Highlands Ranch, CO – One student was killed and eight more were wounded when two students opened fire inside the STEM School Highlands Ranch on Tuesday.
"Two individuals walked into the STEM school, got deep inside the school and engaged students in two separate locations," Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said, according to NBC News.
Eighteen-year-old Kendrick Castillo was fatally shot when he “lunged” at one of the gunmen, student Nui Giasolli told Today.
His heroic act gave “all of us enough time to get underneath our desks, to get ourselves safe, and to run across the room to escape,” Giasolli explained.
Three of the students who were wounded remain in critical condition, and some of them were rushed into surgery, Sheriff Spurlock said during a press conference on Wednesday morning.
The remaining five wounded students have been released from the hospital.
All of the wounded students were 15 years of age or older.
The shooters identified as 18-year-old Devon Erickson and an unnamed juvenile female, are both in custody.
Police originally said that the juvenile suspect was a male, but corrected that issue on Wednesday morning.
“We originally thought that we had a juvenile male in custody, but through our interviews yesterday…determined that we have a juvenile female,” Sheriff Spurlock confirmed.
At least one of the shooters had a weapon hidden inside a guitar case, a student’s parent told The New York Times.
The attack began just before 2 p.m. in the middle school area, where as many as 700 students were attending classes. A total of approximately 1,800 elementary, middle school, and high school students attend STEM School Highlands Ranch, Sheriff Spurlock said.
Police were notified about the active shooter situation by a school administrator, and the gunmen were still firing when officers arrived at the scene less than two minutes later.
“Once inside the school, they immediately engaged the suspects,” Sheriff Spurlock said.
Officers did not return fire during the encounter, he added.
One of the shooters was already “restrained” by an armed private school security officer when law enforcement arrived at the scene.
Giasolli told Today that she was in her ninth period British literature class when one of her classmates, Erickson, showed up late.
Soon thereafter, he pulled out a gun and told everyone not to move, she said.
That’s when Castillo “lunged” at him, according to Giasolli.
Castillo died at the scene.
He would have graduated from the school in three days, Sheriff Spurlock said.
A group of students ultimately tackled Erickson to the ground and disarmed him, NBC News reported.
Brandan Baily, a high school senior who plans to join the Marine Corps, was among the group that fought back against the gunman.
“They were very heroic,” Giasolli told Today. “I can’t thank them enough.”
Colorado Governor Jared Polis praised law enforcement’s response to the active shooter situation during the Wednesday morning press conference.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to our first responders and the men and women who responded quickly to prevent an even worse tragedy from unfolding,” Polis told reporters.
Sheriff Spurlock said that the school will remain closed through the end of the week so that local investigators and the FBI can finish processing the “extensive crime scene.”
Investigators have recovered two handguns believed to have been used by the shooters.
Neither of the suspects were old enough to legally obtain firearms under Colorado state law, the sheriff added.
He declined to provide a possible motive for the attack.
A woman who identified herself as the mother of the teacher whose classroom one of the attacks took place in said that the shooters were trying to kill her daughter.
“I believe the student was targeting her, from what I understand,” teacher Lauren Harper’s mother told KCNC.
The STEM School Highlands Ranch attack took place just eight miles away from Columbine High School, where 12 students and a teacher were murdered by a gunman in 1999.
“Our hearts are hurting,” Sheriff Spurlock told reporters on Wednesday morning. “I ask the community to come together, as we always do here in Douglas County, and be strong and pray for the family of the child that was lost and the other eight who are injured and still suffering…and then the other remaining almost 1,800 kids that were at the school that had to be a part of this terrible tragedy.”
Erickson’s initial court appearance is scheduled to take place at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday.