CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (CN) – A 16-year-old Colorado student accused of shooting his classmates last week was charged as an adult Wednesday and faces first-degree murder charges.
District Attorney George Brauchler filed formal charges against Alec McKinney and 18-year-old Devon Erickson. Investigators say the pair opened fire on STEM School Highlands Ranch students, killing one and wounding eight others.
Although the tragedy has shaken the community and many questions remain unanswered, both the charges and criminal complaints in the case have been sealed by the court. Defense attorneys also prevented the reading of the charges aloud in the packed courtroom.
At the request of public defender Ara Ohanian, Judge Theresa Slade agreed to hold a reverse hearing to consider whether to revert McKinney’s case to the juvenile court system.
“It’s difficult to know what I can talk about,” said Braucher after the hearing. “I can’t go into details but I can tell you the law in Colorado has made it more difficult to charge a juvenile as an adult. But if you are a 16-year-old and you are accused of first-degree murder, you can be charged.”
Charging McKinney as a juvenile means the death penalty is off the table. Asked if he was considering pursuing the death penalty against either suspect, Braucher said, “Candidly, I have done no analysis on that issue.”
Slade said the case documents will remain sealed until after status hearings in June while each defense team does their own investigations. Defense investigators have been on school grounds but have not been allowed inside the classrooms where the shooting is believed to have taken place.
Both parties have agreed to return personal property confiscated from students, including laptops and cellphones, as soon as possible.
In light of his age, Judge Slade allowed McKinney to retain a guardian ad litem to advise him throughout the court proceedings.
The parents of 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo, who was killed when he charged one of the shooters so his peers could run for cover, sat in the center of the court. A member of the school robotics team, Castillo was days away from graduating.
“I cannot imagine what the Castillos are going through,” Brauchler noted. “Given that there is a memorial for their son in a few hours, I would have understood if they didn’t attend, but from the word go they have made it clear they would be here for every hearing.”
The eight students wounded in the attack have been released from local hospitals.
Brauchler also referred the case of an armed security guard who is suspected of firing his gun during the attack to the 4th Judicial District for review.
Located south of Denver, STEM School Highlands Ranch was founded as a charter school in 2011 to promote problem-solving curriculum. Of the K-12 school’s 1,800 students, police consider about 600 students to be witnesses in the case.