Arapahoe High School students tearfully reunited with parents the afternoon of Friday, Dec. 13 after a lone gunman with an apparent grudge fired shots and critically injured one at the school before killing himself.
Claire Davis, 17, remained in critical condition Dec. 16, stable but in a coma; one was released from the hospital and three students were treated for anxiety as crisis counselors arrived on scene after the tragedy, according to officials.
The shooter, identified as Karl Halverson Pierson, 18, was a student at the Centennial school.
Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila responded to the school shooting Friday saying, “the battle between good and evil continues.”
“Unfortunately for all of us … we are once again confronted with the effects of a culture that has little respect for life and is desperately in need of God’s merciful healing,” he said in a statement. “As we prepare our hearts for the celebration of the birth of Christ, let’s keep our youth in our prayers.”
Sophomore student Tori Gilliard hugged each of her parents after being released by school authorities outside Shepherd of the Hills Church in Centennial.
A few hours earlier she texted her parents “I love you” once she realized the school was under attack, Gilliard said.
“I just wanted to get that last word in in case something happened,” Gilliard said.
Students first thought the loud noises from the hallway was a book dropping, but quickly locked the classroom doors and huddled after realizing it was a series of gunshots.
“I was just shocked at first,” Gilliard said.
Dietrich and Caroline Whiteside were worried about their sons, 12th-grader Will and ninth-grader Derek when they learned of the shooting.
Will said his classroom’s projector and computer started shaking after loud sounds came from the hallway.
“I didn’t know what that was,” he said about the noises.
Will said he and his classmates were unharmed.
Others amidst the reunions came to pray and offer support for students and families.
“(We want them) to know that even in this, God was here,” said Jason Austin with his wife, Cassandra, of Elizabeth.
Nearby, All Souls School in Englewood was locked down and parents were asked to pick up students inside. Other area schools, St. Thomas More, St. Therese, St. Pius, St. Mary’s in Littleton, Our Lady of Loreto, St. Louis in Englewood, and Bishop Machebeuf High School also followed lockdown procedures.
“Our kids in the school did not know there was a shooting,” said Father Bob Fisher, pastor of All Souls Church.
Some 25 alumni of All Souls now attend Arapahoe High, according to principal William Moore. These students were not harmed by the shooting.
Several teachers from All Souls and St. Thomas More schools were released early to pick-up their children who attend Arapahoe High.
Reports of the school shooting began after noon Friday when emergency officials received a call about the gunfire.
Police say the suspect—who was a senior at the school—was armed with a shotgun and a machete and walked into the west entrance. He immediately asked students about the location of debate coach Tracy Murphy.
“That teacher was the purpose of the suspect coming to the school,” Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said. “There was no warning of the threat.”
Murphy heard the suspect was searching for him and fled in an attempt to draw the shooter away from the school, he said.
Davis was shot in the head at point-blank range, at the entry of the school. The suspect then set off a device police identified as a Molotov cocktail, creating “a significant amount of smoke in the immediate area,” he said.
The suspect then shot himself. His body was found in the library, Robinson said.
Pierson apparently harbored a grudge against Murphy after being disciplined by him in September.
Police searched the suspect’s Highlands Ranch home late Dec. 13. Authorities said an investigation is ongoing. Classes are expected to resume in January.
The shooting took place on the eve of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre anniversary and a few miles from Columbine High School, where two students killed 13 classmates and themselves in 1999. Last July was the one-year anniversary of the Century Movie Theater shooting in Aurora that left 12 dead.
Archbishop Aquila said he is saddened by the tragedy and that his “heart goes out to the victims and their families.”
“Let us pray that as a culture we find the path to peace and to goodness that begins with accepting God’s mercy and forgiveness, and his eternal love for each and every human being,” he said.
Read the archbishop’s statement here.
Mass and Prayer Services
All students and their families impacted by the Arapahoe High School shooting and the community are invited to these prayer services and Mass.
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 18
Where: St. Thomas More Church, 8035 S. Quebec St., Centennial
Details: Call 303-770-1155
Mass and Prayer Service
When: 8:15 a.m. Dec. 21 Mass, 9 a.m. Prayer Service
Where: St. Mary Church, 6853 S. Prince St., Littleton
Presider: Father Juan Espino, D.C.J.M.
Details: Call 303-798-8506