Body found in woods was student accused in Denver school shooting, coroner says | US school shootings

A body found in the Colorado woods near an abandoned car was that of a 17-year-old student accused of wounding two administrators in a shooting at his Denver high school on Wednesday, a coroner’s office said.

The Park county sheriff, Tom McGraw, said the body was discovered on Wednesday not far from the student’s car in a remote mountain area about 50 miles south-west of Denver, near the small town of Bailey. The town had been ordered to shelter in place while officers from agencies including the FBI combed the forest.

Earlier in the day, Denver police identified the suspect as Austin Lyle. The Park county coroner confirmed in a Facebook post that the body was that of Lyle. Cause of death was not released, pending the completion of an autopsy.

The shooting occurred at East high school in Denver, not far from downtown, while two administrators searched Lyle for weapons, a daily requirement because of the boy’s behavioral issues, authorities said. Lyle fled after the shooting.

The administrators who were shot were unarmed, said a Denver schools spokesperson, Scott Pribble.

“It stuns me that we have civilian people … charged with having to search a student or anyone for weapons,” said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.

He said patting down students – especially for weapons – should fall to trained, armed school resource officers fitted with body armor.

If a resource officer had done the search at East high school, he said, “for the most part, I don’t see it being a tragedy”.

The school was already shaken by frequent lockdowns and violence, including the killing outside the school of a classmate that prompted students to march on the Colorado capitol earlier this month.

“I am sick of it,” said Jesse Haase, who planned to talk with her daughter about taking her out of classes for the rest of the school year.

The Denver board of education convened a special meeting on Thursday to discuss the shooting and school security. The meeting came after parents who converged on the 2,500-student campus on Wednesday voiced frustration that officials were not adequately protecting their children.

Amid criticism over lax security, Denver school officials said they would once again put armed officers into public high schools.

There were no school resource officers on campus at the time of Wednesday’s shooting, said the Denver police chief, Ron Thomas.

The shooting happened just before 10am in an office area as Lyle was undergoing a search as part of a “safety plan” that required him to be patted down daily, officials said.

The gun used in the shooting was not immediately recovered, Thomas said.

One of the administrators was released from the hospital but the second was in serious condition, said Heather Burke, a spokesperson for Denver Health hospital.

Hundreds of students on 3 March skipped class and marched in support of stricter gun laws following the death of Luis Garcia, 16, who was shot while sitting in a car near East high school.

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In June 2020, amid protests over racial injustice following the murder of George Floyd, Denver public schools became one of the districts around the US that decided to phase out its use of police officers in school buildings. That push was fueled by criticism that school resource officers disproportionately arrested Black students, sweeping them into the criminal justice system.

After Wednesday’s shooting, two armed officers will be posted at East high school through the end of the school year, and other city high schools also will each get an officer, said the Denver public schools superintendent, Alex Marrero.

In a letter to the board of education, Marrero said his decision violated district’s policies but added he “can no longer stand on the sidelines”.

“I am the leader of this district who is charged with keeping our scholars and staff safe every day,” he wrote. The school board said it supported the decision.

Gun violence at schools has become increasingly common in the US with more than 1,300 incidents recorded between 2000 and June 2022, according to government research. Those shootings killed 377 and wounded 1,025.

The Colorado shooting was at least the second to occur at or near a school this week in the US. On Monday, a 15-year-old was arrested in the fatal shooting of a student outside of a Dallas-area high school.

Students from East high school had been scheduled to testify on Wednesday afternoon before the Colorado legislature on gun safety bills.

“This is the reality of being young in America: sitting through a shooting and waiting for information just hours before you’re scheduled to testify in support of gun safety bills,” said Gracie Taub, a 16-year-old sophomore and volunteer with Students Demand Action in Colorado.

The White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, repeated Joe Biden’s calls for stricter gun laws, including bans on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, and for Congress to “do something” on gun control.

Wednesday was also the second anniversary of 10 people being shot and killed at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.

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