East High student seriously injured in shooting near school, classes canceled Tuesday

The outside of East High School. It is a stately brick building with lots of windows and a clocktower.
East High School is the largest in Denver Public Schools, with more than 2,500 students. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Editor’s Note: This story was updated Tuesday afternoon with more information about the people taken into custody.

Classes are canceled Tuesday at Denver’s East High School as the community grapples with another incident of gun violence on the school’s doorstep. 

A 16-year-old male student was shot outside the school just after 2:30 p.m. Monday, Denver police said. As of the early evening, the injured student’s prognosis was “very poor,” police said.

It’s the second time this school year that an East student was shot and seriously injured near the school. In September, another boy was shot in the face outside a recreation center next to the school on Colfax Avenue. 

Also in September, the school was the target of a hoax call claiming that there was an active shooter in the building, leading to a lockdown, an intense police response, and shattered nerves among both students and staff.

Superintendent Alex Marrero has called gun violence his top concern, “a ticking time bomb” that could prevent the district from making progress on academics and other areas.

About 20 minutes after the shooting at East High Monday, at about 2:55 p.m., a second shooting near Denver Public Schools headquarters resulted in two victims — an adult and a 17-year-old — being transported to the hospital, police said.

It doesn’t appear the two shootings are related, said Joe Montoya, Denver police division chief of investigations. At an early evening press conference, Montoya said he didn’t know whether any DPS students were involved in the shooting near district headquarters at East 18th Avenue and Lincoln Street. A district spokesperson said he didn’t know either.

In addition to administrative offices, there are three schools in the district headquarters building: Emily Griffith Technical College, Emily Griffith High School, and Downtown Denver Expeditionary School, an elementary school.

East High canceled classes and extracurricular activities for Tuesday in the aftermath of Monday’s shooting, according to a message sent to families and obtained by Chalkbeat. The school will reopen Wednesday, it says. 

“We will be taking this school closure day to take a collective breath as a community and create opportunities to seek the emotional and mental health support that our community requires,” the message says.

The message lists some resources, including free counseling sessions for students through the state’s I Matter program. It also notes that “additional security” will be present at East High “as we work with local law enforcement to counteract these incidents of city violence.”

The victim in the shooting near East High School, at East 17th Avenue and Esplanade, just north of the school, was inside a car when he was struck by gunfire, Montoya said. It appears the shots were fired from a different car, a white Kia Sportage.

Montoya said officers stopped a white Kia Sportage in northeast Denver around 4:30 p.m. after a brief chase and took two people into custody. The car appears to have been stolen, police said.

“Do not know any motives at this point,” Montoya said at Monday’s press conference. “No indication that there was any kind of altercation between the two cars previous to the shooting.”

On Tuesday, a Denver police spokesperson said by email that the two people in custody are Denver Public Schools students but not students at East. A 17-year-old boy is being held for investigation of illegal possession of a handgun, and a 16-year-old boy is being held for investigation of auto theft and felony eluding.

Neither boy has been formally arrested for the shooting, police said, adding that the Denver District Attorney’s Office will make final decisions about charges.

Police continue to ask members of the public to come forward with information about the shooting by calling Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867.

Montoya said it will take the entire community to get to the root of rising gun violence and get young people to “disengage.” 

“You ruin the life of the person who is struck by gunfire, but also the young individuals who are involved in that, their life is off track for many years to come,” he said.

Marrero has not issued a public statement on the shooting. 

District data shows the number of weapons found at schools and confiscated from students has skyrocketed since before the pandemic. In the 2018-19 school year, the district found two guns and nine fake guns at schools, according to data Chalkbeat received in an open records request. Last school year, the total was 13 guns and 28 fake guns.

This school year is likely to be similar. As of November, just four months into the school year, the district had already found seven guns and 17 fake guns at schools.

Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.

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