Colorado courtroom

Accused Shooter at STEM School Highland Ranch in Denver Pleads Guilty to Murder

The 16-year-old assailant, who took part in a shooting that killed one student and injured eight others, will face a minimum sentence of 40 years in prison.

A 16-year-old who carried out a shooting on STEM School Highland Ranch outside Denver in May 2019 pleaded guilty to first-degree murder on Friday. The shooting claimed the life of 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo and injured eight others.

Alec McKinney, who pleaded guilty to 16 other counts in Douglas County District Court, took part in the shooting alongside another student, Devon Erickson, according to prosecutors. He says that he was bullied by classmates because he was transgender, leading him to plan the shooting.

Scheduled to be sentenced on May 18, McKinney’s guilty plea comes after his lawyers failed to convince a judge that he should be tried as a juvenile. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years minus earned time, according to The New York Times.

A spokesperson for the district attorney for the 18th Judicial District told the Times that McKinney could be released within 20 to 25 years if he is accepted to a special program for prisoners under the age of 18.

Meanwhile, Erickson has pleaded not guilty to 48 charges connected to the shooting and will appear in court for a hearing in April. If he is tried and convicted, he would face life in prison without the possibility of parole because he was 18 -- and legally an adult -- at the time of the crime.

McKinney has previously told police and lawyers that he targeted students who had made fun of him and said he was disgusting for transitioning into his male identity. He struggled with suicidal and homicidal thoughts for several years, all of which came back to him in the weeks before the shooting, according to affidavits.

Castillo’s parents, who recently filed a lawsuit against the Douglas County School District for failing to act on signs of an upcoming shooting, were present at the hearing on Friday to hear the guilty plea. John Castillo, Kendrick’s father, said he was pleased with the plea deal and was glad he would not have to sit through a trial.

“At the end of the day, no matter what happens in the courtroom, the results are still the same,” Castillo told The Denver Post. “Nobody’s a winner in this."

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.