After school shooting, archbishop asks to “keep youth in our prayers”

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.

Prayer Service
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

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash