An East High student who was on a special "safety plan" requiring him to be searched every day before school shot two faculty members on the morning of Wednesday, March 22, critically wounding one as they attempted to confiscate a gun from him, according to Denver police.
The incident comes less than two months after sixteen-year-old Luis Garcia was shot and fatally wounded while sitting in a car outside the school, and amid ongoing pushes by students for stricter gun safety.
"It's clear now we need to do even more," said Mayor Michael Hancock at a press briefing outside the school after the most recent shooting.
Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas told reporters that the two faculty members who were shot — described as "deans" by police and staffers — had found a handgun on the student suspect and were trying to take it away from him when he opened fire.
The teen was later identified by police as seventeen-year-old Austin Lyle. He was described as a Black male with black hair and brown eyes. Police said that they believe he was "associated" with a 2005 Red Volvo XC90 with the Colorado licen
According to Thomas, the shooting occurred around 9:50 a.m. inside an office area, away from other students and school staff. "Several shots were fired," Thomas said.
Tae Newsom, a freshman at East, described the scene inside the school as the shooting unfolded to Westword.
"We just had to sit there," she said, noting how it was third period when the school got locked down. "Once they told us our deans were in critical condition, that's when kids started to get scared. They didn't know what was going on — they didn't even know if they would be making it home today. So it was really, really scary. Hearing that it was a student that goes here and did that to two innocent people is outrageous."
The two staffers who got shot were transported to Denver Health; one has been released, while the other is critical and underwent surgery.
"We pray for their health and swift recovery," said Governor Jared Polis in a statement.
A worker at East who answered the phone on Wednesday afternoon said everyone was still shaken up by what happened. "We're not good," the staffer told Westword, noting that she knew the deans who were shot.
Chief Thomas told reporters that the shooter, who was described as armed and dangerous, was placed under a special "safety plan" at the start of the school year that required him to be searched every day before entering. It's unclear how many students are under these security plans; Thomas said the plans are "based off interactions with school staff," and this was "regular protocol with this student."
"I'm deeply sorry that we're here," said DPS Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero, who joined Hancock and Thomas at the press conference. "I really, really feel that we shouldn't be here, but here we are."
Governor Polis noted that the incident came on the second anniversary of the Boulder King Soopers shooting, which left ten people dead.
"Our students should and must be able to attend school without fear for their safety, their parents deserve the peace of mind that their children are safe in classrooms, and teachers should be able to work safely and without harm," Polis said.
During the East High press briefing, officials announced that the school will now have two armed officers present on campus until the end of the school year.
The March 22 shooting comes just weeks after students marched out of East in protest of current gun laws and concerns over school safety following the Garcia shooting; the teen was taken off life support and succumbed to his injuries on March 1.
Student activists managed to get officials from the state, city, school board, Denver Police Department and East itself to gather at Boettcher Concert Hall earlier this month for a safety summit aimed at finding solutions for the gun violence. On March 16, the students were heard by the State, Veterans, Military Affairs Committee in support of House Bill 23-1219, which would establish a mandatory three-day waiting period between the purchase and acquisition of a firearm.
Now they're having to deal with another tragedy.
"These kids are asking for safety measures," Kristina Reilly, parent of an East student, said outside the school. "They're not saying, 'Oh, we got this, we're cool teens, we can handle it.' They are asking — not just on their own behalf, on behalf of the teachers. ... Now, not only have they lost a student, they have two injured [staff] colleagues. I don't know what else it's going to take for somebody to understand that something needs to happen."
Newsom told Westword that as a student, she didn't feel safe at East anymore.
"I should come to school to learn, shouldn't come to school wondering if I'm going to make it home tonight," she said. "I don't want to have to send my mom or my family a message saying, 'Oh, I love you guys.' I had to do that today."
In a statement, Hancock acknowledged parents' fears, insisting that the city would be working with DPS to do whatever it takes to see real change: "Parents are angry and frustrated, and they have a right to be. Easy access to guns must be addressed in our country — Denver cannot do this alone. There are commonsense proposals at the legislature and in Congress right now; they must be passed."
Hancock, who is getting ready to step down as mayor after his third and final term, pointed to the reintroduction of school resource pfficers as a way to possibly combat the violence; they were removed two years ago after protests of racist policing.
"It’s time to return school resource officers in our schools," the mayor insisted. "Removing them was a mistake, and we must move swiftly to correct it."
Late on March 22, the Denver Board of Education released its own statement:
We are devastated to learn that once again East High School has experienced gun violence. We first want to extend our support and care to the two school deans who were shot. We also share concern for the students, staff, and families of East who are once again experiencing a traumatic event due to gun violence. We know this tests all of our resolve to pursue safe and welcoming schools for our students. Please join us in supporting the East community during this difficult time.East will be closed for the rest of the week; spring break starts on March 27.
The Board of Education supports the decision of Superintendent Marrero to work in partnership with local law enforcement to create safer learning spaces across Denver Public Schools for the remainder of this school year. In addition, we will continue to work collaboratively with our community partners including law enforcement and our local & state legislature to make our community safer.
We know you will join us in rallying around the employees impacted and supporting them in their journey to recovery as well as rallying around all of our students and their families.
This story is being updated as new information becomes available.