Denver high school shooting suspect dead, coroner confirms
Austin Lyle fled after the shooting, and his body was found Wednesday night near his car in a remote, mountain area about 50 miles southwest of Denver
March 23, 2023 - 8:40 am
Updated March 23, 2023 - 8:43 am
DENVER — A 17-year-old student was found dead in the Colorado woods after being accused of shooting and wounding two administrators at his Denver high school where students and parents were already fed up over recent violence and a lack of action by officials, authorities said Thursday.
The shooting occurred Wednesday morning at East High School in Denver, not far from downtown, while two administrators searched Austin Lyle for weapons, a daily requirement because of the boy’s behavioral issues, authorities said.
Lyle fled after the shooting, and his body was found Wednesday night near his car in a remote, mountain area about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Denver, outside the small town of Bailey, in Park County.
The county coroner’s office confirmed early Thursday that the body was Lyle’s. Cause of death was not released, pending an autopsy.
Denver’s Board of Education scheduled a special meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday to discuss the shooting and school security. The meeting comes after parents who converged on the 2,500-student East High campus Wednesday voiced frustration that officials were not adequately protect their children.
The shooting occurred at a school shaken by frequent lockdowns and violence, including the recent killing outside the school of a classmate that prompted East High School 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.
Some parents questioned why the district became one of many in the U.S. that decided to phase out school resource officers in the summer of 2020 amid a summer of protests over racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd by police.
Amid the flurry of criticism over lax security, Denver school officials said Wednesday that they would once again put armed officers into the city’s public high schools.
There were no school resource officers on campus at the time of Wednesday’s shooting, Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas said.
Gun violence at schools has become increasingly common in the U.S. with more than 1,300 shooting incidents recorded between 2000 and June 2022, according to government researchers. Those shootings killed 377 people and wounded 1,025, according to a database maintained by researchers.
The Colorado shooting was at least the second to occur at or near a school this week in the U.S. On Monday, a 15-year-old was arrested in the fatal shooting of a student outside of a Dallas-area high school.
Wednesday’s 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.
The gun used in the shooting was not immediately recovered, Chief Thomas said.
One of the wounded administrators was released from the hospital Wednesday afternoon and the second was in serious condition, said Heather Burke, a spokesperson for Denver Health hospital.
Hundreds of students skipped class March 3 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.
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 through the end of the school year, and other city high schools also will each get an officer, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero said.
Marrero said his decision likely 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.
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 unspecified violations of school policies, said Cherry Creek School District spokesperson Lauren Snell.
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. Officials did not give further details on why Lyle was searched daily.
But daily patdowns 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.”
Safety plans often follow threatening or suicidal behavior from a student, said Christine Harms with the Colorado School Safety Resource Center.
In response to the shooting, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre repeated President 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.
Associated Press reporters Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, contributed to this report.
Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.