CENTENNIAL — A message of forgiveness that began with the parents of slain student Claire Davis was carried on by classmates returning to Arapahoe High School Tuesday for the first time since the shooting at the campus.
Joe Redmond, who was on the school's debate team with shooter Karl Pierson, said he cried when Davis' father, Michael, asked the community at Claire's memorial service to forgive the senior who opened fire at the campus on Dec. 13. Pierson killed Claire Davis before turning the gun on himself.
"When Claire Davis' father forgave Karl at her memorial, that allowed me personally to begin to forgive Karl myself," Redmond said. "I'm still mad at him as a friend. He messed up big time, but that's not how I'm going to remember him, and I'm sure that's not how any of Karl's friends are going to remember him. We're going to remember the guy that we knew."
Pierson, a senior at Arapahoe, entered the school through a door that was propped open. He was armed with a 12-gauge shotgun, a machete, three Molotov cocktails and more than 125 rounds of ammunition strapped to his chest and waist.
Investigators say Pierson planned to attack several rooms in the school, but his main target was debate coach and librarian Tracy Murphy.
Redmond said Murphy spoke to the debate team on Tuesday and told them he was not sure if he would return to the school. The activities director will be overseeing the team in the interim, Redmond said.
"Mr. Murphy visited with us, and he said a few words, but he told us that he's going to need some time before he knows what he wants to do," Redmond said. "We don't know if he is going to come back, and we are all being totally respectful of that."
As school resumed, students hugged one another, laughed and gathered at restaurants and coffee shops across the street to talk. They discussed the ramped up security inside of the school, whether they would take optional final exams, and a push in some of their classrooms to talk about their feelings.
Nearby businesses showed their support for the school by hanging banners in windows that read: "Warriors always take care of one another, Arapahoe Strong."
Inside the school, notes with phrases such as "you are important" and "you are loved" were placed on students' lockers. Black paper covered the windows blocking the view into the school library where Pierson set fire to some bookshelves before killing himself.
Work has begun to remodel the library, which is expected to reopen this spring.
"You can't see anything, but the feelings are all still there," sophomore Sophie Harrold said.
With the new semester, a message of forgiveness and unity was echoed by many students.
Harrold said, "Forgiveness is important. We are not condoning what Karl did, but we have to forgive."
Mat Lowe, a senior at Arapahoe who was friends with Pierson, said the memorial he attended for Davis last week helped ease some of the challenges in moving forward. Aside from asking people to forgive Pierson, Michael Davis also used his name, despite local law enforcement's policy of not doing so. Students at the memorial service were told that moving forward meant being able to talk about Claire Davis and Karl Pierson.
"I was good friends with Karl," Lowe said. "It's hard to hate him, regardless of the thing he did. He was just in the wrong mind-set."
Lowe added, "What has resonated deep with me as a teaching lesson as I come back to school is that we have to treat people with respect and love."
Zahira Torres: 303-954-1244 or email@example.com