Accused Colorado School Shooter Fights to Be Tried as a Minor

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (CN) – A Colorado teen suspected of orchestrating the shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch this past May that resulted in the death of a classmate began making his case Monday to be tried in juvenile court.

Friends and community members left flowers, stuffed animals, and cans of Coca-Cola outside STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado in honor of Kendrick Castillo, who was killed trying to thwart a May 7, 2019, shooting at the school. (Amanda Pampuro / CNS)

District Attorney George Brauchler formally charged 16-year-old Alec McKinney as an adult a week after the May 7 attack, though his case remains sealed to the public.

McKinney attempted to kill himself with a Beretta M9 after police charged the school to thwart the attack. He later told investigators he failed because he was unable to take the safety setting off the firearm. On Monday, public defender Ara Ohanian showed school security footage in which the teenager struggled with the weapon until being apprehended by the school’s security guard.

Ohanian challenged the narrative that McKinney coerced 18-year-old co-defendant Devon Erickson into accompanying him. Snapchat videos obtained by police appear to document McKinney threatening Erickson with an ax into opening his father’s gun safe.

Ohanian pointed out that McKinney was not trained to use a gun. Erickson not only knew the make, model, and caliber of each weapon, he showed McKinney how to load them.

Lead investigator Detective Brian Pereira of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office recounted the investigation into the events of May 7, beginning when Erickson picked McKinney up from school. At the Erickson home, the teenagers trashed furniture, broke open a gun safe and attempted to burn Mrs. Erickson’s car.

Investigators estimated the damage at $3,700.

Although Erickson’s attorneys maintain he was forced into aiding McKinney, Pereira expressed his doubts since Erickson had multiple opportunities to alert authorities, literally passing by emergency alert buttons installed throughout the school.

Prior to the shooting, Erickson used the handle DevonKillz and posted a photo of himself on Snapchat captioned, “I’m busy scaring kids at school by looking like a shooter.”

McKinney told investigators he was retaliating against classmates who bullied him and that the world is a cruel place and he wanted to inflict pain on those who had done him wrong.

Erickson and McKinney entered Ms. Harper’s British literature class as the students watched the movie “The Princess Bride,” armed with a Glock 21, a Beretta M9, a Ruger 10/22 rifle, and a Taurus revolver. When Erickson ordered his classmates not to move, three male students charged him including Kendrick Castillo, 18, who was shot and killed in the altercation.

“Erickson’s plan was to get away with it,” Ohanian said. “McKinney’s plan was to die.”

Born Maya McKinney, Alec is transgender and uses male pronouns. Shortly after being confronted by police in the school, bodycam footage shows McKinney worried about his gender being “exposed.” Officers replied, “That is the least of your worries now.”

The reverse transfer hearing is scheduled through next Tuesday, after which Judge Jeffrey K. Holmes will decide whether to send McKinney’s case to juvenile court or allow it to proceed in the adult criminal justice system.

Co-defendant Devon Erickson is scheduled to appear for arraignment before Judge Therese Slade on Dec. 6. He faces charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy and two dozen counts of attempted murder.

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