It wasn’t Wednesday’s shooting that put East High School at the center of the gun debate at the Colorado State Capitol, rather a pattern of gun violence and threats over the course of a single school year.
That pattern started with a shooting on September 8, when an East High School student and a 20-year-old man were injured outside the Carla Madison Recreation Center.
A preliminary investigation revealed the shooting stemmed from an altercation that 14-year-old RJ Harding was not involved in. Denver police arrested two 16-year-old boys for their involvement in the incident.
Two days after the shooting that injured Harding, police responded to threats at the school, placed it on lockdown and evacuated it before clearing the building and releasing students to their parents. The threat was unfounded and one of several swatting calls made to police about schools across the state.
In February, 16-year-old Luis Garcia was shot while inside a parked car near East High School. He died from his injuries 17 days later.
Shortly after the incident, two suspects were taken into custody following a police pursuit in the area of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Elmira Street. The suspects — a 16-year-old boy and a 17-year-old boy — were in a stolen Kia Sportage, which crashed and ended upside down during the pursuit.
Two days after Garcia’s death, students walked out of East High School and marched to the capitol to demand change, speaking with lawmakers about what they would like to see done.
Then, two weeks later, a handful of students sat through hours of contentious debate in a Colorado Senate committee hearing to testify in favor of a bill that would add a three-day waiting period for firearm purchases in the state.
“Guns have turned my school into a crime scene three times. I have not even completed one year in high school, and I've already experienced three traumatic events,” one student testified. “Am I next? Will I be the next victim, the next case, the next student held at gunpoint?”
That student went on to describe what it was like to live through the lockdown in September, where she crouched under her desk in her geometry class with the lights off before a SWAT team came in, told them to put their hands in the air and marched the students outside to the football field.
Wednesday’s shooting happened the same day a Colorado House committee debated two major gun reform bills: one to expand red flag laws in the state and another to allow people to sue gun manufacturers.
In the hours after the shooting, Moms Demand Action put out a call to its supporters, asking for people to show up to testify in favor of the bills.
“We have to do more to protect our kids, because our kids really are bearing the brunt of our failure,” said Mary Liz Callaway from Moms Demand Action.
Callaway admits that even if these bills were enacted, there is no guarantee they would have prevented the recent shootings at East High. However, they insist each piece of legislation that passes will keep firearms out of the hands of those who mean to do others harm.
“Gun violence prevention is like a stack of Swiss cheese. And each slice represents something you can do on a piece of education or a bill. And, yes, there are holes in every single bill, but you stack enough of them together, and you have got a really solid defense,” she said.
More than 100 people signed up to testify either for or against the bills in the House committee. There is considerable opposition to both, however, they are expected to pass.