CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (CBS4) – More parents of students shot at STEM School Highlands Ranch testified in the reverse transfer hearing for one of the suspects on Friday along with a therapist, investigator, and a youth offender coordinator. A Douglas County judge will decide if Alec McKinney should be tried as a juvenile or an adult.
“Mom, I’ve been involved in a school shooting,” Laurie Jones remembers her son telling her over the phone. “My world just changed.”
Jones is the mother of five children including Joshua Jones who rushed one of the shooters on May 7. One of three children in the family attending STEM School, he followed his older brother and found it to be a good fit for him. Jones had a total of four gunshot wounds, his two siblings were not injured in the shooting.
“No one wants to send their child to school and have them run toward a shooter,” Mrs. Jones said. “I will tell you I was terrified.”
She said it was difficult to send her children back to school after the shooting. Jones also testified that her son asked about his friend, Kendrick Castillo. She had to tell him he died in the shooting, he was the only student not to survive that day. Jones shared from the witness stand that on July 4, her son was not able to enjoy a fireworks show because it sounded too much like gunshots.
“These kids are so young to have to deal with something like that,” she said. “You don’t ever expect this to happen.”
Her son is currently on his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Colombia.
“My biggest concern was how he felt about himself,” said Ashley Williamson, a licensed professional counselor from the witness stand.
The defense called Williamson, McKinney’s therapist, to testify about seeing him as a patient between 2017 and 2019. She discussed his issues with anxiety, his desire to cut himself, as well as gender identity issues while he was a patient. Over that time they also evaluated the impact of certain medications on him and the dynamic at home with his mother.
But the prosecution pointed out that while the therapist was aware of some of the challenges McKinney was facing, he withheld a lot of information from her including drug use and thoughts of harming others. The prosecution also revealed he studied the case of Sol Pais, a woman from Florida who was infatuated with the Columbine shooting and traveled to Colorado near the 20th anniversary. After a manhunt in the state she was found dead.
The defense also questioned Williamson’s view on McKinney’s mother given all the information about the defendant she never learned and the therapist admitted his treatment would have been different if she knew more about his struggles.
“I’m going to fail at life, I’m never going to be happy,” Williamson recalled McKinney saying to her.
The defense also called one of their investigators to the stand to enter into evidence photos of a journal found by McKinney’s mother. But prosecutors pointed out the investigator, Amy Barros, did not speak to McKinney and none of the entries included dates from 2019 or the months leading up to the shooting.
Dr. Carl Blake is a sex offense coordinator for the Division of Youth Services. The defense asked him to testify about how DYS handles juvenile offenders, especially those with serious crimes. As an expert witness for the court, he explained the therapy sessions provided to offenders and the security in place at their facilities. The prosecution questioned the number of escapes in a given year in their cross examination. Blake explained the methods in place to prevent escapes.
“I would do anything for my kids,” said Yuritza Ojeda-Ayala, a mother also asked to testify in the hearing by the prosecution. “So whatever we have to do, we will do it.”
Her family lives near Denver International Airport but her husband would commute one hour each way to take their kids to STEM School. Her son Gerardo was another example of someone who found the school to be the right fit for his education. She said that he is good at math but has dyslexia and the school accommodated his needs.
Her daughter notified her of the shooting that day and she rushed to try and find her son. After going to the wrong hospital, she eventually found him. He had a bullet hit his head but did not suffer any brain damage. Still she shared how the shooting has changed their lives forever. As an educator, she could not return to the same job as an administrator for Denver Public Schools. Practice drills are difficult for her now. Both the parents and the children in their family all struggle to sleep as well. Her daughter was not physically harmed but because she saw and heard the shooting nearby, she no longer wants to go to school.
Ojeda-Ayala’s son used to love to be outside and play soccer but not anymore.
“He doesn’t have a spark anymore,” she said from the witness stand.
Both sides plan to call more witnesses to testify this week for the hearing.