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Karl Pierson
Associated Press/Photo by Mary McGregor
Karl Pierson

Forgiving Karl Pierson


Thousands of people attended the New Year’s Day memorial service for 17-year-old Claire Davis, held at the National Western Stock Show Arena in Denver, Colo. A classmate seeking revenge on a teacher shot Claire in the head on Dec. 13 at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo. She died eight days later.

Early in the investigation, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson told reporters he would no longer refer to the shooter, 18-year-old Karl Pierson, by name. Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper said the same thing last summer when he refused to address by name the man who terrorized moviegoers at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colo., killing 12 people and injuring dozens more. Heaping disdain and judgment on the killers, public officials taught Coloradans that anger and disrespect are suitable reactions to such tragedies.

But at the memorial service, Claire’s father, Michael Davis, had a different message.

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“The young man that shot Claire had a name,” he said, choking back tears. “His name was Karl Pierson. My wife and I forgive Karl Pierson for what he did. … We would ask all of you here and all of you watching, to search your hearts and also forgive Karl Pierson.”

Because Pierson allowed himself to be filled by anger, rage, and hatred, he was blinded by his emotions and didn’t know what he was doing when he shot Claire, Michael Davis said. “Karl is no longer with us, so it’s no longer our responsibility to pass judgment. As each of us will do one day, Karl has faced the infinite alone.”

Claire Davis was an excellent equestrian, placing in the state’s top six competitions for the past three years.  In her honor, the National Western Stock Show is renaming its annual hunter and jumper event as the Claire Davis Memorial Gambler's Choice Horse Show. Organizers will hold a moment of silence before each ticketed horse show this year, The Denver Post reported.

Michael Davis encouraged observers to not let anger or hatred take root, but instead reach out with love to those who are hurting and help them out of darkness. He pointed to his daughter’s example when she tried to help a boy wielding a shotgun: “Claire’s last words are poignant and profound. She said, ‘Oh my gosh, Karl, what are you doing?’ … In her most innocent and precious way, Claire tried to shine a light on Karl’s darkness.”

Davis’ family and friends worked with The Denver Foundation to establish the Arapahoe High School Community Fund in her honor.  The fund’s advisors will work to reach out to hurting students like Pierson, offering mental health help, anti-bullying programs, and other services.

Instead of pointing fingers at Pierson, Michael Davis pleaded with mourners to examine their own hearts: “We can all realize Claire’s last words in our own lives by asking ourselves in those times when we are less than loving, ‘Gosh, what am I doing?’

“The essence of true forgiveness is to repeatedly choose to love—consciously—and to make love more important than hate, despair, or fear,” he concluded. “By expressing love, compassion, and forgiveness in our daily lives, we will honor Claire.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Sarah Padbury
Sarah Padbury

Sarah is a writer, editor, and adoption advocate. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Sarah and her husband live with their six teenagers in Castle Rock, Colo.


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