- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2013

CENTENNIAL, Colo.—A student armed with a shotgun and looking for a staff member burst Friday into suburban Arapahoe High School, where he shot and injured two students before turning the gun on himself.

The suspect, identified late Friday as Karl Halverson Pierson, 18, was found dead in a school classroom of what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said at a Friday afternoon press briefing that the gunman’s motive appears to have been revenge. Denver 7News, the local ABC-TV affiliate, reported that Pierson was angry after being kicked off the school’s debate team.

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“[O]ur initial investigation is causing us to believe was a result of revenge on the part of the shooter because of a confrontation or a disagreement between shooter and the teacher,” said Mr. Robinson.

A 15-year-old girl had undergone surgery and was in critical condition at a nearby hospital after the gunman shot her shortly after entering through the school’s west entrance at about 12:30 p.m. A second student suffered minor gunshot-related injuries and had been released from the hospital by evening.

In addition, the sheriff said two explosive devices identified as Molotov cocktails were found at the school. One had been detonated and had caused smoke to fill part of the interior, while the other was found undeployed.

Gov. John Hickenlooper praised the prompt response by law enforcement for averting what could have been a much greater tragedy.

“In this case we saw the incredible training and preparation of our first responders,” said Mr. Hickenlooper. “Officers from all across the south metro area were trained on how to go immediately into that school and make sure the perpetrator, this kid—the officers went right to him, and they got to him literally within minutes.”

Mr. Robinson said so far investigators believe that the gunman acted alone.

“The suspect was carrying a shotgun, he made no effort to hide it or conceal it, he carried it into the school as he entered the school,” said Mr. Robinson. “The word got around immediately that he was looking for the teacher.”

After learning that the gunman was looking for him, the teacher left the school immediately, which the sheriff described as “the most important tactical decision he could have made.” The sheriff did not release the teacher’s name or give details about his relationship with the student.

“He [the teacher] knew he was the target and he left that school in an effort to try to encourage the shooter to also leave the school, with the focus of safety and security and the well-being of our students in his mind,” said Mr. Robinson.

Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler didn’t rule out the possibility that charges could still be filed in the case, even though the suspect is dead.

“People are going to ask what was the gun, where did the gun come from, how could a kid get a gun like this. They’ll ask about mental health,” said Mr. Brauchler. “These are all appropriate questions, they’re all questions that I think the community deserves to have answers to, but they’re not ones that we can give you answers to today.”

Students were transported Friday by bus to a local church, Shepherd of the Hills, and to Euclid Middle School, where their parents were instructed to sign them out before taking them home.

“I heard three gunshots, and on the second one we all ran to the corner of the room, and turned off the lights and locked the door and waited and hoped for the best,” a student told Denver radio station KOA-AM.

Three students suffered what the sheriff described as anxiety attacks during the evacuation process. One student was taken to the hospital, while the other two were released to their parents.

At least three school districts in the south Denver suburbs were placed on lockout as sheriffs searched the high school for students who may have been hiding in the building and any other suspects.

Arapahoe High School is located in suburban Littleton, about eight miles from Columbine High School, the site of a tragic 1999 shooting that saw two gunmen kill 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide.

After the Columbine tragedy, law-enforcement agencies nationwide overhauled their approach to mass-shooting situations. The first responders to the Columbine shooting were criticized for waiting outside the school for additional support while the two gunman were inside shooting at students.

“That is a world of change from the way response used to happen, and I think it just says volumes about these guys,” said Mr. Hickenlooper.

The two high schools are in different districts: Arapahoe is part of Littleton Public Schools, while Columbine is within Jefferson County Public Schools.

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