Authorities are working to confirm the identity of a body found in a Colorado wooded area Wednesday near a vehicle connected to a 17-year-old student accused of shooting two staff members at a Denver high school – a community that was already reeling from a fatal incident of gun violence last month.
A male body was found around 8:15 p.m. Wednesday in Park County near a red Volvo SUV sought by law enforcement, Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw said during a news conference later that evening.
The body’s identification is pending a coroner’s determination, which is expected to be released Thursday, McGraw added.
The suspect who allegedly shot and wounded two staff members at East High School on Wednesday morning was identified as Austin Lyle, a student under a safety protocol that required him to undergo daily pat down searches upon entering the school, according to Denver police officials. An hourslong manhunt ensued after the suspected student fled the scene.
One staff member is in critical condition, while another suffered serious injuries and is stable, Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas said Wednesday.
In an attempt to assuage an apprehensive community, McGraw told reporters on Wednesday that people should be “relieved,” adding that an earlier shelter-in-place alert for Park County residents near where the SUV was found – about 50 miles southwest of Denver – has been lifted.
“It’s over,” McGraw said.
The search for the suspect’s vehicle Wednesday was “quite intense,” McGraw said, adding that multiple local law enforcement agencies were involved as well as the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Ultimately, the Jefferson County SWAT team led the search and located a body about 1,000 feet from the suspect’s vehicle, roughly four hours after the SUV was first located around 4:30 p.m., according to McGraw.
The sheriff declined to say how the death happened and declined to disclose whether there was a gun found near the body. As of Wednesday, police did not say whether the gun used in the shooting had been recovered.
The person’s identity and cause of death will be determined by the Park County Medical Examiner’s Office, Denver Police said in a tweet late Wednesday.
The shooting at East High School was the 18th shooting this year at an elementary or secondary school in the US in which at least one person was injured or killed, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit whose mission is to log every incident of gun violence nationwide in real time.
Last month, 16-year-old student Luis Garcia was shot inside a parked car near the school and died weeks later, according to CNN affiliate KMGH. A group of East High students later attended a city council meeting and demanded action on gun violence and school safety, KMGH reported.
Alex Marrero, the superintendent of Denver Public Schools, released a statement Wednesday implementing a policy requiring two armed police officers from the Denver Police Department to be stationed at East High School during school hours.
“Today was my fourth visit to Denver Health’s Intensive Care Unit due to victims of gun violence. These events should not have happened on my watch or on this Board’s watch,” Marrero wrote. “It is a sad and tragic day for East High School, Denver Public Schools, and our entire Denver community.”
East High will close for the remainder of the week following the shooting, Marrero said during a news conference Wednesday.
The shooting at East High is yet another example of how violence shatters one of the most conventional – yet dangerously prone – places for children. And for students at the school, the chaos was all too familiar.
Aubriana Acuna said she was “freaking out” when she learned of the shooting and said it’s unfair that she has to endure the constant occurrences of gun violence.
“We’re just kind of numb to it at this point since this has happened so much,” she told KMGH. “We’re so exhausted about all this. It’s so unfair. … This happens almost every single day. I can’t even walk outside my house without feeling like I’m gonna die, or I’m gonna get shot. And it’s terrifying for everyone.”
Students have come out in scores recently to demand a change in how gun violence is being handled in their community.
The Denver East High School chapter of Students Demand Action staged a school walkout and called for immediate action on gun safety earlier this month. The demonstration was marked by a march through the city to the State Capitol building and featured more than 1,000 students and educators, according to the organization.
Students at the event wore red and held signs such as “School was my safe place,” “Our blood, your hands” and “Am I next?,” according to KMGH.
East High, located in the City Park neighborhood, serves about 2,500 students in 9th through 12th grades. The school is the largest and highest-performing comprehensive high school of all Denver Public Schools, according to the school system.