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Families recount trauma over conviction of school gunman


DENVER (AP) – A judge on Friday sentenced a former student to life without parole for a 2019 shooting at a suburban Denver high school that killed a teenager and injured eight others, telling the accused that he had shown no remorse and had failed to help a devastated community understand his actions.

Devon Erickson, now 20, was convicted in June of 46 counts, including first degree murder in the death of Kendrick Castillo, an 18-year-old hailed as a hero for trying to stop the attack on a classroom at STEM School Highlands Ranch, south of Denver.

Prosecutors said Erickson partnered with fellow student Alec McKinney in the May 7, 2019 shooting. McKinney told investigators he was planning the attack for weeks and intended to target his fellow students. class who repeatedly made fun of him for being transgender, court documents show. As Erickson was 18 at the time of the attack, he was facing a mandatory life sentence.

After a long and moving hearing in which survivors shared their pain, trauma and the disruption in their lives, Judge Theresa Michelle Slade added hundreds of years in prison to the life sentence of Erickson on multiple attempted murder charges and other counts.

Wearing handcuffs, a red and white striped prison costume and a blue mask amid the coronavirus pandemic, Erickson displayed virtually no emotion except to blow his nose in his mask after conviction. But right after his parents, sister, and grandfather told him they loved him in their testimony, his voice broke when the judge asked him if he wanted to speak. He refused.

“I don’t think I can tell you anything, Mr. Erickson, that would make a difference,” Slade said, recounting how the shooting devastated not only those at the school and their families, but a number countless people beyond. the suburban community where the school is located.

The judge said Erickson never tried to explain his actions, leaving a gaping hole for a community seeking at least a sense of closure.

“I don’t think, Mr. Erickson, at least for now, that it makes a difference to you,” Slade said. “So what you do the rest of your life in prison is not up to me. It’s yours.

McKinney, who was 16 at the time of the shooting, was sentenced to life in prison last year, but may become eligible for parole after about 20 years under a young offender program.

Erickson and McKinney targeted a class of college students sitting in the dark as they watched a movie at the end of their senior year. The two entered through separate doors to maximize the number of students they could kill, prosecutors said.

Erickson and McKinney concocted a “victim-hero” plan in which McKinney would commit suicide or be killed by Erickson, prosecutors said.

The shooting stopped when Castillo and two other students, Joshua Jones and Brendan Bialy, charged Erickson, whose gun jammed after firing four times. A school security guard apprehended McKinney.

Defense lawyers have argued that Erickson was coerced into participating by McKinney, who testified against Erickson after pleading guilty last year. The defense also suggested that Castillo was accidentally shot while pushing Erickson against a wall.

Statements made on Friday by teachers, former students, their parents and Castillo’s mother and father have woven a heartbreaking picture of lives shattered by lingering trauma, panic attacks, recurring nightmares of gunfire, blood, screams and heavily armed SWAT teams rescuing those hiding inside the school.

One teacher said she was so afraid of working with older students and worrying about what they might do that she now teaches younger children.

Jones and Bialy, who were shot while helping Castillo subdue Erickson, made no secret of their disgust.

“He killed Kendrick, and he didn’t care,” Jones said, almost rising to the witness stand. “I implore you to put him in jail for as long as you can. “

“The accused is a loser,” Bialy said. “He walked into a classroom, armed, with vulnerable students, and he lost. “

Castillo’s parents, John and Maria Castillo, proudly, albeit painfully, described their son as an only child who was happy – a young man of faith always ready to help others.

“We don’t want to forget about Kendrick, but it’s an emotional journey most people will never understand, and I hope they don’t understand it,” said John Castillo.

Defense attorney David Kaplan insisted Erickson was “exceptionally remorseful.” Witnesses and his family described him as a selfless and cheerful person who helped others and loved school, a jazz singer who gave lessons to younger students – and someone who fell under the influence of McKinney.

Erickson’s father Jim Erickson read aloud the names of those injured and apologized to them, teachers, students, law enforcement and the wider community.

“We pray for these people every day,” he said, crying. “We hope they can find peace, and we hope they can find forgiveness – and I know that is a difficult request, forgiveness.”

On his conviction last year, McKinney said he did not want leniency. But he also suggested that the shooting was Erickson’s idea.