CENTENNIAL, Colo. — There are geese on the lawn at Arapahoe High School the afternoon of the shooting. The 2,000-plus students have been evacuated.
“I never would have expected who it was to do it,” said Arapahoe High School senior Chad Earnest at Shepherd of the Hills church a block away from the school . Behind Earnest, students and parents form a long line to undergo mandatory exit interviews before heading home, arms around each other.
Some of the students had been evacuated right after gym class. They picked their way across week-old snow drifts wearing only socks on their feet.
“I knew him. I mean I knew him personally,” said Earnest. “We had AP History together and he was always cracking jokes, annoying the teacher. He seemed like a nice enough guy.”
Karl Pierson entered the school with a shotgun. He was looking for the librarian, his former debate team coach Tracy Murphy. He fired at least three shots once he was inside the school, injuring two other students.
“It sounded like a trashcan being thrown down the stairs,” said freshman Taylor Ingalls of those first shots. “My teacher ran into the hallway to see and then locked the door, made everyone get under the tables. Kids I’d never even talked to held my hand.”
“That teacher saved my daughter’s life,” said Ingall’s mother, and in that moment, across the street from the school in the cold wind, it’s not entirely clear if she’s referring to Ingall’s classroom teacher or to Murphy, the debate coach librarian.
In what the Centennial Sheriff’s Department called “a strategic move,” Murphy departed the scene as soon as he heard Pierson was looking for him. Murphy hoped to diffuse the situation and draw the shooter out of the school. In the end, Pierson shot himself. His body was found in a classroom.
There was the possibility that a molotov cocktail might explode, sources explained, so the school was evacuated. Students streamed out and went to the nearby Lutheran church and a district middle school.
“Thank god for cell phones, but the best thing was to actually see them safe,” said Todd Skoda, whose daughters, Abbey and Emily, both attend the high school.
“My son’s phone actually broke yesterday,” said Paul Whitehead, wrapped in a blanket, eyes never leaving his son Max, who was doing a TV interview. “He had to borrow [a phone] from a friend to text me. It took forever.”
“Of course I wanted to contact my family right away,” said Earnest, “but we had to wait for a few minutes because we didn’t want the lights to attract [Pierson] to the room.”
When I asked Earnest if the events today will make him feel unsafe at school, I was shivering but he was perfectly still.
“That’s a little bit of an understatement,” he said.
[ Photo by Tessa Cheek. ]