Arapahoe High School shooting: 1 girl in critical condition, gunman dead
Posted: 12/14/2013 12:01:00 AM MST
Updated: 12/14/2013 03:49:43 AM MST
Another gunman visited terror upon another Colorado school Friday, when an 18-year-old senior at Arapahoe High School opened fire with a shotgun inside his school and wounded a fellow student. The 15-year-old girl collapsed into the arms of a friend, who then ran into Bradley's classroom for help. The 15-year-old was in critical condition Friday night after undergoing surgery.
Two other students were treated and released at the hospital for non-gunshot-related injuries.
Meredith Strecker comforts her daughter Madisen after they were reunited Friday afternoon outside Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Centennial. Madisen is a freshman at Arapahoe High School, where a student opened fire, critically wounding a fellow student before apparently killing himself. (Joe Amon, The Denver Post)
Authorities believe Pierson, whom fellow students described as bright and whose family attended Bible study meetings, acted alone. Local and federal investigators were at Pierson's home in Highlands Ranch on Friday night, along with a bomb squad. Detectives were also searching Pierson's car and at his father's Denver home.
Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said investigators are considering whether revenge against the teacher motivated Pierson, who Robinson said specifically asked where to find the teacher as he walked into the school brazenly carrying the shotgun. But Robinson just as quickly said that no matter what the motive was, it could not bring sense to an event that again made students cower in their classrooms and parents desperate just to see their children.
Gov. John Hickenlooper said Friday was another "all-too-familiar sequence of gunshots" at a Colorado school. Off to the side after a news conference, he put it more directly: "This has got to stop."
The school, which has roughly 2,100 students, is at the corner of South University Boulevard and Dry Creek Road in Centennial. It is about 8 miles east of Columbine High School, where two students killed 12 students and one teacher in 1999. The school is about 15 miles southwest of the Aurora movie theater where a gunman shot 70 people, killing 12, in July 2012.
The first report of Friday's shooting came at 12:33 p.m.
Alerted to the situation, the teacher quickly left the school, something Robinson praised as "the most important tactical decision that could be made."
"He took himself away from the school in an effort to try to encourage the student to move with him," Robinson said.
Pierson, though, remained in the school, where he shot the 15-year-old girl when she came across his path.
"I have a student in the athletic hall," he said into his police radio. "She is bleeding pretty bad."
An ambulance arrived within minutes to take the girl to Littleton Adventist Hospital, where she underwent surgery Friday afternoon.
Inside Andrea Bradley's yoga class, Arapahoe High senior Courtney Leypoldt said she heard two bangs before the 15-year-old girl's friend burst into the room. Bradley reacted quickly, Leypoldt said, and ushered students into a deep closet. One-by-one, Bradley counted the heads of her students as they walked inside, Leypoldt said.
Then she closed the door, and the sound of students sobbing in terror filled the space.
"We heard footsteps running across the floor on top of us," Leypoldt said. "Then another 'bang, bang,' and we just held on to each other and cried."
Around the school, similar scenes played out, the result of emergency training that both students and teachers were all-too-familiar with. All of the students at Arapahoe High on Friday had started kindergarten after the Columbine High School shootings. A law enforcement official said Arapahoe had just recently practiced an active-shooter drill.
Seniors Carl Schmidt and Brendon Mendelson were in yoga class when the shooting began. Their teacher hurried them promptly away from the door and into a closet.
"You always had the sense that nothing bad would happen to you," Schmidt said.
Student Justin Morrall said students had been trained to move to the corners of classrooms where they would not be visible. Morrall said he heard screams when the shots were fired, but his classroom fell silent.
"Then we went into the drill positions," Morrall said.
Likewise, Robinson and Hickenlooper praised the quick actions of law enforcement officers, who entered the school immediately in hopes of confronting the shooter.
"I believe their quick response and action saved lives," Robinson said. "I believe the shooter took his life because he knew he had been found."
The orderliness, though, belied the terror in the classrooms.
"We were all just sitting there staying quiet and praying," said 15-year-old Jessica Girard, who was in math class when she heard three loud bangs.
Outside the locked classroom door, Jessica heard someone walk by, saying, "It hurts. It hurts. Make it stop."
"I was thinking I was going to die and I was never going to see my family again, and I was praying that they knew how much I loved them," Jessica said.
As students left the school after the shooting, many held their hands in the air or on their heads, and police officers patted them down. They were taken by bus to Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church or Euclid Middle School. Parents dashed to the school to find their kids.
Earlier in the day, Chris Foster's daughter, Devan, sent him a text message saying, "I love you. There is a shooting." Foster made his way to the school, where he found Devan walking in a crowd. He waded in and hugged her.
Julie Kellogg was driving by Arapahoe High School when she saw police rush to the campus. Kellogg said she frantically began calling and texting her children at the school but did not hear back.
"I would have never expected my reaction to be what it was," Kellogg said. "I immediately went into panic, broke down. I didn't know what to think and I didn't even know what happened, but it I knew it was bad."
Several hundred parents gathered at Shepherd of the Hills Church — stretching tall, leaning this way and that, crying, praying, trying to find their children.
And at the corner of University and Dry Creek, Christina Long stood in tears, staring at the school.
"This doesn't happen at this high school," she said. "My baby is in there."
Long said she didn't want to text her 16-year-old son, Dylan, a junior at Arapahoe.
"He'll call me when he's safe," she reasoned. "I'm going to let him hide."
But a few minutes later, she received a phone call and broke down in tears. She leaned over, and she simply said, "Oh, Baby. OK. OK. He's OK."
Then she sprinted across the street.