A Student Murmurs a Chilling Phrase in a School Parking Lot. What Followed is Blood-Curdling.

At Arapahoe High School in Denver, Colorado, there were plenty of warning signs.

A chilling new report by University of Colorado’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence says that student Karl Pierson had been caught looking at guns on his laptop and according to one student, had brought a gun to school the day before the shooting.

Image Credit: Facebook via Daily Mail

But in what might be the most glaring oversight, according to the report, a school staff member heard Pierson in the parking lot threatening to kill his debate coach, Tracy Murphy.

“Pierson was not suspended and was allowed to return to class less than a week later,” the NY Daily News reported.

The report gives numerous examples of Pierson’s outbursts and other behavior, which should have been red flags, over a three year period.

Claire Davis. Image Credit: Handout/NY Daily News

But three months after the threat, in December 2013, 18-year-old student Karl Pierson shot and killed fellow student Claire Davis, before taking his own life. He had planned to kill Murphy, and had on him a shotgun, a machete, and homemade bombs.

The Daily Mail pointed out that:

“The Denver Post obtained the report which also notes ‘a bungled threat assessment on Pierson, a culture of silence that blocked the flow of key information from students and staff and systemic failures within the district to get a handle on the shooter’s problems — despite the many warning signs.'”

New Littleton Public Schools superintendent Brian Ewert told the Associated Press in an email that administrators will “learn from the missed opportunities we had to disrupt Karl Pierson’s path to violence.”

Davis’s parents agreed not to sue Arapahoe High School when the study was suggested, since they wanted to know more about why their 17-year-old daughter died. They wrote in the study’s introduction:

“The angry young man that murdered our daughter was a student in crisis who desperately needed guidance in a different direction from the one he pursued. The lesson to learn is not that our schools should be less tolerant and more punitive, rather that our schools are now, as never before, in a unique position to identify and secure help for troubled students.”

Toni Notaro, compliance and evaluation director for the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board, said that signs that educators and parents should watch for include:

  • a change in academic performance
  • social isolation
  • a student who gives away his or her possessions
  • a student who expresses suicidal or homicidal intentions
  • instances of truancy

Notaro pointed out that if these signs are noticed and the student can get help early on, it’s possible to “keep it from escalating into something more.”

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