CENTENNIAL—A deranged teen gunman, a crowded suburban school, an atmosphere of fear and panic: All the elements were there Friday for another horrific school massacre.
Instead, the only person who died Friday at Arapahoe High School was the shooter, and officials say that was no accident.
Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said those responding to the first call Friday did exactly what they were supposed to do under the department’s active-shooter protocol: “Go immediately to the threat and eliminate the threat.”
“I believe their quick response and their reaction saved lives in this particular incident,” said Robinson at a press briefing.
The gunman, 18-year-old Karl Pierson, was searching for librarian/debate coach Tracy Murphy after being subject to “disciplinary action” related to the debate team, but Robinson said he believed the gunman was intent on shooting more than one person.
Robinson said Pierson was armed with ammunition, a machete and three incendiary devices, and that “his intent was evil, and his evil intent was to harm multiple individuals.”
James Englert, the sheriff’s deputy assigned to Arapahoe High, called dispatch at 12:33 p.m. to report that the school had gone on lockdown. He found 17-year-old Claire Davis, who had been shot in the hallway, and then headed for the library after seeing smoke from one of the incendiary devices.
“The shooter was very, very well aware that the deputy sheriff was in his immediate area,” said Robinson at Saturday’s press briefing. “The deputy was yelling at people to get down and get back, and he was identifying himself as an Arapahoe County deputy sheriff.”
Englert’s response “was a critical element to the shooter’s decision to take his own life,” said Robinson.
“He was going to contain this situation,” said Robinson. “We believe that the response of the school resource officer–the response of the unarmed school security officer– was absolutely critical to the fact that we did not have additional injury and or death.”
Meanwhile, operating under the protocol, the SWAT team and deputies reporting to the school didn’t hesitate: They stormed the school in search of the gunman and any accomplices. Within minutes, they found his body after he apparently turned the gun on himself.
Robinson said that it took just “one minute and 20 seconds from the time the individual entered the school until he took his own life.”
The approach could not have been more different from that 14 years ago at Columbine, where officers waited for hours for back-up before entering the school. By then, the two gunmen had killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded 24 before committing suicide.
Since then, law-enforcement agencies have overhauled their approach to shooting threats, while schools hold drills to prepare for an active shooter. In fact, Arapahoe had recently conducted such a drill.
Gov. John Hickenlooper credited “the incredible training and preparation of our first responders.”
“[T]he officers went right to him and they got to him literally within minutes,” said Hickenlooper. “That is a world of change from the way response used to happen, and I think it just says volumes about these guys.”
Arapahoe students held a candlelight vigil Saturday night for Davis, whom authorities believe was shot at random. Her father told 7News that she was “not doing very well,” and the family released a statement saying she was suffering from “severe head trauma as a result of a gunshot.”
“We would also like to express our gratitude to the first-responders and the trauma team at Littleton Adventist Hospital for saving our daughter’s life and quickly getting her into surgery,” said the statement. “Claire is still in critical condition and your prayers are appreciated.”
Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler also praised the quick reaction of law-enforcement authorities to Friday’s threat.
“I think at the end of the day we’re going to find out that the actions of these highly trained Arapahoe county sheriffs’ deputies saved lives, a lot of lives,” said Brauchler.