Colorado school shooting puzzles officials; victim is in coma

A 17-year-old high school student remained in critical but stable condition Sunday as Colorado officials tried to understand why a fellow student shot her and tried to shoot his debate coach before committing suicide last week.

Two days after the shooting at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, the wounded student, Claire Davis, was in a coma at Littleton Adventist Hospital, her family said in a statement released through the hospital’s Facebook page Sunday evening.

“The first responders got Claire to the right place, at the right time, and the doctors and hospital staff are doing a wonderful job taking care of her,” said the statement, which requested privacy. “We appreciate your continued good thoughts and prayers, and will provide updates as her condition improves.”


Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, in an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, said that a shotgun blast hit Claire in the face and that he had visited her and her family in the hospital.

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“Her parents are two of the most wonderful people you could ever hope to meet,” Hickenlooper said. “You know, they adopted her. I mean, they are beside themselves, and, really, we all have to keep Claire in our thoughts and our prayers. Her parents ... I can’t imagine what they’re going through. It’s unspeakable.”

Claire may not have been a premeditated target, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said at a Saturday news conference. She was in “the wrong place at the wrong time” when Karl Halverson Pierson, 18, stalked through the high school with a shotgun Friday, he said.

The pair didn’t appear to interact before Pierson shot her, Robinson said. Authorities said Pierson unsuccessfully searched the school for a librarian who had been his debate coach before he set off a Molotov cocktail that ignited bookshelves in the library and then killed himself.

Robinson told reporters Sunday that investigators had wrapped up their investigation at the high school and would be releasing the facility back to the school district soon.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat who pushed successfully for universal background checks for in-state gun purchases and for limited magazine sizes, seemed almost at a loss in his “Face the Nation” interview.

Because Pierson was 18, he was able to buy his shotgun legally; a sheriff’s deputy was in the building when the shooting began; and Pierson didn’t exactly stand out among other students as a possible gunman, Hickenlooper said.

“He didn’t seem to have a mental illness. He had a lot of friends. He was outspoken. There have been a couple stories that he was bullied, and that’s a recurring theme we see sometimes with these shootings. But, again, there’s no rhyme or reason,” Hickenlooper said.

He added: “We’ve invested over $20 million the last legislative session in mental illness. So we’ve got, you know, 24/7 hot lines. We’ve got mobile crisis centers. We’ve got 24/7 drop-in centers, really trying to — to intercept people with mental illness before they can cause damage to themselves or to others. And — and yet somehow this kid didn’t exhibit any of those symptoms.”

A student who was on the debate team with Pierson, however, said that his friends were concerned about Pierson’s behavior.

Larson Ross, 18, a debate team captain, said Pierson had become angrier since his argument with the debate coach in September.

“It seemed like he was attacking people to try and elicit a response, and in doing so he would put himself above that person on a mental level,” Ross said. “It started making it tough for a lot of people to be his friend.”

Changes in Pierson were so apparent, Ross said, that his friends were talking about whether they needed to tell someone that he might be “going off the edge.”

One hour after that discussion, Pierson burst into the school with a shotgun.

Times staff writer Saba Hamedy in Los Angeles contributed to this report.