A student shot and wounded two administrators at a Denver high school on Wednesday, after a handgun was found during a daily search of the boy that was being conducted because of behavioral issues, authorities said.
The 17-year-old suspect fled and his vehicle was later found in a remote mountain area about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Denver, but he remained at large. A shelter in place order was issued by authorities around the small town of Bailey, in Park County.
Denver school officials, facing criticism over lax security, said they would put armed officers into the city’s public high schools.
The shooting occurred at a school shaken by frequent lockdowns and violence, including the killing of a classmate that prompted East High School students to march on the Colorado Capitol earlier this month. Parents who converged on the 2,500-student campus on Wednesday faulted officials for not doing enough to protect their children.
“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.
Police were searching for Austin Lyle for attempted homicide. The gun used in the shooting was not immediately recovered, Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas said.
Police issued an alert linking Lyle to a red 2005 Volvo X90 with Colorado plates and offered a reward up to $2,000 for information on the case.
“He obviously is armed and dangerous and willing to use the weapon, as we’ve learned this morning,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock warned as law enforcement searched.
The shooting happened just before 10 a.m. 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.
One of the wounded administrators was released from the hospital Wednesday afternoon and the second remained in serious condition, said Heather Burke, a spokesperson for Denver Health hospital.
Hundreds of students on March 3 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 the school.
There were no school resource officers on campus at the time of Wednesday's shooting, Thomas said.
In June 2020, amid a summer of 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 and other city high schools also will each get an officer, said Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero.
In a Wednesday letter to the city's Board of Education, Marrero said his decision violated district's policies but added he “can no longer stand on the sidelines.”
“I am willing to accept the consequences of my actions,” he wrote. “I am the leader of this district who is charged with keeping our scholars and staff safe every day.”
Gun violence at schools has become increasingly common in the U.S. with more than 1,300 shootings recorded between 2000 and June 2022, according to researchers. Those shootings killed 377 people and wounded 1,025, according to a database maintained by the researchers.
Students from East High School had been scheduled to testify 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 East High School sophomore and volunteer with Students Demand Action in Colorado.
Lyle transferred to East High School after being disciplined and removed from a high school in nearby Aurora last school year because of violations of school policies, Cherry Creek School District spokesperson Lauren Snell. She declined to specify the violations.
Officials did not reveal why he was being searched daily.
Marrero said safety plans for students are enacted in response to “past educational and also behavioral experiences,” adding that it’s a common practice throughout Colorado’s public schools.
But daily pat downs are rare, said Franci Crepeau-Hobson, a University of Colorado Denver professor specializing in school violence prevention.
“Clearly they were concerned,” said Crepeau-Hobson. “I can’t imagine they’d do that if there wasn’t a history of the kid carrying a weapon.”
School safety plans are often imposed after students exhibit threatening or suicidal behavior, said Christine Harms with the Colorado School Safety Resource Center.
East High School, not far from downtown, was placed on lockdown as police investigated the shooting and hundreds of parents lined up along a road outside the school.
Some parents and students vented frustration over violence at the school as they surrounded the police chief. Thomas listened quietly, nodding and promising to engage with the school board.
At the edge of the crowd, a man said the city's school board members should be recalled for getting rid of police in school, telling a nearby officer “I just want you to be able to do your job.”
In response to the shooting, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre repeated President Joe Biden’s called 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.