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East High School shooting: Student shot 2 Denver staff, police say


DENVER — Osvaldo Garza had just been playing the violin at a student assembly when an administrator took the stage to announce the third lockdown of the 15-year-old’s freshman year at East High School. Or maybe it was the fourth – they were so frequent he couldn’t remember them.

But that lockdown, Garza said outside the school on Wednesday, counted as a “bigger one”: Two administrators were shot near the school’s entrance while patting down a student who the police chief said , followed a “security plan”. The student’s past behavior, Chief Ron Thomas told reporters, warranted daily pat-downs that had not previously yielded a weapon.

This time, staff members located a handgun, which the student fired multiple times, officials said. Two male administrators, known as Deans, were hospitalized with injuries and one required surgery. The student, later identified by police as 17-year-old Austin Lyle, fled campus and remains at large.

The shooting added to a list of gun violence incidents that have rocked East High this year in a city where public safety has become a flashpoint in next month’s mayoral election; in a state where infamous mass murders and daily shootings have prompted Democrats to pass tougher new gun laws; and in a country where drills and lockdowns disrupt school days so often that some children feel used to them.

In mid-February, Luis Garcia, a 16-year-old sophomore and East High football player, was shot dead outside the school. He died of his injuries on March 1. In September, a 14-year-old student was shot in the head at a recreation center near the school. Police said he was an innocent bystander.

“I’m more insensitive to this than anything else,” said Finn McGirk, 16, a sophomore who was in the auditorium for the assembly when Tuesday’s lockdown was announced. He estimated he had experienced “10 to 20” blockages or alerts of some kind – bomb threats; most false alarms – back when he was in the East. “It’s scary, but it still seems far away to me.”

But the violence has galvanized others. Two days after Garcia’s death, hundreds of East High students marched to the state capitol to protest gun violence and urge lawmakers to address it. They filled the House and Senate galleries, some wearing football shirts honoring Garcia. They have invaded the corridors of the capital, where lawmakers are considering bills that include banning assault weapons and raising the minimum age for buying firearms. Garza was among them.

A stream of senators addressed them that day, assuring the students that they took their concerns seriously. But they warned the problem was huge. “I send my son to school every day and I wonder if anything is going to happen,” said Sen. Chris Hansen (D), a mayoral candidate who represents the area that includes East High. But, he says, “there is no perfect law. We can’t do anything to stop it. »

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero said gun violence in schools was his top concern, telling the school board in the fall, “It’s a City of Denver problem. It’s a county, state problem – quite frankly, a national phenomenon in terms of gun access. Gun confiscations at district schools have skyrocketed since the pandemic, from 40 in the 2018-19 school year to 200 last year, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat.

“I am deeply sorry that we are here,” Marrero said Wednesday at a press conference on Wednesday. “I really, really think we shouldn’t be here, but here we are.”

The administrators shot dead Wednesday were quickly treated by paramedics who were on campus helping a student who was having an allergic reaction, officials said. Marrero described the security plan which required staff to search the suspect daily as “common throughout the country”.

Police had been present outside the school at the start and end of the day for a month, Thomas said, but Marrero said no school resource officer was in the school to carry out the examination of the pupil. It’s district policy: The Denver School Board voted in 2020 to remove school resource officers, who were provided by the city’s police department, from campuses. On Wednesday, Marrero told the school board he would bring police back to some district high schools, even if it violates board policy, according to Chalkbeat.

Officials have canceled classes for the rest of the week at East High, which goes on spring break next week. Two armed officers will be present inside the school for the rest of the year, Thomas said.

CJ Buchanan, 15, might not be there to see them. As his mother, Keyosha Buchanan, waited for her son to leave school on Wednesday, she said she had reached her limit. She graduated from the East in 1998 and remembers the fights and gang activity, but not the regular shooting threats. She said she planned to find out if CJ could finish the year online while she considered moving him to a suburban neighborhood.

A pupil whose behavior was so disturbing that he required daily pat-downs should not be allowed in school, she said.

“It’s PTSD, it’s happened to kids so much this year,” she said. “It’s a big, big security issue.”

CJ, who was also at the assembly when the school was closed, credited injured administrators with preventing a greater tragedy. “You really don’t know what he would have done when he started school,” he said.


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