Colorado School Shooter: A Popular Guy With a Grudge and a Legal Gun

On Saturday, December 14, the residents in Newtown, Connecticut commemorated the one year anniversary of the massacre of 24 children and two adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In the days leading up to the anniversary, news reports talked about how far we have come on gun control laws and how prepared schools were – or were not – for another emergency.

Just 24 hours before the anniversary, Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado found out how ready they were.

At 12:33 p.m., Arapahoe High School senior Karl Pierson walked into his school with a bandolier of ammunition strapped to his chest, armed with a pump-action shotgun, a machete and three Molotov cocktails. As he entered the doors, he fired his shotgun and started shouting for the school’s librarian and debate coach, Tracy Morgan. A few seconds later, as Claire Davis was sitting and talking with a friend, he shot her point blank in the face. As he turned the corner towards the library, students warned Tracy Morgan that Pierson was looking for him and he ran out of the school with the hope that Pierson would follow him outside and away from the students. When Pierson entered the library, he lit one of the Molotov cocktails and started a fire in the library and fired his shotgun. Seeing that Morgan was not in the library and with officers closing in, Karl Pierson fired his shotgun one more time, killing himself.

All of this took exactly 80 seconds.

At the moment, Pierson is the only fatality. Claire Davis is currently in a coma and in stable but critical condition with a severe head injury.

There have been 24 school shootings since the Newtown massacre, in which 17 people have died, a statistic that puts the enormity of Newtown in perspective with the loss of 26 lives at once. This latest incident is not considered a mass shooting, but the same refrains and questions are being repeated, just as they do with every shooting that occurs in this country.

The question is: have we learned anything?

The emerging profile of Karl Pierson is one of a nice person, popular, though sometimes bullied for his liberal views in the conservative enclave, but able to hold his own. He came from a typical middle class family that went to Bible study meetings and were very kind. His parents had recently divorced and he spent his time split between two homes. He was outspoken about what he believed in, especially (reportedly left-leaning) politics, which made him a natural for the debate team. He finished third in a state competition in April of this year, which made him the only Arapahoe representative at a national competition held in Alabama. He was accompanied to the competition by Tracy Morgan.

Unable to place in the national competition, Pierson was the captain of the debate team when school started in September. By October, his name was no longer listed as captain and he wasn’t on the team. At this point, it is unclear as to exactly what happened, but Pierson’s friend and fellow debate team member, Joe Redmond, told the Denver Post that Pierson and Morgan appeared to have had a falling out.  When they talked about why he was no longer on the team, Pierson responded, “Apparently if you threatened to kill a teacher, you get suspended.”

December 6, one week before the shooting, Pierson purchased the pump action shotgun at a local store. It is legal for an 18 year old to purchase a shotgun (though it is still illegal to purchase a handgun, something the NRA is trying to change), and it doesn’t appear there would have been anything in his background that would have prevented him from doing so. On the morning of the shooting, Pierson purchased several rounds of ammunition, enough to fill up a bandolier.

Colorado’s stricter gun laws went into effect in July of this year. The new laws require universal background checks for all gun purchases and limited the size of ammunition magazines to 15 rounds. The new law only limits the size of the magazines, not the number that can be bought.

This latest shooting incident lacks many of the typical answers when trying to explain the why in a shooting. Pierson wasn’t a loner and didn’t appear to have a mental illness – just a lot of anger and a grudge.  The current gun laws still proved to be inadequate, with everything done legally. For now, the descriptor used to explain the reasoning is to say Pierson’s intent was just evil.

The only refrain that is not coming from this incident is “it doesn’t happen here.” Arapaho High School is located just 12 miles from the Aurora movie theater where 12 people were killed in 2012. It is just 8 miles from the site of another famous school shooting, Columbine High School.  It is the lessons learned from Columbine that is being credited for the response in Centennial. The post-Columbine protocol now requires officers to immediately identify the source of the shooting, as opposed to evacuating and setting up a perimeter as they did in 1999. Schools have regular lockdown drills, which have increased since Newtown one year ago.

Arapaho High School was prepared for this school shooting.

Still, the echoes of Columbine rang throughout the thoughts of parents and students, many of whom knew the victims of the earlier tragedy. Teresa Potvien was naturally filled with fear when she received a text from her son Blaise, a 14-year-old Arapaho freshman, saying, “I love you mom and dad. Thank you for a wonderful life.” As she walked him from the church where they were reunited, thoughts of 1999 rushed back, her eyes filled with tears.

She was pregnant with Blaise at the time of the Columbine shooting.


Jim Ven
Jim Ven6 months ago

thanks for the article.

