Claire Davis’ grace, light stronger in death

Arapahoe High School shooting victim dies

A steady stream of visitors paused at a make-shift memorial at Arapahoe High School in Centennial on Sunday, Dec. 22, a day after 17-year-old Claire Davis died of injuries sustained in the Dec. 13 shooting by a classmate.

“Forever in our hearts,” read a new bright yellow sign. “Heaven has gained an angel.”ClaireYellowSign_Web

Many visitors on Sunday did not know Davis but felt a need to pay their respects upon hearing of her death on Saturday, Dec. 21, after eight days on life support.

She was shot in the head by classmate Karl Pierson, 18, who then took his own life. Authorities said Pierson armed with a shotgun and machete was targeting a librarian. Davis was likely at the wrong place at the wrong time when she was shot.

“You feel a little guilt because your child is OK, but you also are so grateful,” said parent Julie Corbett, whose son, Zac Connell, a junior at Arapahoe, celebrated his 17th birthday on Dec. 13.

Corbett visited the memorial with her daughters, Ashley, 13, and Megan, 11, who left a small stuffed dog at the memorial.

“We wanted to bring something to say goodbye,” Julie said. “It is wonderful to see this community has so much love for one another.”

The memorial on the south-side of the high school began growing shortly after the shooting. Several stuffed and plastic horses were left to commemorate Davis’ love of equestrian. New bouquets of roses and daisies stuck into the chain-link fence brightened the dried dead flowers.

Arapahoe alumni Ray Evans stopped by with a single yellow rose that he gently laid on the ground. He graduated in 1995 but has been wearing his high school letter jacket since he heard of the shooting.

“I had a good four years here and a lot of good memories,” said Evans with tears in his eyes. “These kids had to go through something so horrible that they will not have the same fond memories and that makes me sad.”

Evans traveled from Salt Lake City to spend the holidays with his parents and felt drawn to the memorial. He spent several minutes looking at the messages left by fellow classmates and other high school students throughout the area, including Regis Jesuit and Mullen high schools.

“When I was in high school, we didn’t have to worry about shootings but now kids have to do drills,” Evans said. “While that’s sad, those drills likely saved lives.”

Law authorities say it was only 80 seconds from the time the shooter entered the high school, shot Davis and then committed suicide. They credit a school deputy for his quick response along with lockdown training for teachers and students for avoiding more casualties.

“One child’s death is too many but oh, my, it could have been worse,” said Betty Johnson, who brought a small poinsettia to the memorial. “I pray for Claire and for all the students who will carry this with them the rest of their lives.”

Several parents visited the memorial even though their children do not attend the school. Among them were Chris and Sandy King, whose daughters are grown, but they can sympathize with the impact of the violence.

“As parents, it hits close to home,” Sandy said.

Other parents said they can’t image the Davis family’s grief. The family released a statement that read, in part:

“Although we have lost our precious daughter, we will always be grateful for the indelible journey she took us on over the last 17 years—we were truly blessed to be Claire’s parents. The grace, laughter and light she brought to this world will not be extinguished by her death; to the contrary, it will only get stronger.”

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.