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Friday marks 2 years since deadly shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch

As the community marks two years since the deadly shooting at the school, prosecutors are preparing for trial later this month.

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — Paying a visit to Seven Stones cemetery has become routine for Maria and John Castillo.

"We've driven here every day for two years. I don't see it ending. We come out here. It's cathartic to relax in the afternoon and watch the sunset," John Castillo said.

Seven Stones where is his son Kendrick Castillo is laid to rest. Friday marks two years since the shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch when Kendrick Castillo died lunging at one of the shooters to save his classmates. 

"That's when Kendrick lunged at him, and he shot Kendrick, giving all of us enough time to get underneath our desks, to get ourselves safe and to run out of, across the room to escape," Nui Giasolli recounted the day after the shooting.

Kendrick Castillo, who was a senior at the school, was killed in the shooting just weeks away from graduation.

"Two years is an incredible amount of time and there's still a lot of healing to be done," John Castillo said.

RELATED: Student killed at STEM School Highlands Ranch lunged at gunman, classmate says

Eight others were also shot at the school, two of them were injured by a private security guard who helped detain one of the teen suspects. 

"The people who are here today. You know, it's extra special to us because they're here of free will," John Castillo said.

RELATED: STEM School Highlands Ranch security guard to enter diversion program after shooting 2 students

Dozens of family and friends joined John and Maria Castillo to pay respects to Kendrick.

"That means so much to me because it means people haven't forgotten," John Castillo said.

A man even approached John Castillo holding a baby, telling him the child would not be alive if it wasn't for Kendrick's actions.

"I think it was a husband of a teacher in the school and Kendrick stopping the shooting that would've taken multiple lives. That teacher may not be around to carry a child," John Castillo said. "To see that the others survived and they're having babies and they're not forgetting Kendrick is so important to us."

Alec McKinney, one of the students charged in the attack, pleaded guilty in February of 2020 to 17 counts related to the crime, 14 of them felonies. McKinney was a juvenile at the time of the crime but was charged as an adult. However, due to his age, he was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years related to the first-degree murder charges.

RELATED: 'We miss him so much': STEM shooting victim's mom testifies in final day of hearing for younger suspect

Under Colorado law, defendants who commit crimes as juveniles cannot be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

"I thank God that he entered into a guilty plea," John Castillo, said at the time of the plea. "It made life a little bit easier on families and ourselves, so we can move onto the next perpetrator."

RELATED: STEM Center for Strength offers help to those impacted by shooting

Devon Erickson, who was 18 at the time of the shooting, pleaded not guilty in January 2020. He was supposed to go to trial last year but things were twice-delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the suspension of jury trials.

Even though Colorado has now done away with the death penalty, prosecutors could have sought the punishment in the case because it was charged prior to the change. Prosecutors decided against that option.

RELATED: Polis signs death penalty repeal into law, commutes sentences of 3 men on Colorado's death row

Former 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler -- whose term ended -- is staying on as a special prosecutor.

A motions hearing in the case is set for May 21, with jury selection slated to begin on May 24. Hundreds of potential jurors are expected to be summoned in the case.

Devon Erickson faces 46 counts including:

  • Two counts of first-degree murder
  • One count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder 
  • 31 counts of attempted first-degree murder

The trial is expected to last a month.

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