CENTENNIAL—Her name was Claire Esther Davis, she was 17, and it felt as if all of Colorado mourned when she died Dec. 21.
She was the only victim of the Arapahoe High School shooting, fired upon at point-blank range as she sat in the hallway with a friend. She hung on for eight days, and it’s doubtful that she ever regained consciousness.
Even so, she did something extraordinary before she died. She became better known than the gunman who shot her.
She had a loving family and lots of friends, the kind of friends who would set up a memorial along the school fence and hold small but meaningful events there for her nearly every day. Her classmates lit candles and released balloons, and as a result, drew television cameras and reporters.
For eight days, there were stories about the life of Claire Davis. There were stories about how she loved horses and rode equestrian. There were updates on her condition. There were photos of a pretty girl with long chestnut hair and a squinty smile, looking just slightly embarrassed about being the center of a photographer’s attention.
You wonder what she would have thought about the spotlight she received during those eight days. Because her friends didn’t stop at the memorial: They posted a hashtag on Twitter, #prayforclaire, that received hundreds if not thousands of hits from supporters across the globe.
Her friends knew that her favorite group was One Direction, and a movement began on social media to bring the British boy band to Colorado. The #get1Dforclaire hashtag became so popular that, lo and behold, the band members sent her a video last week wishing her well.
By this time, those rooting for Claire Davis extended far beyond her immediate circle of friends and family. You knew she had become a phenomenon when people well outside One Direction’s fan demographic, like Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, were posting to #get1Dforclaire.
Everyone from Gov. John Hickenlooper to local television personalities to sports figures to high schoolers was pulling for her, willing her to recover, hoping that maybe one more #prayforclaire or one more candle lit in her honor would be enough to open her eyes and bring her back into the world.
One early news report said she had been adopted, and whether or not that was accurate, there was no doubt it was true. By the time she slipped away, on the darkest day of the year, as snow fell softly outside Littleton Adventist Hospital, Claire Davis had been adopted by millions of well-wishers in Colorado and beyond.
As Coloradans know perhaps better than anyone, this was not the usual script for a mass shooting. The scenario is that a deranged gunman enters a school or theater and fires on the crowd, killing and injuring multiple innocent bystanders.
The gunman lives or dies, but either way, he gains instant celebrity. In doing so, he provides grim inspiration for disturbed young men who see the mass shooting as their ticket to a twisted sort of infamy.
The Columbine killers appeared on the cover of Time magazine–twice. The Aurora theater shooter’s identity resurfaces every time he appears in court. Everyone aches for the victims, but their names are so many, their stories so easily lost in the mayhem, that they ultimately become supporting players in their own tragedies.
That’s not what happened at Arapahoe High School. This time, the deputy sheriff assigned to the school figured out where the shooter was and ran toward him, shouting for people to get back and letting the gunman know he was coming.
This time, the shooter killed himself before he could fire on more than one victim. This time, there was only one name to remember, that of Claire Davis.
This time, the antagonist was eclipsed by the protagonist. And next time, when a young man decides in a fit of murderous rage to open up on a school, you hope that he thinks not of Columbine but of Arapahoe. You hope he recalls a 17-year-old girl with long chestnut hair, a girl who rode horses, a girl who had a favorite band, a girl with friends and family who loved her.
And you hope that the young man’s eyes begin to sting as he remembers the name of Claire Davis, and that he takes a deep breath and swallows hard, and that the moment passes.
Claire Esther Davis missed Christmas by four days, but she left behind a gift. She showed that an attention-seeking killer’s bid for everlasting notoriety can be foiled by a community that chooses instead to focus on a beloved teenage girl. And she did it without ever opening her eyes.