Lori Hickey

Earlier this week, the Arapahoe County Sheriff and District Attorney held a joint press briefing regarding the December 13 shooting at Arapahoe High School that left one student dead. According to authorities, on the morning of the shooting the 18-year-old gunman, Karl Pierson, did not indicate that anything was amiss. However, after eating breakfast he reportedly went bowling and purchased ammunition instead of going to school.

After arriving at Arapahoe High School, he entered the building on the north side, through an open door that was supposed to be locked. Police do not believe that a locked door would have prevented the shooting as he would have entered through an alternative entrance. Although he fired several rounds in the hallway and library, he only hit one victim, 17-year-old Claire Davis, who died days later. Police determined that Davis and Pierson were acquaintances but that she was not the target of the attack. It appears that Pierson’s intended target was the school librarian and debate coach, who had recently punished him by demoting his position on the debate team. In total, less than 80 seconds passed before Pierson shot himself in the head.

Some of the newly released information indicates that Pierson may have drawn inspiration from other mass shootings, particularly the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, which is located just eight miles from Arapahoe High School. Mainly, it has been widely reported that the Columbine gunmen, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, went bowling before killing 13 people and injuring 24 others. Additionally, Pierson carried different types of weapons, including Molotov Cocktails, which he used to start a fire in the library. At Columbine, Klebold and Harris used both firearms and homemade explosive devices. Finally, Pierson carried out the attack the day before the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT. Despite the similarities, the sheriff stated that there is no direct evidence indicating that Pierson was inspired by or interested in the Columbine massacre or any other mass killings. 

      • Active shooters are often inspired by other infamous massacres.
      • Although it appears that Pierson may have been inspired by the Columbine High School massacre, the shooting resulted from a personal vendetta against the school librarian and debate coach.
      • Police are crediting the school’s “effective lockdown protocol” and the “immediate and timely response by the armed school resource officer and unarmed security guard” for ending the shooting and preventing further casualties.
      • Following the shooting, numbers and letters corresponding to classrooms were found written on Pierson’s arm, which may indicate he intended to target additional areas of the school, had he been able to continue moving throughout the building.
      • The incident highlights the importance of having a well-rehearsed, comprehensive security protocol to combat active shooter situations.

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