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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
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English Teacher Recalls School Shooting at Murder Trial of Former Student

Survivors of a 2019 Colorado school shooting described the attack during week two of the suspected gunman's trial.

Survivors of a 2019 Colorado school shooting described the attack during week two of the suspected gunman's trial.

(CN) --- English teacher Lauren Harper still remembers where most of her students were sitting on May 7, 2019, when she saw Devon Erickson pull a gun on her British literature class at STEM School Highlands Ranch.

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)

On Friday afternoon, before a jury in the Douglas County Justice Center in Castle Rock, 30 miles south of Denver, Harper recalled the nightmare that unfolded in her classroom while they were watching "The Princess Bride."

Erickson was 18 years old and a week away from graduating when prosecutors say he and then-16-year-old Alec McKinney brought a guitar case full of guns to school and opened fire on the class of seniors. Eight students were wounded and one was killed.

When Harper first saw Erickson coming to class, she said she thought he was going to pass out and sent him straight to the nurse’s office.

Erickson returned to class saying he still felt ill and Harper granted him permission to go home.

“Does he ever say 'leave the room?'” asked Chief Deputy District Attorney George Brauchler. “Does he ever say 'Help me? Does he ever say 'Look out for Alec?'”

Appearing to hold back tears, Harper answered, "No."

The movie was part of Harper’s lesson plan on comedy. She had wanted to teach the seniors one last thing before they graduated.

“I wanted to create one more real world application for writing and I thought it would be fun to have them analyze comedy,” Harper said. “We watched 'The Princess Bride' because it encapsulated all the different kinds of comedy we were studying.”

Harper recalled checking to make sure students weren’t texting, and then saw Erickson lift a gun and point it at the class.

“I remember seeing him turn around and face us, that struck me as weird and all of a sudden the guitar case hits the ground and out comes a gun, and I hear in an elevated voice ‘Nobody fucking move,’” Harper said. “Somebody screamed ‘gun,’ as this happened the whole classroom erupted into noise, screaming, gunshots, and Devon being slammed up against the whiteboard.”

“My attention was immediately drawn to my side of the room, because there was a second shooter,” Harper said. “I heard a popping and saw a muzzle flash, as he started to case the room.”

Harper said didn't immediately recognize the second shooter as McKinney. She testified she just remembered collapsing against a bookcase, closing her eyes, and pretending to be dead. She only opened her eyes when the room had gone quiet and she sensed coming light from an open door.

Outside the classroom, she saw two students struggling over a gun, one of them McKinney, a student she saw once before at prom. She pulled him into a headlock and held him there until another teacher came to her aid and pulled the gun away.

McKinney pleaded guilty to first degree murder and attempted murder, among other charges, and was sentenced in July 2020 to life in prison plus 38 years. Because he was a minor at the time, McKinney may be eligible for parole after 40 years.

Other students who survived the shooting testified Friday, including McKinney’s aunt Grace Weber, who was a senior in the British literature class. Weber recalled McKinney's attempts to get her away from the class, telling her Erickson was about to get into a fight. Though Weber left momentarily, she returned to the class in time to witness the events that unfolded. A sophomore from the room next door described being shot in the foot and McKinney’s ex-boyfriend recalled McKinney’s efforts to lead him to room 107 that day.

Prosecutors say Erickson shot 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo. According to witnesses, Castillo died after charging Erickson to save his classmates.

During her opening statement, Erickson’s defense attorney Julia Stancil painted him as a confused, impressionable youth, given drugs and manipulated by accomplice McKinney.

Erickson faces more than 40 felony charges, including first degree murder. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole since Colorado repealed the death penalty in 2020.

The trial will run daily through June 25.

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Categories / Criminal, Trials

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