Colorado.
Tuesday’s attack occurred less than a month after the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in nearby Littleton, about 5 miles (8 km) from Highlands Ranch, carried out by two students who shot 13 people to death before committing suicide.
In 2012 a man opened fire at a movie theater in Aurora, another Denver suburb, killing 12 people and wounding scores more.
Precisely what happened inside the STEM school remained unclear.
Spurlock said there was a “struggle” as officers entered the building, and some students said one victim was shot in the chest as he tried to tackle a shooter.
A man who identified himself as Fernando Montoya said his 17-year-old son, a junior at STEM, was shot three times when a shooter walked into his classroom and opened fire.
“He said a guy pulled a pistol out of a guitar case and started to shoot,” Montoya told the Denver TV station.
The bloodshed shocked the affluent suburb of Highlands Ranch. Parents and students had considered the school a safe place for its 1,850 pupils ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade.
The attack came a week after a gunman opened fire on the Charlotte campus of the University of North Carolina, killing two people and wounding four others.
Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely in New York and Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Writing by Scott Malone and Steve Gorman; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Bill Trott