East High shooting: Dean Wayne Mason, 1 of 2 admins shot, speaks about shooter and how incident unfolded

“The moment Austin pulled that trigger, I forgave him.”
7 min. read
East High School dean Wayne Mason in his first public appearance since he was shot March 21 on campus by a student.
Jenny Brundin/CPR

"The moment Austin pulled that trigger, I forgave him."

That's one of the first things that East High School dean Wayne Mason said Monday afternoon in his first public appearance since he was shot March 21 on campus by student Austin Lyle.

Mason was one of two administrators shot that day. Both were taken to the hospital where they recovered from their injuries. Lyle took his own life in the mountains an hour east of Denver later than evening.

"The regret I have right now is that he is not here for me to tell him that," Mason said, who is still healing from a bullet that entered and exited his chest.

On Monday Mason discussed what happened that day at the weekly press conference of Parents Safety Advocacy Group, P-SAG, that is lobbying for better school safety in Denver Public Schools in the wake of the shooting.

Mason reaffirmed some facts that have been reported previously by Denver Public Schools officials but diverged from other accounts.

Police reported the incident occurred during a mandatory "pat-down" as part of a daily safety plan. However, Mason contends a pat-down of Lyle, which was required each day because the 17-year-old was on probation for a prior weapons charge, did not take place during the shooting.

"There was a common administrator who normally would engage with the student upon arrival," said Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero at a press conference the day after the shooting. "That administrator was not available."

Mason said he and the second administrator injured in the shooting, Eric Sinclair, did not search Lyle the morning he walked into the school. He also said he wasn't familiar with the daily procedure for Lyle.

Mason shared his timeline of that day

Mason said he was stationed at the front desk when Lyle entered the building and asked for one of the assistant principals. It's unclear why Lyle asked for the assistant principal or whether that assistant principal was connected to a protocol that Lyle was supposed to be following.

Mason radioed for the assistant principal who didn't answer.

"It was chaotic in the school," said Mason.

Part of the chaos was due to an assembly. But part of the chaos stemmed from the fact that, according to Mason, the school was chronically understaffed. One dean had taken a promotion to another school, leaving East, which has 2,500 students, with three deans. He said the vacant dean position wasn't filled for most of the school year. The remaining deans were left to monitor the doors.

Sinclair approached Lyle and offered to take him back to the office, where he called for the assistant principal again, according to Mason. Neither the assistant principal nor safety officers answered.

"That's when Austin got aggressive," Mason said.

"Shortly after that, Eric was yelling on the radio, 'Wayne, Wayne help me, help me,'" said Mason. "I knew what was going on. I knew the situation."

Mason ran to the office and saw Lyle and Sinclair wrestling. Mason said he grabbed Lyle. Sinclair yelled, "Gun, Gun!"

Lyle fired off two or three shots, Mason said.

As Mason grabbed Lyle's arm, he saw Sinclair fall to the floor.

"Austin turned his wrist toward me. He fired two shots, and he hit me," Mason said.  "Austin broke away from me. He stood there staring at Eric and me, still pointing the gun at us. And then he ran out of the room."

Mason grabbed some towels, lifted up Sinclair's shirt and placed pressure on his wound. He said Sinclair's leg was also bleeding badly.

"And it is by the grace of God, I truly believe, that the paramedics were literally one room over," Mason said.

"I just started praying. I was holding Eric's hand. And then I just said, I'm hit too. And the paramedic started to work on me. Then they got us out of there."

"The biggest red flag there"

Mason said two or three weeks prior to the shooting another student saw Lyle in class with a firearm and reported it to the staff, and Lyle fled the school. The district has maintained that, because Lyle's father refused to allow police to search his house, no firearm was found and the 17-year-old was allowed back into school.

Mason said the eye witness report of Lyle with a gun was "the biggest red flag there." He believes that should have triggered an armed safety patrol every morning Lyle came to school.

"They should have met Austin at the door with a show of force and saying, 'OK, we're going to search.' Maybe, just maybe, that would've stopped that behavior. We don't know."

However, DPS had removed armed school resource officers from schools in 2020.

Mason addressed whether schools should have metal detectors or whether those officers will be brought back.

"These are things that could prevent school violence," Mason said. "As a victim of school violence, I believe that there were things that we left on the table that should have been taken care of but weren't."

"If the police officers are in the school, (students) know that they're there," said Mason, who was in the Navy for eight years.

Mason also said he believes it's not appropriate for deans to do pat-downs because they aren't trained properly. Mason, who was also a federal probation officer for 20 years, said some of the pat-downs he's witnessed at East are "casual." He believes the school safety patrol officers should do pat-downs.

He said unless there are changes, a similar incident will happen again.

"But we have to be consistent with whatever plan we come up with," he said. "And I think it has to be known throughout the faculty that this is how we handle this situation or this individual."

"The day that we were shot, one of the things the superintendent told me is, yeah, we're putting SROs back in the school, for the rest of the school year," he said. "What about next year?"

Still healing

Mason said he's only had three contacts with DPS officials -- one conversation with the superintendent, one with district administration and one from the East High principal.

He said his friends, his church as well as the staff and students are what has helped him most.

When asked whether he is considering a lawsuit, Mason said he could not discuss that.

"We have to be better," he said. "Our administration has to be better ... That's what we are here for right now is we want to make sure that things are better than they were before."

The Denver school district has released a draft of its new safety plan. Initial language would allow individual schools to decide whether they want armed police on campus. The school board has requested a final version by June 23.

Meanwhile, the Parents Safety Advocacy group has called the initial draft vague. They say it lacks an examination of the root causes related to recent violent events and lacks best practice interventions for high-risk scenarios.

They're asking for transparent safety data, a reallocation of funds to prioritize safety and more support for high-risk students at alternative schools. They called the current discipline matrix that determines what happens to students when they are disruptive or commit a crime "confusing" and want it overhauled.

Theresa Peña, a former DPS school board president, said they'd like DPS to examine the Littleton School District's code of conduct as a model. If the district isn't going to adopt a different discipline policy, they're recommending mandatory expulsion for students who carry firearms on school campuses. They'd also require a mandatory expulsion hearing for any violations that involve robbery and sexual assault. There would be an appeals process for the student.

"We would recommend a complete overhaul of training on the (discipline) policy ladder and matrix for any school personnel who are dealing with this in their environment," Peña said. "Let's just get this done."

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