“Another day has gone by; another shooting has gone by, and it’s so normalized that we almost expect it, and it’s not surprising when it happens anymore.”
Kaylan Bailey is one of the hundreds of people to survive a mass shooting here in Colorado. Sitting in a CNN studio just days after the STEM school shooting, this survivor of the Aurora theater massacre talks about what has become the new normal.
School shootings are no longer unusual. Not that anyone is used to them. Or even remotely okay with them. But surprised by them? Not anymore. So, when word leaked one of the two alleged STEM school shooters might be a girl, even the most seasoned observers were stunned.
It’s rare for a mass shooter to be a woman. Rarer still to be a teenage girl. Turns out the alleged shooter is even more uncommon, and isn’t actually a woman.
Sixteen-year-old Alec McKinney was formally charged as Maya Elizabeth McKinney. He is transgender.
What makes this so unusual, experts say, is the vast majority of transgender teens turn any violent tendencies inward. Depression, anxiety, and suicide are rampant. More than half of all transgender boys responding to the American Academy of Pediatrics survey report attempting suicide at least once.
To put that in perspective, the attempted suicide rates among transgender teens is roughly nine times higher—nine-times higher—than the general population.
Dr. Debbie Carter studies violence among teens and councils transitioning adolescents at the Anschutz Medical Campus. She warns too often after a violent act there is a tendency to stereotype people we see as different. Just as Muslims became targets after 9/11, we need to look at the figures and not the fears. Statistically, transgender people are far more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators of it.
“We’re all trying to figure out how to understand the public health issue of violence, and that when there’s someone who seems to be different … usually a shooter, people add a lot of characteristics,” she said.
One key to turning violence around is to study what triggers it and work to turn those triggers around.
“Violence is a public health issue. Everybody’s more than disappointed, saddened, grieving that individuals that are not yet adults choose violent methods,” she said.
No one feels this more than the students and parents from the STEM school in Highlands Ranch. McKinney and 18-year-old Devon Erickson are accused of stealing weapons from Erickson’s parents, then going on a shooting spree that left one student dead and eight others injured.
The shooting took place less than eight miles from Columbine High School, the site of the deadliest student massacre in Colorado history. It also took place less than a month after Columbine’s 20th anniversary.
But, unlike Columbine, the number of kids killed did not reach double digits. Thirteen died at Columbine. One at the STEM school. Why? Survivors credit Kendrick Castillo and three other students for jumping one of the alleged shooters, allowing classmates to run for safety.
Castillo, a robotics enthusiast, was killed just three days before graduating high school. At his funeral, his father described him as a great lover of humanity and urged the estimated 2,000 mourners there to be more like his son and put love and compassion for others first.
“If I had to describe him a certain way, the first would be love, the love for anybody that he met,” said John Castillo. “We all really, really love Kendrick, but to carry on his life’s message, we need to be more like him.”
One classmate who witnessed the attack told NBC’s Today Show that at least three of her classmates are just like Castillo. Brendan Baily, Jackson Gregory, and Lucas Albertoni helped him stop the shooting.
“The next thing I know [the shooter] is pulling a gun, and he’s telling nobody to move, and that’s when Kendrick lunged at him, and he shot Kendrick, giving all of us enough time to get underneath our desks, to get ourselves safe, and to run across the room to escape,” said Nui Giasolli.
All eight students injured in the shooting have been released from area hospitals. The youngest is just 15 years old. But, the outcome could have been so much worse. The free, K-12 charter school has more than 1,850 students who range in age from 5 to 18.
Questions are being raised about security after concerns came to light. In May of 2018, a popular cheerleader reportedly told the school board she was leaving the school because she didn’t feel safe. She told the board they needed more security.
Seven months later, a parent reportedly called the school anonymously to report fears the school could face a mass shooting like those at Columbine or Arapahoe. An investigation by the school found no evidence to support the allegations, according to Colorado Public Radio.
That parent is now being sued for defamation. The STEM school is being represented by the attorney representing a group trying to stop Colorado legislation allowing guns to be temporarily removed from people who pose a threat to themselves or others.
Both suspects are being tried as adults. They each face nearly 50 criminal counts. Castillo’s parents were in the courtroom when charges were handed down just hours before their only child was laid to rest.
“It would have been easy for them to say, ‘I’m not going to make it to court today, because in less than two hours we’re going to have a memorial service for our son,'” District Attorney George Brauchler said of Castillo’s parents. “But from the word ‘go,’ they have made it clear that their intention is to be here for every single hearing.”
Seeking justice can be a long and winding road. Just ask Bailey. It took more than three years for the Aurora theater shooter just to get to trial. Bailey was only 13 years old when she was caught in the crossfire. Since his conviction, she’s worked to help others cope with the unimaginable.
“It’s just the thought and the process of the fact that it does keep happening, and we have the power to control that and stop it, and yet here we are,” she said.