Colorado school rampage lasted less than 2 minutes
CENTENNIAL, Colorado (AP) — Colorado’s governor on Sunday credited security procedures adopted after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School for helping to put a quick end to a shooting attack at nearby Arapahoe High School by a teenager who may have been nursing a grudge against a teacher and intended to harm him and inflict numerous other casualties.
Karl Pierson, 18, fired six shots from a pump-action shotgun between the moment he walked into Arapahoe High School on Friday and the moment he killed himself in a library as a school security officer closed in on him, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said. Arapahoe senior Claire Davis, 17, who was sitting with a friend when Pierson entered the library, was shot in the head. She remained hospitalized in critical condition Sunday. Hundreds of students held a candlelight vigil for Davis on Saturday night at a park near the school.
Pierson’s attack lasted just 80 seconds but reopened scars in a community traumatized by mass shootings in nearby Denver suburbs — at Columbine High School in 1999 and at an Aurora movie complex in 2012. It came a day before the first anniversary of the Dec. 14, 2012, massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 children and six educators were killed.
Gov. John Hickenlooper told CBS television’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that he had visited Davis and her family at Littleton Adventist Hospital.
“She’s obviously in a coma, in critical condition,” Hickenlooper said of Davis. “We all have to keep Claire in our thoughts and prayers. Her parents ... I can’t imagine what they’re going through. It’s unspeakable.”
Robinson has said investigators think Davis was shot at random by Pierson, who had gone into the school looking for a teacher with whom he had a dispute.
Fellow students described Davis as a vibrant senior and equestrian with a lot of friends.
Pierson may have been nursing a grudge against the teacher — a librarian and head of the school debate team — since September. Pierson was on the team and had been disciplined by the librarian for reasons yet to be disclosed, the sheriff said. He said Pierson had threatened that teacher in September.
Pierson excelled at speech and debate and was passionate about the team, friends said. They described him as a smart student who apparently didn’t shirk from confrontations in class.
“He’s a funny kid. He’s smart. He’s in the Eagle Scouts, a very intelligent kid. Did not like being wrong,” said August Clary, who was a friend of Pierson. “If you’re arguing with him, it’s going to be, that’s a feat if you win an argument against him.”
“He would not be afraid to tell someone how he feels,” said Zach Runberg, 18, a senior in Pierson’s English class.
Pierson legally bought a shotgun on Dec. 6 at a local store, and he purchased ammunition the morning of the shootings. Anyone 18 and older is allowed to buy a shotgun in Colorado; only those over 21 can legally buy a handgun. Pierson arrived at the school toting the shotgun and wearing the ammunition on his body. He had a machete and, in a backpack, carried three Molotov cocktails, the sheriff said.
Pierson managed to ignite one Molotov cocktail inside the school library before he killed himself as a fast-acting school security officer, a deputy sheriff, closed in, Robinson said.
That officer’s aggressive response prevented more casualties, Robinson said. It’s a tactic adopted nationwide after Columbine, in which first responders cordoned off the school before pursuing two student gunmen inside. The two killed 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves.
Hickenlooper said that there are “strategies and protocols in place, where we had a deputy sheriff in the building who immediately ran towards the trouble.”
“That’s a remarkable response, and I think everybody from the sheriff out here, Grayson Robinson, his entire team, they deserve a lot of credit for what could have been much, much worse.”
Arapahoe High officials also immediately instituted a lockdown — something well-rehearsed at the school — with teachers and students hiding in closets and locking classroom doors.
After the Aurora theater shootings and the Newtown school shootings, Colorado’s Democratic-led legislature this year implemented gun control measures that limited the size of ammunition magazines and instituted universal background checks for gun purchases. Colorado also appropriated more than $20 million for mental health hotlines and local crisis centers.
The measures were intended to address violence associated with so-called assault rifles, not shotguns that are widely owned for hunting and sport.
Hickenlooper noted that Pierson was not a loner but cautioned that the investigation was in its early stages. Pierson, whose parents are divorced, lived at least part of the time with his mother in a higher-end neighborhood in suburban Highlands Ranch.
“He didn’t seem to have a mental illness,” the governor said. “He had a lot of friends, he was outspoken. But again, there’s no rhyme or reason. We can’t — there’s nothing that says, ah, now I understand.”
Associated Press writer P. Solomon Banda contributed to this report.