'I pleaded twice'

New details emerge in STEM shooting testimonies

Elliott Wenzler
ewenzler@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 6/4/21

Lucas Albertoni was crawling through classroom 107 in STEM School Highlands Ranch when he was confronted by Alec McKinney’s gun. Albertoni looked up as he was attempting to flee and saw the barrel …

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'I pleaded twice'

New details emerge in STEM shooting testimonies

Posted

Lucas Albertoni was crawling through classroom 107 in STEM School Highlands Ranch when he was confronted by Alec McKinney’s gun.

Albertoni looked up as he was attempting to flee and saw the barrel of the firearm, only an arm's length away, pointed straight at him. He locked eyes with the student holding it.

“I pleaded twice, ‘you don’t have to do this,’” he told a courtroom on June 4. “I could tell he wasn’t really listening to anything I was saying.”

Albertoni ducked to the right as his shoulder was hit by a bullet. He also sustained shots in his leg and finger that day. Two of the bullets remained in his body as he testified.

Albertoni’s story closed off a week of testimony in the case against Devon Erickson, one of the two students charged in the deadly shooting on May 7, 2019. Erickson, now 20, faces 46 charges, including first-degree murder, attempted murder and arson for his part in the attack. McKinney pleaded guilty to similar charges in 2020 and is in prison. 

Some initially perceived prank

So far, prosecutors have called on nearly 20 people who were in the room that day to tell the jury what they remember.

For many who spoke, the event started with the assumption that Erickson, who some witnesses say they heard shout “nobody f------ move” before brandishing a handgun, was playing a twisted joke on them. 

“I thought this was like a senior prank,” said Grace Holland, a student in the room that day. “I thought ‘that’s messed up.’”

Kendrick Castillo, however, knew the gun was real and acted immediately. Many witnesses told the jury how they saw Castillo leap from his seat to stop the gunman. Castillo was shot and killed during the attack.

Initial reports from the shooting included comments from both McKinney and Erickson that claimed McKinney had forced Erickson to participate in the attack. Prosecutors have worked to poke holes in that narrative and McKinney has since made contradictory statements.

Room 107’s teacher

Lauren Harper was the teacher for the British Literature class taking place in room 107 that day. With only three days remaining for the class, which was mostly made up of seniors, she decided to put on a movie for students to analyze: “The Princess Bride.”

Erickson came to her a few minutes after class started to tell her he wasn’t feeling well.

“He looked ready to pass out,” she told the courtroom. 

She sent him to the nurse with another student, and a few minutes later, after he returned, he got her attention again, saying he thought he needed to just go home. She agreed and told him to sign himself out. That’s when he walked to the front of the class, shouted and pulled out the weapon, she said.

Speaking to the jury, Harper’s voice cracked as she told the prosecutor’s that Erickson had never warned her about what was about to happen.

‘They’re getting louder’

Shampson Sundara, a school security guard who responded to the incident and apprehended McKinney, spoke to the courtroom on June 4 about what he saw that day two years ago.

Sundara told the court that when he came upon McKinney, the student was trying to get back into room 107. Sundara shouted commands at him to drop the weapon and saw McKinney attempt to turn the gun on himself before eventually complying with the guard's commands.

“Alec said ‘we have more guns than you. We’re going to kill you, you need to kill me,’” Sundara said.

As he walked with McKinney through the halls, Sundara reported hearing the student talking about voices he was hearing in his head including “they’re getting louder” and “they want me to kill, they want you to kill me.”

Sundara, who said he wasn’t supposed to have a gun with him based on his contract with the school, fired two rounds at law enforcement entering the school, whom he had assumed were additional shooters. His shots instead wounded two students.

A first responder

Within a few minutes of entering the school, Sgt. Joel White, a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy and one of the first responders that day, came across Castillo lying in room 107. He and other deputies desperately tried to get the senior out of the school, knowing that paramedics couldn’t enter an active shooter situation, he told jurors June 1.

He pulled and dragged the young man through the school by his torso and legs. Tears rolled down White’s face as he explained that in spite of his efforts, Castillo was pronounced dead after being handed over to medical personnel.

White spoke of how he didn’t stop his response to the shooting there. Instead, he went back into the school, where he came across another student who had been shot in the back of the head.

“His eyes were ... really, really big,” White said. “I asked him if he could move and he didn’t respond. So I picked him up and threw him over my shoulder (and) ran out of the school.” 

Gerardo Montoya Ojeda, the student whom White carried to the paramedics, survived the attack. 

Defense questions

During cross examinations, the defense focused on the timing of the shots fired, asking witnesses when they heard the gunshots in relation to Castillo slamming Erickson in an effort to get the gun. In her opening statement, defense attorney Julia Stancil told the jury that Erickson had not intended to hurt anyone and that the gun had gone off accidentally as a result of Castillo’s attack.

Another detail the defense has drawn attention to is exactly how and where Erickson pointed the gun he held in front of the class. Some witnesses have said he pointed it straight at them and others have said it was directed over their heads. 

The defense asked one witness from room 107, Barbra Elenniss, about a message she sent to another student in the days following the shooting when she said “(Erickson) shot accidentally after getting tackled.” Elenniss said she hadn’t actually seen that happen and was simply repeating what she’d heard other students say in the days following.

Former district attorney George Brauchler, who has remained with the DA's office to finish this case, said he expected the prosecution to rest its case in the middle of the following week. Then, the defense will call their witnesses.

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