Two students opened fire Tuesday inside a charter school in an affluent suburb of Denver not far from Columbine High School, killing a teenager, wounding eight and spreading terror before they were taken into custody, authorities said.
Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said the pair walked into the STEM School Highlands Ranch and began shooting students in two classrooms. Within minutes, deputies at a nearby sheriff's department substation entered the school and arrested the two suspects after a struggle.
"As officers were arriving at the school, they could still hear gunshots," Douglas County Undersheriff Holly Nicholson-Kluth said.
Authorities identified one of the suspects late Tuesday as 18-year-old Devon Erickson. Spurlock said the second suspect is a juvenile and that both attended the school. They were not previously known to authorities, he said.
"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.
Police blocked off traffic in a Highlands Ranch neighborhood Tuesday evening and appeared to be searching a home. Sheriff's officials would not confirm whether the search was connected to the shooting.
A message left at a phone number listed for Erickson's home was not immediately returned.
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 grade. The Highlands Ranch community is about 15 miles south of Denver.
As the gunfire rang out, students ran through the halls shouting "School shooter!" Some wondered at first if it was a joke or a drill.
"At the moment no one really knew what was going on so I didn't know they were bullets," said seventh-grader Sophia Marks. "I just kind of saw like flashes and we heard bangs."
Chris Elledge, 15, said his teacher told the class to hide behind weight equipment in the room, where they stayed until police arrived.
"They busted in the room, and they were asking if there was any suspects in the room, if we were OK, and they escorted us out to go out to the front of the building," Elledge said.
Frantic parents used their cellphones to find their children as news of the shooting spread. Sophia Marks' mother, Sara Marks, said she has two other children who also go to the school.
"When you have no idea what's going on and the children are texting you that they're hiding under a desk and bullets are hitting their window, or things are hitting their window, it's a horrible feeling," 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.
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 seven miles in communities south of Denver.
"Tragically, this community and those surrounding it know all too well these hateful and horrible acts of violence," White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. President Trump had been briefed on the shooting and was in touch with state and local officials, Deere said.
Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, a gun-control supporter whose congressional district includes STEM, said the gun violence cannot continue.