After school shooting, Claire Davis’ parents forgive her killer

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Some traumas end up borne privately, but this was not one of them. At her memorial service in Denver on Wednesday, Araphahoe High School shooting victim Claire Davis’ father stepped to the stage, and in a gentle voice, with cameras and a large audience watching, ended up thanking everybody in increments.

A thanks for coming to this celebration of Claire’s life.

A thanks to an Arapahoe County sheriff’s deputy -- the one who found Davis’ daughter Dec. 13 in the hallway at the Centennial, Colo., school where she’d been shot by a classmate with a shotgun.

A thanks to the people who carried her out of danger and toward safety; a thanks to the paramedics who got her to the hospital in less than 30 minutes; a thanks to the surgeons in the emergency room who tried to save her life; and a thanks to the nurses and doctors who watched over Davis’ daughter, a carefree 17-year-old who loved horses, for the eight days it took her to die.


With his wife at his side, speaking to the community that had surrounded his family with a love that he ultimately found so humbling, Michael Davis concluded that “from the time Claire was shot to the time she passed away, she was in the arms of angels, and we are deeply grateful.”

An attentive crowd had packed the National Western Stock Show Events Center to mark a passing that was all too familiar to Coloradoans, who have seen similar shootings rip apart the nearby communities of Littleton and Aurora in years past. Why did these things keep happening? Was there any sense to it?

In the days after the shooting, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson, standing in front of reporters and perhaps seeking to break whatever cycle it was that kept making these things happen, swore he would not say the shooter’s name in public again.

“He is someone who victimized an innocent young lady by an act of evil,” the sheriff said then, “and in my opinion, he deserves no notoriety and certainly no celebrity.”

Yet something remarkable happened at Wednesday’s celebration of Claire Davis’ life, where everybody from her boyfriend to the state’s governor praised her for her kindness and innocence and mourned her unnecessary loss.

It happened during her father’s speech, after he flipped over the page in his remarks where he spoke of his daughter’s capacity for love and her great future -- when he paused for a few moments before speaking again.


“The young man that shot Claire had a name,” Michael Davis said, his voice echoing through the silent building. “His name was Karl Pierson.”

Pierson, the blond, 18-year-old debate-team member who had stormed into the school with a shotgun and the names of classrooms scrawled on his arm. Pierson, who had been hunting for the school’s debate coach but ultimately killed only Claire Davis and then himself.

“For reasons most of us or all of us will never know, Karl allowed himself to become filled with anger, and rage, and hatred,” Davis said. “That anger, rage and hatred blinded him, he blindly followed a path that led him to do something that no one should ever do. He took an innocent person’s life. He took our daughter’s life. Claire’s last words are poignant and profound. She said, ‘Oh my gosh, Karl, what are you doing?’

“The fact is that Karl was so blinded by his emotions that he didn’t know what he was doing. In her most innocent and precious way, Claire tried to shine a light on Karl’s darkness.”

Then, for six seconds, Davis stopped speaking, stared down at his speech, took two deep breaths, and then glanced over to his wife, Desiree, who stood beside him, before continuing.

“My wife and I forgive Karl Pierson, for what he did, because he didn’t know what he was doing,” Davis said, his voice leaping up into emotion as he said the boy’s last name. “We would ask all of you here, and all of you watching, to search your hearts and also forgive Karl Pierson. He didn’t know what he was doing. Karl is no longer with us, so it’s no longer our responsibility to pass judgment. As each of us will do one day, Karl has faced the infinite alone.”


Davis said his family would not perpetuate the cycle of anger; Claire, he said, would not want it.

“We can all realize Claire’s last words in our own lives by asking ourselves, in those times where we are less than loving, ‘Gosh, what am I doing?’ ” Davis said. “It would honor us deeply if you would consider doing this.

“Death has an attitude that all is lost,” Davis added, “yet the truth is otherwise.”

Davis then ended his remarks just as he began - -with a thank you to those who made the gathering space available this day, thank you to the staff and volunteers who helped with the ceremony.

Thank you to close friends.

Thank you.