DENVER -- Angry Denver students and parents demanded better school security and pushed for tighter firearm controls Thursday, a day after a 17-year-old student shot and wounded two administrators at a city high school beset with violence.
More than 1,000 students rallied at the Colorado Capitol to push gun overhaul legislation, while school board members endorsed the district superintendent's abrupt reversal of a policy that had banned armed officers from Denver schools.
The shooting at East High School near downtown occurred as administrators were searching for weapons on suspect Austin Lyle, who fled from the scene and was found dead Wednesday night in the mountains southwest of Denver. He died from a self-inlflicted gunshot wound, the Park County coroner said.
Educators for decades have grappled with how to keep students safe as violence has intensified, and the Denver shooting stoked an immediate backlash among parents who said security was too lax.
The uproar echoed community anger after other school shootings -- from last year's unchecked rampage by a gunman in Uvalde, Texas, who killed 19 elementary school children and two adults, to January's shooting of a Virginia teacher by a 6-year-old student. The tragedies underscore a chronic problem: keeping guns out of schools even as they proliferate in the community.
"We're scared to go to school," East High School sophomore Anna Hay said during Thursday's rally at the Capitol. "We want to have these legislators look us in our eyes when they tell us they won't pass gun legislation."
As Wednesday's shooting unfolded, Hay heard sirens from emergency vehicles and had a sinking realization that the danger was real. "Watching your friends and the fear in their eyes ... it's the worst feeling in the world," she said.
East High School parent Steve Katsaros said putting police into schools was just part of the solution. He also wants the campus closed to outsiders and a ban on students wearing hooded sweatshirts so they can be more easily identified following disruptions.
"This place is a ticking time bomb," Katsaros said.
The administrators who were shot were unarmed, said Denver schools spokesperson Scott Pribble. Experts say putting civilian administrators in charge of searching a student for weapons was a mistake. Such tasks should be left to trained, armed school resource officers fitted with body armor, said Mo Canady with the National Association of School Resource Officers.
Denver is one of many communities in the U.S. that decided to phase out school resource officers in the summer of 2020 amid protests over racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd by police. The shift away from an armed presence in schools followed concern that officers disproportionately arrest students of color.
The Denver 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.
One of the wounded administrators remained hospitalized in serious condition Thursday while the second was treated and released, said Denver Health spokesperson Heather Burke.
In response to the shooting, two armed officers will be posted at East High School through the end of the school year. Other city high schools will each get an officer, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero said.
A state lawmaker voiced concern about the swift change in policy, citing research that shows having police in schools is associated with more suspensions and expulsions for students of color.
"In order to provide some sense of safety they are going to an extreme that is safe for a certain population and extremely unsafe for another," said Democrat Rep. Lorena Garcia.
Information for this article was contributed by Rio Yamat of The Associated Press.
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