Denver high school shooting suspect’s abandoned car found southwest of the city, but teen still on the loose
DENVER — Two deans were injured in a shooting at East High School on Wednesday morning and the student suspect is at-large, according to the Denver Police Department (DPD) and Denver Public Schools (DPS).
The DPD identified the suspect around 2:10 p.m. as 17-year-old Austin Lyle. He is described as a Black male standing 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs about 150 pounds. He was wearing a green hoodie at the time and may be driving a 2005 red Volvo XC90 with license plate number BSC-W10, according to a Metro Denver Crime Stoppers bulletin.
DPD Chief Ron Thomas said during a press conference that the report of a shooting came in at 9:50 a.m. and officers, as well as medical personnel and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Denver, quickly responded to the school, which is located at 1600 City Park Esplanade, just south of City Park. The school was put on lockdown.
The two injured adults, whom DPS and DPD identified as deans during the press conference, were transported to a local hospital. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said paramedics were inside the school and started helping the two injured faculty members immediately. He said he believes this will play a huge role in their recovery.
When asked, Heather Burke with Denver Health confirmed to Denver7 that Jerald Mason and Eric Sinclair, both listed as deans on East High School’s website, were bought to Denver Health Medical Center. At 4:24 p.m., Mason was listed in good condition and Sinclair, who underwent surgery, was listed in serious condition, according to the hospital. Mason was discharged around 5 p.m.
Mayor Hancock added that a student was brought to the hospital for a reaction to what was happening, but was not injured.
Chief Thomas said the suspect, later identified as East student Austin Lyle, 17, was under a school safety agreement where he had to be patted down and searched in a front office before school each day. Chief Thomas said this had happened every day for a while without a problem, but on Wednesday, the student pulled a firearm and shot and injured the two deans.
The suspect fled from the scene, but police identified him shortly afterward, Chief Thomas said. A few hours later, the DPD released his name publicly. A search is underway to find him.
The suspect vehicle was located in Park County, DPD said in a tweet at 5:56 p.m. The suspect is still at-large.
A shelter-in-place order has been issued for a 5-mile area surrounding the vehicle, per the Park County Sheriff’s Office. Authorities did not disclose the exact location of the vehicle.
He is wanted on a charge of attempted homicide, according to a Metro Denver Crime Stoppers bulletin.
DPD said it has identified the suspect, even though he’s a juvenile, because of the threat he poses to the public.
The suspect was “disciplined for violations of board policy and was removed from Overland High School,” according to Cherry Creek Public Schools.
Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero said safety plans — like the one the suspect was under — are based on past behavior. DPS said all districts in the state have school safety agreements with certain students. The suspect’s history is not currently available.
DPS started a controlled release around 11:25 a.m., after the police department gave staff the all-clear. Parents were told to pick up their children at 17th Avenue and Esplanade. Students who drove to the school were escorted to the parking lots to leave and students who ride the bus were held until the buses arrived, DPS said.
Superintendent Marrero said East High School will not have classes on Thursday and Friday.
“In terms of what we can expect at East from here until the end of the school year, in collaboration with Chief Thomas and with support from our mayor and also communicated this to the Board of Education, that we will have two armed officers here at East until the end of the school year,” he said.
In a letter to the community, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero said armed officers will be added to each “of our DPS comprehensive high schools beginning Thursday, March 23 for the remainder of the school year.”
Denver police have had a presence outside the high school for quite some time already, Mayor Hancock said earlier in the day.
“I think it’s clear now that we need to do even more interdiction with our police officers inside the buildings in these types of situations,” he said.
Denver7’s Colette Bordelon spoke with a student on the student council who said he was outside when the shooting happened.
“I just saw and started hearing sirens, fire truck sirens,” he said. “I started running toward the school because I was over here. I looked at the building and I saw students running. I saw students in the classrooms started ducking their heads.”
“I feel hurt every time,” he said.
Denver7’s Jessica Crawford spoke with the grandmother of two students who were barricaded inside the school.
“I’m very upset,” the grandmother said. “We, as a society, are not doing enough. We don’t have any police in the school. There’s no metal detectors. I’m tired of hearing there’s no money for that. Don’t tell me that we don’t have money for that. It’s our kids’ safety we are talking about… What you go through in your mind when you don’t know what is happening, you don’t know where the shooter is, you’re not sure where your kids are. We have to make changes.”
She said one of her granddaughters was in a room with no windows when the school went into lockdown.
“When she texted, my son told her to make sure they barricade the door, but she hyperventilates,” she said. “I mean, how frightening is that for a child? How much emotional trauma must our children take in this day and age?”
A father who rushed to the school after hearing about the shooting told Denver7’s Bayan Wang that his son was on lockdown in the library.
“I want to point out that this is the fourth major incident here at East High,” Steve Katsaros said, noting recent shootings and swatting incidents. “The Denver School Board is failing us. And it’s really a problem.”
A mother of an East High student said Wednesday marked the fourth time in 2023 that she had to come get her son out of a lockdown.
“I’m very mad,” she said. “These kids spent so much time and energy protesting. I was there with them. So much time and energy remembering Luis’ loss. Why is it landing nowhere? Nothing is being done. My son is breaking down. He’s saying he doesn’t want to die. It’s just ugly. He’s scared. He doesn’t want to show it.”
The East High School community protested against recent gun violence last month, when students attended a Denver City Council meeting to demand action on gun violence and school safety after 16-year-old Luis Garcia was killed in a shooting near the school on Feb. 13. The teen’s funeral was Saturday. In addition, last September, an East High student and 20-year-old man were injured in a shooting near the school.
In early March, students walked out of class and marched to the Colorado State Capitol to demand an end to gun violence.
Students said that lockdown drills have become routine parts of the school day.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said he is closely monitoring the situation. In a statement to Denver7, he said:
“Our students should and must be able to attend school without fear for their safety, their parents deserve the peace of mind that their children are safe in classrooms, and teachers should be able to work safely and without harm. We also reflect that today is the anniversary of the Boulder King Soopers shooting and yet again the scourge of gun violence continues to plague us. We appreciate the quick action taken by East High school faculty and staff to secure the school and make sure students were safe and this is an ongoing situation.”
In a statement posted to Twitter after the press conference, Mayor Hancock said schools should be free of any and all violence. He added that easy access to guns must be addressed in Denver and beyond.
“There are common sense proposals at the Legislature and in Congress right now — they must be passed,” the statement reads. “It’s also time to return School Resource Officers in our schools. Removing them was a mistake and we must move swiftly to correct it. We’re ready to work with DPS, and we all have to step up as a community and be part of the solution.”