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.”
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.”