CENTENNIAL, Colo. | It wasn’t Colorado’s tough new gun laws but the active-shooter protocol followed by deputies that stopped a teen gunman Friday from killing anyone other than himself at Arapahoe High School, the governor said Sunday.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper credited local law enforcement, in particular the sheriff’s deputy assigned to the suburban school, with the quick response that prevented the shooter from unleashing a Columbine-style massacre.
The gunman, 18-year-old Karl Pierson, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at the school after shooting one student, Claire Davis, 17, who remains in critical condition Sunday.
“He came into the school prepared to do damage to a lot of people,” said Mr. Hickenlooper on CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation.” “Having had these episodes in the past, we do have strategies and protocols in place, where we had a deputy sheriff in the building who immediately ran toward the trouble, toward the problems, and he was there basically in a minute of the first shots.”
Asked about the state’s sweeping gun-control laws signed in March, the Democratic governor said they didn’t affect Friday’s shooting, noting that he gunman purchased the shotgun and ammunition legally.
“So things like universal background checks, I think they are going to make us safer, but in this specific case aren’t going to make a difference at all,” said Mr. Hickenlooper. “And that’s the challenge.”
Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said Saturday the gunman was searching for the debate coach and may have been upset over being disciplined in September for his behavior on the debate team.
Otherwise, authorities were “unaware of any connection that would suggest previous behavior indicating something like this would happen,” said the governor.
“He didn’t seem to have a mental illness, he had a lot of friends, he was outspoken,” said Mr. Hickenlooper, adding, “High school kids all over this city, all over the country have falling-outs with teachers or coaches all the time, they don’t go out and buy a gun and decide they’re going to kill a lot of people.”
In the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, law enforcement agencies nationwide implemented an active-shooter protocol that calls for responders to “go immediately to the threat and eliminate the threat,” said Sheriff Robinson.
James Englert, the armed deputy assigned to the school, rushed to the library after hearing gunshots and seeing smoke from an incendiary device deployed by the shooter.
“The shooter was very, very well aware that the deputy sheriff was in his immediate area,” said Sheriff Robinson at a news briefing Saturday. “The deputy was yelling at people to get down and get back, and he was identifying himself as an Arapahoe County deputy sheriff.”
Deputy Englert’s response “was a critical element to the shooter’s decision to take his own life,” said Sheriff Robinson.
The sheriff said that it took just 80 seconds from the time that the gunman entered the school through a side entrance to the time that he shot himself.
Mr. Hickenlooper said the state has spent more than $20 million on mental-illness programs following the 2012 Aurora theater shooting that left 12 dead, including 24/7 hotlines and mobile-crisis centers, “yet somehow this kid didn’t exhibit any of those symptoms.”
Arapahoe students held a candlelight vigil Saturday night for the female student victim, who was shot in the face while sitting in the hallway in what the sheriff described as a random act. She is now in a coma following surgery, said the governor.