Claire Davis' dad asks people to forgive the student who killed her in Arapahoe High School shooting

Father: Don't perpetuate shooter's anger, hatred

DENVER - Claire Davis' father asked people to forgive the fellow student who shot and killed his 17-year-old daughter at Arapahoe High School.

It was an amazing and generous request to make at a celebration of Claire's life on New Year's Day at the National Western Livestock Show complex in Denver.

The request was all the more stunning because Michael Davis invoked the name of his daughter's killer -- 18-year-old Karl Pierson. Many people, including public officials, have refused say Pierson's name publicly, saying they didn't want to give another school shooter any notoriety. Pierson took his own life after shooting 17-year-old Claire with a shotgun in a school hallway on Dec. 13.

"The young man that shot Claire had a name. His name was Karl Pierson," the father said at the memorial. "For reasons most of us, or all of us, will never know, Karl allowed himself to become filled with anger and rage and hatred.

"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," Michael Davis said, his voice cracking.

For the first time, the father revealed that Claire spoke to Pierson before he shot her. Authorities say Pierson's target that day was the school librarian who oversaw the school debate team. Pierson, a member of the debate team, had clashed with the librarian and reportedly threatened him. The debate coach escaped unharmed.

On that Friday afternoon, Pierson entered the school and began randomly firing the shotgun in a hallway in a shooting that lasted just 80 seconds and claimed two lives.

"Claire's last words are poignant and profound," her father said. "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."

"My wife and I forgive Karl Pierson for what he did because he didn't know what he was doing," the father said. "We would ask all of you here and all of your watching [on television] to search your hearts and also forgive Karl Pierson. He didn't know what he was doing."

"Karl's no longer with us. So it's no longer our responsibility to pass judgment."

"Unchecked anger and rage can lead to hatred, and unchecked hatred can lead to tragedy, blindness and…loss of humanity. The last thing that Desiree and I would want is to perpetuate this anger and rage and hatred in connection with Claire. Claire would also not want this," Michael Davis said.

The father urged people to embrace Claire's generous spirit by reaching out to troubled, isolated individuals.

"As citizens of our community, the state of Colorado, our nation and the world, we must strive for kindness, compassion, peace and love to maintain our humanity. We can't allow anger, rage or hatred to take root now or ever," the father said.

"We would like to ask you to join us and honor Claire by forever showing compassion, forgiveness, inducing whatever is within your power to reach out to those around you that might need the light of your love to help guide them to through the darkness," he said.

Claire Davis died in the hospital on Dec. 21, eight days after being gravely wounded.

 

-- Claire described by friends, family as loving, funny --

Michael Davis described his daughter as a loving young woman, who shared her joy with others.

"Claire was full of life and love," he said. "She had a wonderful sense of humor. She loved to laugh. She laughed with her entire being, and she made other people laugh freely and without reserve."

"She had learned that to love is to live," the father said. "She had learned to love others and to respect others, to not judge, to accept herself and to accept other people's differences. She had learned that to receive, she had to give…She was learning to follow her bliss. She was becoming a woman of grace and inner beauty."

"The world was a better place with her in it, and the world has truly lost a shining light."

Her friends described a 17-year-old who loved to laugh and to make others laugh. Her boyfriend, Alex Chapman, read a message from Claire's favorite band, One Direction, and read the personal statement she wrote as part of her application to college. In that personal statement, Claire wrote about her love of movies, specifically comedies,  and how the world needed them to laugh more often.

Her father said that he, his wife, Desiree, and their son, Alexander, "miss her immensely."

"Yet, we are deeply committed to keeping the loving and knowing of Claire alive in our hearts and in our day-to-day lives."

"The uniqueness of this precious soul has touched many people. Her influence and light is ours to keep, and we will not let death take this from us," the father said, choking up. "Claire was a gift to her mother and me and although we desperately want to hold on to this gift,  it was time for us to give the gift to the giver."

He thanked everyone in the state and in the country who have been thinking of them and praying for Claire.

