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Students protest at vigil for victims of Denver-area school shooting

Posted at 3:27 AM, May 09, 2019

Students attending a vigil following a shooting at a school near Denver shouted "mental health" and stormed out of the event to protest politicians.

Attendees walked out and chanted after Sen. Michael Bennet and Congressman Jason Crow spoke at the vigil Wednesday evening at Highlands Ranch High School, The Denver Post reported. It said several hundred students were at the vigil that went from a peaceful event to a demonstration, and included protests against the media and politicians.

The students returned to the vigil held inside the gym, it said.

The two suspects accused of carrying out a mass shooting at a Denver-area charter school made their first appearances in court Wednesday.

Neither of the suspects -- 18-year-old student Devon Erickson and 16-year-old Alec McKinney -- were formally charged.

Eighteen-year-old Kendrick Ray Castillo was killed and eight others were wounded in the shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch. First-degree murder and attempted murder charges will be filed, said 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler. He said he wants time to consider other charges.

Erickson took the two handguns used in the shooting from his parents, according to a law enforcement source with direct knowledge of the investigation. Both guns were purchased legally, the source said.

Both suspects are scheduled to appear separately in court again on Friday afternoon.

Erickson spent most of his hearing Wednesday with his head bowed, his bushy head of hair -- colored with streaks of purple -- obscuring his face. He spoke only when spoken to directly by the judge, and at one point signed a court document while holding his handcuffed wrists in front of him.

Prosecutors have not decided whether they will seek to try the 16-year-old suspect as an adult, Brauchler told reporters.

Authorities initially referred to the 16-year-old suspect as female. But the suspect's lawyer said in court that McKinney goes by the first name Alec, and uses the pronoun "he," Colorado Judicial Department spokesman Rob McCallum said.

Brendan Bialy, a student who helped disarm one of the suspects, said he knows both alleged shooters. Erickson was a student in his class, where another student was killed and several were wounded, he said.

Hero student is a "legend"

Bialy wants people to remember Castillo as a "legend."

The two were sitting by a classroom door when someone from their class arrived late and took out a gun, he said. Castillo immediately rushed him.

"It was immediate, nonhesitation, immediate jump into action," Bialy said of Castillo's reaction. "The gunman was there and then he was against the wall and didn't know what the hell hit him."

Bialy and a third student joined in and wrestled with the shooter, who may have fired once or twice more during the struggle, Bialy said.

Once he got the gun away and the other student had the shooter pinned down, Bialy went over to Castillo, who was unresponsive. Castillo died at the school.

He was a kind, hilarious jokester who was always ready to help his classmates, student Tuscany "Nui" Giasolli said.

Nui's mother, Nyki Giasolli, said if not for the heroism of her daughter's classmates, "I wouldn't have my baby today."

"All these kids are alive because of (Castillo's) sacrifice and the bravery of all the boys to neutralize the threat," Giasolli said.

But across town, Castillo's parents are mourning.

A father's mixed emotions after losing his only child

At his home in Denver, John Castillo struggles to stop sobbing.

He's torn between pride and anguish after the heroics of his only child.

"Selfless -- that's what my son was. And it got him killed. But he saved others," the father said.

"Because of what he did, others are alive, and I thank God for that. ... But there's another part of you that wishes he just turned and ran, retreated, hid."

Like many parents, John Castillo waited at a reunification center Tuesday for buses to drop off survivors. One by one, he watched parents and children embrace with relief.

"We didn't have that," he said.

But he takes solace in knowing other children are alive because of Kendrick.

More than 1,850 students attend the STEM school, which includes grades K-12 . The school will be closed the rest of the week.