HIGHLANDS RANCH, CO (AP) — Gunfire erupted Tuesday inside a suburban Denver middle school not far from Columbine High School, wounding eight people before two students were taken into custody, authorities said.
Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said two students walked into the school and opened fire in two classrooms. He said only students ages 15 and older were wounded.
Deputies responded within minutes from a nearby sheriff’s department substation, entering the school as gunfire rang out. Police took the two suspects, one adult and one juvenile, into custody with no injuries.
“We did not have them on any radar,” Spurlock said of the suspects. “I have to believe that the quick response of the officers that got inside that school helped save lives.”
Spurlock said at least a handgun was recovered, but he didn’t release more information on weapons.
The shooting occurred at the middle school at STEM School Highlands Ranch, a public charter school with more than 1,850 students in kindergarten through 12th grades. The Highlands Ranch community is about 15 miles (24 kilometers) south of Denver.
Deputies responded around 1:50 p.m. to the school, which is near a sheriff’s department substation, and officers got there almost immediately, Nicholson-Kluth said.
“As officers were arriving at the school, they could still hear gunshots,” she said.
Rocco DeChalk, who lives near the school, told television station KUSA that he saw so many students running past his house that at first he thought it was a gym class. He went outside and saw a teenage boy who had been shot in the back being helped by a teacher and another student.
They brought the boy into his kitchen and alerted a police officer, who sent for an ambulance.
“He made a comment, ‘Oh, I’m starting to feel it now,'” DeChalk said. “I told him that was probably the adrenaline kicking in and he was going into shock.”
Three area hospitals reported treating eight people in connection with the attack. Two were listed in serious condition, two were listed as stable, one was in good condition and three were released.
Lines of firetrucks, ambulances and law enforcement vehicles from multiple agencies were at the school, and medical helicopters landed on a grassy field.
The sheriff’s office directed parents to a nearby recreational center to pick up their children. A fleet of school buses arrived and dropped off students, some of whom were crying and holding hands with their classmates as they were helped off. An ambulance also pulled up and let out a half-dozen children, none of whom appeared to be physically injured.
“We know this is a very worrisome situation for parents,” Nicholson-Kluth said. “Relatives are worried, and we are trying to get them back together as soon as possible.”
Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement that he was making state public-safety resources available to help secure the site and evacuate students.
“The heart of all Colorado is with the victims and their families,” he said.
The shooting comes nearly three weeks after neighboring Littleton marked the grim 20th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting that killed 13 people. The two schools are separated by about 7 miles in communities south of Denver.
Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, a gun-control supporter whose congressional district includes STEM, said the gun violence cannot continue.
“It is not enough to send thoughts and prayers. It is empty. It is weak, and it does an injustice to our children who are on the front lines of this violence,” he said.