Judith C.
Judith C.2 years ago


Robert H.
Robert Hamm2 years ago

Paul, wanting REASONABLE controls on a weapon is something that goes all the way back to Wyatt Earp. Dont bring your guns to town. No one wants to take yours or Wandas guns away. Wew want SENSIBLE controls. Unfortunately people like you and Wanda think NO controls works much better. Then you whine about the laws already on the books not being enforced. Well DUH The Nra is in the backgorund making sure the laws are weakened and made ineffective. And even if that arent there are right wing politicians who refuse to enforce said laws. I am sure most of you would be very happy with anarchy……but only in areas YOU approve of.

Robert H.
Robert Hamm2 years ago

David the only people I hear bitching about the system in Canda is right wing clowns. MOST Candaians would not trade their system for ours. So just cut the crap. MOST candians cant be wrong. But you have proven yourself to be wrong many many times here.

Carole L.
Carole L.2 years ago

Paul B
“As for the "bloated" military budgets, as a Canadian, you should be happy that we have kept Global evil in check, as MOST countries have relied upon the US to save them from having to spend huge amounts on protecting their sovereignty”

yeah, look how well it worked in Iraq.

David F
“Carole L says: “the difference is nra wants to arm 6 year olds” her constant broadcast of stupidity, hypocrisy and lies makes her unworthy of a response.”

and yet you responded.

Linda McKellar
Past Member 2 years ago

PAUL B - I found it humorous that you failed to acknowledge that the last two and ONLY invasions of Canada originated in the US in 1812 and 1866. Just couldn't let that go. Tee hee.
Anyway, have a merry Christmas.

Linda McKellar
Past Member 2 years ago

David F - Perhaps the flaws you claim inherent in the ACA result from the fact that it is NOT universal and still buying insurance from corporations. I do not think the ACA is good. It may be a wedge into the door for universality but I doubt it. There, happy now?
Obamacare as it is derogatorily called, is far from what we have in cost, universality or accessibility. We don't have to run the gamut of insurance companies, web sites or bills. When you're born you get a card...VOILA! Sweet and simple. Also there isn't the big debate and silliness about it that goes on in the US. It's just there when you need it. No deductibles, contracts or bills.

Mary B.
Mary B.2 years ago

David F.... what you say about the instructors makes NO sense in regard to the ACA.... .. Judging by the fact (as you have relayed to all) that your wife talks "out of school", I would ask you to explain that.....maybe that the hospitals are having to cut nurses because they won't be able to gouge people and the system quite so easily? and their profit margin will suffer?...... any hospital worth going to has to be accredited and that means a certain number of nurses (RN) to patients depending on the specialty.....Don't try to BS people just because your wife tells you something, is perhaps a nurse, you both hate the ACA and you are from Texas..... if the quality of their instruction is in jeopardy, the students won't pass RN exams for regisration......then maybe the college will lose IT'S accreditation....Maybe it's your wife's income you're MORE worried about?.....BTW..... Canadian trained nurses are in demand all over the world because of training......Wasn't it a Vanderbilt hospital that wanted RN'S to wash floors in their "spare time"??

Linda McKellar
Past Member 2 years ago

Paul - At least I thank you for responding re health care. No one else had the balls to do so. We in Canada love our single payer. There is some abuse but it works & that's what is important. It could work in the US but would require MASSIVE redistribution of public funds away from the military & graft & a MAJOR change in mentality, but I do believe it could be done. It has been successful in countries with greater populations than ours.
As for the military, nobody has threatened my country (the most recent & in fact ONLY invasions originating in the US @1812 & 1866) & I do NOT believe it is due to the US deterrent but rather due to us largely minding our own business. If you study our history, when needed, Canada always came through in WW1, WW2 & Korea. Our volunteerism was the highest rate in the world & our soldiers served with great distinction. Unfortunately, recent US incursions where not wanted have only served to increased the terrorist threat. Canada, on the other hand, has an illustrious reputation as peace keepers, an activity which is underrated both as far as importance and danger. That is a reputation we rightly treasure more than being a superpower. In my lowly opinion, peace brokers are more respected than bullies, just less recognized & low profile which is a good way to be.

Mary B.
Mary B.2 years ago

Paul B.....Please feel free to NOT respond......Paying for service (as you say) does nothing to have a true picture about who is using health care and why.( re need for more GP's, specialists, clinics, etc.) you come across as all knowing but how's that working for the US health care system WITHOUT the you get into politics if you want "your ideas" to be heard....You (US) have gotten into wars, allied nations HAVE helped and we (and many other nations) have lost valiant soldiers.....BTW.... I know very well your "core values"....don't be so conceited to think your word is all there is.....Even though MY brother is American, even he and I don't agree on how you think that the US is all are becoming an inefficient nation who seems to care more for your "rights" than your people.