Freshman Treble Brooks hugs his mother Bobbie Brooks after being reunited following a shooting at Denver East High School on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Denver, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Denver Gazette)

Students at Denver East High School are processing grief, anger and fear on Wednesday after another shooting has sent a shockwave through the school, just a few weeks after they marched to the Capitol to plead for action from legislators.

They had organized the rally earlier in March after Luis Garcia, a student on the soccer team, was shot in February while sitting in his car on Esplanade outside the school. He died a few weeks later.

“The fear part comes because it's now inside of the school. For the most part, it's been either a false alarm altogether, or it's happened outside of the school itself. But now it's inside, where we're supposed to be safe,” said Jack R., a senior who asked his full last name not be used, as he stood in the school’s parking lot.

“I'm angry because I'm tired of the hate that has been penetrating this community for so long now. I'm over it. I'm just tired of this happening to us, and for the victims that have to go through this. It's not right,” Jack added. 

Wednesday’s shooting happened just after 10 a.m. at the school on 1600 City Park Esplanade Blvd. Police are searching for 17-year-old Austin Lyle, a student, whom authorities identified as the suspect. Chief Ron Thomas said in a news conference police believe he shot two school administrators who checked him for weapons before he went into the school. He had been checked each day for weapons before he was allowed in, Thomas said.

A Denver Public Schools district spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment about what led to this protocol for Lyle.

The shooting happened on the two-year anniversary of the massacre in a King Soopers on Table Mesa Drive in Boulder's south end. A gunman opened fire on shoppers and workers, killing 10 people, on March 22, 2021, as Boulder dug itself out of a snowstorm in the last days of winter. Among those killed was Eric Talley, a 51-year-old police officer. The store reopened just over a year ago.

Kids milled around in the school’s north-facing parking lot in the chilly, gray midday, waiting for siblings or friends for rides home. District security officials directed traffic out of the parking lot and walked around asking kids if they had rides arranged.

Olivia Beasley, a sophomore, sat by a car processing her fear and shock as she waited for her older brother, a senior student. She said the school let classes out one by one.

“It's almost normal this point, which I hate to say, because we get our fair share of SWATs and bomb threats every semester,” she said, with a weary, “not again” note in her voice.

She was referring to an incident last September when police swarmed the school because of a threat of violence that later appeared to be unfounded. Other schools across the state have been targeted by similar pranks, known as “swatting” because they aim to trigger a response from SWAT teams.

Beasley called the swatting incident “really (expletive) scary.”

Chloe Silverstein, a sophomore, said she’s frustrated that little appears to have changed since the students’ march to the state Capitol a few weeks ago to press for more gun restrictions. She and many of her fellow students hoped they could spur change quickly, she said.

“At this point, it kind of feels useless, but we have to keep doing them. Because if we continue, the uselessness becomes useful,” Silverstein said.

Alex, a junior who chose not to give his last name, said although he wants his school to be safe, he doesn’t believe the responsibility should fall on individual schools. He believes city and state governments shoulder the duty for strong gun controls.

Students said they have heard about potentially installing metal detectors, which has generated mixed opinions among them. Beasley said she feels like metal detectors would make school violence feel normalized, a way of thinking that frightens her.

Jack, the senior, said he believes metal detectors would be worth any inconvenience getting into school if they make it safer.

“I think it would be 100% worth it if it meant saving lives, or just keeping people safe — or just a psychological aspect of knowing that we're doing everything we can to keep us safe,” Jack said. 

Silverstein said she planned to go home and spend time with her dog to decompress. Wednesday’s shooting prompted classes to be canceled for the rest of the week, ahead of the district’s spring break that starts this weekend – a grim reason for starting the vacation early.

“Three years ago, it was COVID. Today, it’s a school shooting,” she said.

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