"We've never personally experienced the strength that comes from the collective thoughts and prayers of so many souls. We are deeply humbled. We cannot imagine going through this without all of you who are holding us up," Davis said.

The memorial was held at the Stock Show event center in part because Claire was a talented equestrian, who had competed in an event at the National Western Stock Show in 2013 and had planned to compete again in 2014. The stock show has renamed his year's equestrian event in her honor.

During the memorial, a large screen displayed photos of the Claire's life, including one of her kissing her horse's nose.

The service ended with her saddle and blanket being removed from her horse and presented to her parents. The senior pastor leading the service then passed out candles and said, "There's a Buddhist saying that a thousand candles can be lit  by a single candle without extinguishing a flame, without diminishing the flame of the original candle. Claire was our candle. Tonight we want to share her light with all of you, knowing that you are Claire's angels. Don't give up. Take her light out into the world."

Gov. John Hicklenlooper and other elected leaders were seated with Claire's family during the ceremony. Hickenlooper spoke during the service and talked about God, the resilience of Claire's family and the strength of the Colorado spirit.

The audience burst into applause as the Rev. Steve Poos-Benson of Columbine United Church asked Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson and other first-responders who rushed to the school during the deadly shooting to stand to be acknowledged.

Claire's father thanked the school resource officer who immediately responded to the threat that Friday, and who is credited for stopping what could have been more carnage.

"Thank you to Deputy James Englert for not only fulfilling your duty with the utmost bravery but for following your heart that led you down an empty corridor to find Claire. Thank you Rod Mauler and Darrell Meredith who risked your lives by carrying Claire to safety while you were in an unsecured and dangerous area," Michael Davis said. 

Rod Mauler is an unarmed school security guard and retired sheriff's deputy who, along with Englert, ran to the library after hearing the gunfire. Darrell Meredith is an assistant principal.

"Because of the heroic efforts of these first-responders, Claire was in the operating room and having emergency surgery to save her life within less than 30 minutes of being shot."

Davis also thanked the staff at Littleton Adventist Hospital, where Claire remained in a coma for days.

"From the time that Claire was shot until the time she passed away (eight days later) she was in the arms of angels. And we're deeply grateful."

Poos-Benson also asked Arapahoe High School students present at the memorial to stand, sparking another round of applause.

The pastor invoked Arapahoe High's motto, telling students, "You warriors take care of warriors."

"You know what my charge is to you today? Warriors, I want to charge you to take care of the world. Take the compassion and the care that you have for one another and I want you to send it out, send it out to the junior high schoolers and send it out to the elementary school kids, send it out to the other high school kids," Poos-Benson said.

"The only way that we're ever going to stop shootings in schools is if you take the front line in loving and caring for the world," the pastor said.

Claire's parents asked Olympic swimming champion Missy Franklin, who grew up near Arapahoe High School, to speak at the memorial.

Like many young Coloradans, Franklin has grown up enduring --and overcoming -- massing shootings that have stunned the state.

She recalled learning of the shooting at Arapahoe High.

"I was study for my first finals at Cal when my mom called me and told me what was happening 5 minutes away from my house," Franklin said. "I felt ill. 'Not again.'"

"Only 15 months before, I was in Viche France for Olympic training camp when I heard about a massive shooting at a theater in Aurora," Franklin said. "Because of the time change almost everyone back home was still asleep, and I had to wait hours before I got word from friends and family they were OK. Others were not as fortunate as I was to hear such good news."

"Those same feelings of fear and panic overcame me when I heard about Arapahoe," she said. "We've had so many tragedies here in Colorado that have affected so many of us. Fires, floods, theater shootings and multiple school shootings."

"But on every occasion, we have witnesses our wonderful community come together and assist and support those who are suffering," Franklin said. "I've lived in the same community since I was 8 months old and watching the community -- our community -- come together during these times brings pride to my heart."

"We must continue to love and support each other and look ahead and set goals for the future, goals like ensuring that tragedies like this never happen again," she said.

Franklin said a foundation created by Claire's parents will work to prevent violence in the community.

"I am so proud to say where I'm from, because where I come from is made up of people like you and people like Claire," Franklin said.


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