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Dean Wayne Mason says there were ‘red flags’ before East High shooting

A man with a red cap stands in the middle of a group of people under sky with heavy clouds.

Wayne Mason, center in the red cap, was working as a dean at Denver’s East High School when he was shot by a student in March. Mason spoke publicly for the first time Monday.

Melanie Asmar / Chalkbeat

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The moment Austin Lyle pulled the trigger and shot Wayne Mason inside Denver’s East High School on March 22, Mason said he forgave him. 

“The regret I have right now is that he’s not here for me to tell him that,” said Mason, who was a dean at East when 17-year-old Lyle shot him and another dean. Lyle later took his own life.

Mason told his story publicly for the first time Monday at a weekly press conference held by a group called Parents - Safety Advocacy Group that formed in the wake of the shooting. The other dean who was shot, Eric Sinclair, hasn’t spoken publicly. 

Mason also revealed new details about Lyle, including that another East student had reportedly seen Lyle with a gun in class a few weeks before the March shooting, and told East High staff. But when staff members tried to search Lyle, he ran out of the school, Mason said. 

“That is the biggest red flag there,” Mason said, “and then he was allowed back into the school.”

Lyle had a previous weapons charge, had been expelled from another school district, and was supposed to be searched every day by East staff because of his past behavior — a protocol that was in place before another student reportedly spotted him with a gun, Mason said. 

But Mason said he and Sinclair didn’t search Lyle that day. The Denver police and school district officials have said the shooting happened while the deans were searching Lyle for weapons.

On March 22, Mason said he was in the front office when Lyle came into school and asked for a specific assistant principal. Mason said he called for the assistant principal on the radio, but there was a school assembly going on and the assistant principal didn’t answer. 

Sinclair offered to take Lyle into the deans’ office, Room 129, Mason said. Sinclair then tried calling for the assistant principal and for security officers. But still no one answered, Mason said. 

“Shortly after that, Eric was yelling in the radio, ‘Wayne, Wayne, help me, help me!’” Mason said. 

“I ran back to 129, opened the door. Eric and Austin were wrestling. I grabbed Austin, and Eric said, ‘Gun, gun!’ Austin fired off some shots, I think two or three shots.”

Mason said he saw Sinclair go down. Mason grabbed Lyle’s arm, he said, and then Lyle “turned his wrist toward me and he fired two shots and he hit me. Austin broke away from me and he stood there, staring at Eric and I, still pointing the gun at us. And then he ran out of the room.”

Sinclair was bleeding badly, Mason said. He grabbed some towels and began putting pressure on Sinclair’s wound. It was only after paramedics who happened to be at the school for an unrelated medical issue arrived that Mason told them he’d been shot too.

“I just started praying and I was holding Eric’s hand,” said Mason, who was shot in the chest.

“I’m sad that my friend had to go through that. There should have been procedures put in place that he did not have to be alone with Austin. But he was.”

Denver Public Schools spokesperson Scott Pribble said on Monday that the press conference was the first time he’d heard a different version of events and could not comment on whether Lyle had been spotted with a gun on campus several weeks before the shooting or why he was allowed back at East after that.

On Tuesday, Pribble confirmed that another student reported seeing Lyle with a gun in school about two and a half weeks before the shooting. But Pribble said that when school staff searched Lyle, they found nothing. That’s when Lyle fled the school, Pribble said. A followup investigation also found nothing, Pribble said, which is why Lyle was allowed back.

Mason said, “If that’s the case, then we should have had armed safety patrol every morning that Austin came into the school because we knew his history. … They should have met Austin at the door with a show of force and saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to search.’”

“Maybe, just maybe, that would have stopped that behavior.”

Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.

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