HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — Thursday marks one year since a deadly attack at STEM School Highlands Ranch, but school is not in session due to the COVID-19 pandemic — and that means, because large gatherings aren't allowed, there will be no community gathering this year.
Senior Kendrick Castillo was killed in the shooting on May 7, 2019 when he lunged at one of the student gunmen who had entered his classroom, according to witnesses.
Kendrick's parents held a small memorial service at his grave site at the Seven Stones in Littleton.
They've visited his grave every day since he was buried.
“We’ve never missed it, even in snow storms," said John Castillo. "When we’ve been down at the courthouse we’ve left in the dark."
Today stood out.
"I walked out to the driveway and I went to the corner of the driveway where I watched him drive away, and you know it just brings the realness back," John Castillo said.
Eight other students were also shot that day a year ago. Two of them were injured by a private security guard who helped detain one of the teen suspects.
“Kendrick lived his purpose every day and that’s why he did the act that he did to save people in that classroom and the other boys that helped him," John Castillo said.
His father hopes other people find their purpose to fight for something good.
"This is only one year," he said. "I often wonder what the rest of our lives are going to be like."
Also on Thursday, the STEM Center for Strength, a new resource center near the school, will be offering counseling and group sessions virtually.
It was made possible through a $1.9 million federal grant obtained with the help of the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance and the Office of Victims of Crime, the AllHealth Network, a non-profit.
Services available Thursday include free 30-minute sessions with a counselor via video chat, webinars and Zoom session support groups.
"This is the road to healing," John Castillo said. "It's not healing just for my wife and I, but the other families that were affected. You know nobody is a winner out of this."
The 16-year-old suspect in the case, Alec McKinney, pleaded guilty in February to 17 charges. He was charged as an adult.
His co-defendant, Devon Erickson, pleaded not guilty and was scheduled for a trial later this month. It's now scheduled for September. Both suspects were initially charged with 46 separate counts, including two counts of first-degree murder, one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and 31 counts of attempted first-degree murder. Those charges are still pending against the older suspect.
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Due to his age at the time of the incident, McKinney will automatically be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years related to the first-degree murder charges. Under Colorado law, defendants who commit crimes as juveniles cannot be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
In addition to that sentence, he faces 408 years for the other charges, but the exact amount of time is up to the discretion of the judge at sentencing.
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