Public schools Superintendent Alex Marrero stood at the hospital bed of a 14-year-old boy who had been struck in the face by a stray bullet across the street from East High School.
A dispute among a group of teenagers had escalated into gunfire on Sept. 7, a few weeks into the start of the school year. The injured boy, who couldn’t speak, wrote down a question to Marrero: “Why did I get shot?”
The 40-year-old schools chief had left New York to take the job in 2021, accepting responsibility for the instruction and safety of nearly 90,000 students. “I felt like I had failed for the first time as an educator,” he said about the boy.
Denver school authorities would by the end of the school year catch 16 students around the city bringing guns to campus, a five-year high. The district’s board of education had decided to remove Denver police officers from campuses the year before Marrero arrived. He wondered what it would take for them to change their mind.
The boy’s shooting was the first act of violence that marked two turbulent semesters at East High, the district’s flagship campus. The school occupies a century-old four-story brick building, where hallways are lined with state championship trophies, academic honors and photos of famous alumni, including Don Cheadle and members of the musical group Earth, Wind & Fire.