Denver Public Schools to temporarily suspend its ban on armed guards in schools after shooting at East High School
By Aya Elamroussi, Dakin Andone and Andy Rose, CNN
One day after two faculty members were shot and wounded by a student at a Denver high school, the local school board voted unanimously to temporarily suspend its nearly two-year-old ban on armed guards and police officers in its schools.
“Based on the emergency situation presented by the events of March 22, 2023, the Board of Education will hereby suspend (the ban on armed officers) through June 30, 2023,” stated the motion approved by the board Thursday.
School district Superintendent Alex Marrero said Wednesday that he was “committed” to having two armed police officers stationed at East High School during school hours through the end of the academic year regardless of the official policy.
“I am willing to accept the consequences of my actions,” Marrero said in a letter to the board. He was present at Thursday’s board vote, but did not speak at the meeting.
“Today was my fourth visit to Denver Health’s Intensive Care Unit due to victims of gun violence,” Marrero said in a letter to the Board of Education. “These events should not have happened on my watch or this Board’s Watch.”
The alleged gunman, 17-year-old Austin Lyle, fled East High School Wednesday after the shooting, police said, and his body was found Wednesday night in Park County. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the coroner’s office said Thursday.
The victims of Wednesday’s shooting are Eric Sinclair and Jerald Mason, Denver Public Schools spokesperson Rachel Childress confirmed to CNN.
Sinclair is the school’s dean of culture and Mason is a restorative practice coordinator in the dean’s office, according to the school’s website.
One staff member was in critical condition, while the other suffered serious injuries and was stable, Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas said Wednesday.
Lyle’s body was found around 8:15 p.m., after an hourslong, multi-agency manhunt, near a red Volvo SUV sought by law enforcement, Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw said during a news conference, telling apprehensive nearby residents an earlier shelter-in-place alert had been lifted.
Lyle was identified as the suspect in the shooting by Denver police officials, who said he was under a school safety plan requiring him to undergo daily pat down searches upon entering the school. During Wednesday’s search, a handgun was retrieved and several shots were fired in an office area in the front of the school, Thomas said, away from other students and staff.
The police chief declined to say why the suspect was on that plan.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock indicated he wants school resource officers back in all schools.
“Removing them was a mistake,” he said in a statement on Twitter, “and we must move swiftly to correct it.”
The board on Thursday emphasized that the superintendent needed to develop a new safety plan, but also that the district does not have enough money for additional armed security indefinitely.
The board directed Marrero to reach out to Hancock in an effort to “externally fund as many as two armed police officers and as many as two additional mental health professionals” in every Denver high school for the remainder of the school year.
The district’s policy banning armed security at schools was adopted as part of a larger plan undertaken by the board of education in the summer of 2020, which said it wanted to “transition” school resource officers from Denver campuses, citing studies that showed “Black and Brown students arrested for minor school infractions are more likely to end up in the adult criminal system, entrenching the school-to-prison pipelines.”
That came amid a broader movement in some communities to push police out of schools after the police murder of George Floyd. Proponents of those efforts said the presence of officers in schools criminalized Black and Latino students.
East High will close for the remainder of the week following the shooting, Marrero said during a news conference Wednesday.
Sheriff McGraw described the manhunt as “quite intense,” adding agencies involved included the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Ultimately, the Jefferson County SWAT team led the search and located a body about 1,000 feet from the suspect’s vehicle, roughly four hours after the SUV was first located around 4:30 p.m., said McGraw.
The sheriff declined to say how the death happened and declined to disclose whether there was a gun found near the body. As of Wednesday, police did not say whether the gun used in the shooting had been recovered.
‘We’re just numb to it at this point’
The shooting at East High School was the 18th shooting this year at an elementary or secondary school in the US in which at least one person was injured or killed, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit whose mission is to log every incident of gun violence nationwide in real time.
The shooting at East High is yet another example of how violence shatters one of the most conventional — yet dangerously prone — places for children. And for students at the school, the chaos was all too familiar.
Last month, 16-year-old student Luis Garcia was shot inside a parked car near the school and died weeks later, according to CNN affiliate KMGH. A group of East High students later attended a city council meeting and demanded action on gun violence and school safety, KMGH reported.
Aubriana Acuna said she was “freaking out” when she learned of the shooting and said it’s unfair that she has to endure the constant occurrences of gun violence.
“We’re just kind of numb to it at this point since this has happened so much,” she told KMGH. “We’re so exhausted about all this. It’s so unfair. … This happens almost every single day. I can’t even walk outside my house without feeling like I’m gonna die, or I’m gonna get shot. And it’s terrifying for everyone.”
Students have come out in scores recently to demand a change in how gun violence is being handled in their community.
The Denver East High School chapter of Students Demand Action staged a school walkout and called for immediate action on gun safety earlier this month. The demonstration was marked by a march through the city to the State Capitol building and featured more than 1,000 students and educators, according to the organization.
Students at the event wore red and held signs such as “School was my safe place,” “Our blood, your hands” and “Am I next?,” according to KMGH.
East High, located in the City Park neighborhood, serves about 2,500 students in 9th through 12th grades. The school is the largest and highest-performing comprehensive high school of all Denver Public Schools, according to the school system.
™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.
CNN’s Eric Levenson, Andi Babineau, Steve Almasy, Tina Burnside, Joe Sutton, Whitney Wild and Christina Zdanowicz contributed to this report.