Colorado leaders offered words of grief and comfort in the wake of another school shooting in our state.
Kendrick Castillo, an 18-year-old student at STEM School Highlands Ranch, was killed as eight others were injured in Tuesday's attack. An 18-year-old student at the school was being held, along with a 16-year-old co-defendant.
Gov. Jared Polis ordered flags at government buildings across the state to be lowered to half-staff Wednesday in the wake of the shooting. “The heart of all Colorado is with the victims and their families,” he said.
Douglas County District Attorney George Brauchler noted in a press conference Wednesday that the STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting was the fifth within a 20-mile radius in the past two decades, starting with the 1999 Columbine massacre.
He said those shootings may shape how people across the nation view the Denver metro area, but they are aberrant acts that don't define his home.
He says the community is comprised of kind, compassionate people who are going to mourn, take care of those who are down and pick themselves back up.
Brauchler cited Columbine High School, the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, a 2013 shooting at Arapahoe High School and last year's fatal shooting of a Douglas County sheriff's deputy.
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma, also issued a statement to say he was “heartbroken by the horrific and senseless acts of violence” at the school.
“The safety and comfort of our schools should never be taken away,” he said. “Jaime and I are holding the victims and their families in our hearts and are grateful to the first responders and local authorities on the scene working to ensure the safety of the community.”
One of Gardner’s Democratic challengers in next year’s election, former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, sent an email to supporters Wednesday.
“The best way to honor these heroes is to make their heroism unnecessary,” Romanoff stated. “That means, among other things, doing what we can to keep firearms from falling into the wrong hands.
“Colorado took a step in that direction this year by creating extreme risk protection orders. Red-flag laws like these reduce the risk of violence—chiefly suicide, which accounts for most gun deaths in America. What would have prevented yesterday’s tragedy in Highlands Ranch? It’s both too late to act and too soon to say.”
On Twitter, Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Denver said, “Heartbroken for this student’s family, loved ones, and classmates, and for everyone affected by today’s tragedy. This sickening reality has become too normal for our children. They deserve better. We have to do better.”
U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat from Aurora, continued the political theme of broken hearts.
“It is with broken hearts that we respond to the news coming out of Highlands Ranch,” he said in a statement emailed to reporters. “We still don’t have all the details regarding the situation at STEM school, but we do know this: we have a public health crisis on our hands. This cannot continue. It is not enough to send thoughts and prayers, it is empty, it is weak, and it does an injustice to our children who are on the frontlines of this violence.
“We must pass common-sense gun violence laws and ensure we are preparing our educators and law enforcement with the tools and resources necessary to create a safe and welcoming environment. This must stop."
U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat from Boulder, also talked about heartbreak in the wake of the school shooting.
“Andrea and I are completely heartbroken by yesterday’s events at the STEM School in Highlands Ranch," he said in a statement. "Not a day goes by when our world is not shattered by yet another senseless act of gun violence.
"Yesterday’s tragedy hit particularly close to home for my family. I grew up in Highlands Ranch and much of my family lives there, including my 5-year old niece, who is a student at the STEM school. I am so grateful to her teachers and law enforcement for keeping her safe, and my wife and I are praying for the victims."
Colorado House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder, and House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver, issued a joint statement.
“Our hearts break for the victims of the shooting in Highlands Ranch and their families,” they said. “We are thankful to our first responders but tragically, a life was lost and the lives of many of these children - some as young as five or six - will never be the same. We are still learning more about this situation but what we do know is that Coloradans should not be forced to live with this reality. Students should be concentrating on their education – not active shooter drills.
“Like many parents, we are deeply concerned about the lasting effects these violent and tragic events will have on our children, their classmates and our communities. And like many parents, we are heartbroken by once again having to talk to our children about mass shootings. Coloradans must refuse to live with the status quo. The state legislature has pursued solutions to gun violence and mental health and will continue to do so to address this crisis, but Washington must also step up to do its job to keep our communities safe.”
Colorado Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Douglas County, whose district includes Highlands Ranch, thanked first responders.
“We are grateful to the men and women of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office who responded quickly to end the attack and to restore the safety of students, teachers, and staff,” Holbert stated. “Thank you to the first responders and school district staff who helped transport students and unite them with their parents. We mourn the death of one student and pray for the recovery of those injured and their families. Moving forward, we stand ready to work with our school board, sheriff, and county commissioners to review the district’s emergency response plan and to identify ways to increase the availability of armed and trained security officers in our public schools, both neighborhood and charter.”
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock issued a statement Wednesday, as well.
“On behalf of the entire city I want to say to Highlands Ranch and greater Douglas County, we are with you,” Hancock said. “And to the first responders, courageous students, staff and other unseen heroes who rushed into harm’s way to help, your community and your state are forever grateful.”
“There is still a lot we are learning about this unthinkable tragedy, but we do know that hundreds of children at the STEM School and the adults entrusted with their care will never be the same again. Innocence has been lost, safety has been compromised and we cannot allow this to happen again. I promise you, we will offer whatever support we can to help our neighbors heal.”
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Denver, spoke of the shooting on the House floor Wednesday.
“Another week, another school shooting,” she said. “This time, right outside my district at the STEM Highlands Ranch School. My heart aches for everybody there. But you know something? That is so far from enough. People say: It’s too soon, we can’t talk about gun safety. But you know what? Tell that to the survivors of Columbine, only seven miles away from this school, who have been waiting for 20 years for it to be time. Tell that to the Sandy Hook parents.
“Tell that to the thousands of parents around this country who have lost their children in school shootings, and just simply shootings on street corners. The time has come. We need common-sense gun safety legislation, and we need it now.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.