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Colorado school shooter given life without parole, longest sentence in county history

In 2019, two students killed one senior weeks before graduating from STEM School Highlands ranch, and injured many others

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (CN) — Days before his 21st birthday, a Colorado man who murdered his classmate as a senior at STEM School Highlands Ranch during a mass shooting was sentenced to life without parole plus 1,282 years on Friday, the longest sentence ever issued in the 18th Judicial District.

“We’re going to an empty home without our son so it’s bittersweet,” said John Castillo, the surviving father of Kendrick Castillo, after the sentencing hearing. “We have to ask ourselves what is justice?”

On May 7, 2019, Erickson, then 18, and accomplice Alec McKinney opened fire in a British literature class at the STEM School Highlands Ranch, wounding eight and killing senior Kendrick Castillo a week before graduation.

McKinney pleaded guilty to first-degree murder among other charges, and was sentenced in July 2020 to life in prison plus 38 years. Because he was 16 years old at the time of the shooting, McKinney may be eligible for parole.

According to McKinney's testimony, he and Erickson planned to line up all the students in room 107 and execute them one by one. This plan was foiled by Kendrick Castillo and others, who charged the shooters without hesitating.

John Castillo described Erickson as a terrorist. The symbols painted on Erickson’s mother’s car, a pentagram and the number 666 stood out as important to him because, “those things were the opposite of who Kendrick was.”

“At the end of the day nothing will bring Kendrick back but we must live like him and be an empty vessel to fill with good—going off-roading, building robotics and doing the right thing,” Castillo said.

More than a dozen parents, surviving students and teachers as well as the county sheriff asked 18th Judicial District Judge Theresa Slade to give Erickson the maximum sentence.

“I had the belief before that all my students were generally good people,” English teacher Lauren Harper told the court. She had been teaching the Princess Bride to her senior British Literature class when Erickson pulled out a gun.

“That moment changed every fiber of my being,” she said. “Students I would have never second guessed before now scare me. I set up my classroom thinking of escape routes. I scan student bags as I teach and guard the door anytime a student leaves the room.”

Judge Slade said she received more than 600 letters from people all around the world, from kindergarteners who were afraid of the sound of fireworks to commuters who heard about the shooting in traffic.

“My son is no longer a victim, today he is a survivor,” said Jennifer Krause, the mother of a student who was shot in classroom 107. “I want to focus on Kendrick and remember his bravery.”

On behalf of Erickson, his mother, father, grandfather, girlfriend and childhood friend’s mother each spoke, during which he broke down.

During sentencing, Judge Slade noted, “the first time I saw you show emotion was when your family talked about the things you will lose.”

“If there is any message I want to convey, it’s that the violence you committed on May 7 should never have happened and should never happen again,” Slade concluded.

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Categories / Criminal, Education, Regional

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