HIGHLANDS RANCH – Two students opened fire Tuesday inside a charter school in an affluent suburb of Denver not far from Columbine High School, killing a teenager, wounding eight and spreading minutes of terror before they were taken into custody with no injuries, authorities said.
Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said the pair walked into the STEM School Highlands Ranch and began shooting students in two classrooms. Within minutes, deputies at a nearby sheriff’s department substation entered the school and arrested the two suspects after a struggle.
“As officers were arriving at the school, they could still hear gunshots,” Douglas County Undersheriff Holly Nicholson-Kluth said.
Authorities did not release the name of the student who died, but said it was an 18-year-old man.
“I have to believe that the quick response of the officers that got inside that school helped save lives,” Spurlock said. He did not identify the suspects, but said they were not previously known to authorities. Authorities planned to search their homes and a vehicle at the school, he said.
The shooting took place exactly a week after a gunman killed two students and wounded four at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. It also comes nearly three weeks after neighboring Littleton marked the grim 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre that killed 13 people. The two schools are separated by about 7 miles in adjacent communities south of Denver.
“Tragically, this community and those surrounding it know all too well these hateful and horrible acts of violence,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. President Donald Trump had been briefed on the shooting and was in touch with state and local officials, Deere said.
STEM is a public charter school with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math. It has more than 1,850 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Student Christian Paulson told television station KMGH that he was in study hall when he saw kids running and shouting, “School shooter!”
“And I’m like, what? Is this real or fake? And then I just went after them,” Paulson said. “And apparently, this is all real. And I tried to run with my life, but I’m out of breath.”
Rocco DeChalk, who lives near the school, told television station KUSA that he saw so many students running past his house that at first he thought it was a gym class. He went outside and saw a teenage boy who had been shot in the back being helped by a teacher and another student.
They brought the boy into his kitchen and alerted a police officer, who sent for an ambulance.
“He made a comment, ‘Oh, I’m starting to feel it now,’” DeChalk said. “I told him that was probably the adrenaline kicking in and he was going into shock.”
Three area hospitals reported treating eight people in connection with the attack. Two were listed in serious condition, two were listed as stable, one was in good condition and three were released.
The Sheriff’s Office directed parents to a nearby recreational center to pick up their children. A fleet of school buses arrived and dropped off students, some of whom were crying and holding hands with their classmates as they were helped off. An ambulance also pulled up and let out a half-dozen children, none of whom appeared to be physically injured.
“We know this is a very worrisome situation for parents,” Nicholson-Kluth said. “Relatives are worried, and we are trying to get them back together as soon as possible.”
Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement that he was making state public-safety resources available to help secure the site and evacuate students.
“The heart of all Colorado is with the victims and their families,” he said.
Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, a gun-control supporter whose congressional district includes STEM, said the gun violence cannot continue.
“It is not enough to send thoughts and prayers. It is empty. It is weak, and it does an injustice to our children who are on the front lines of this violence,” he said.