In his preparations for his attack on his school last December, Karl Pierson developed a hit list of specific students he planned to target and even scoped out in advance the locations where his intended victims could be found. Yet those details were omitted from the official report on the shooting released two months ago by the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, which strongly implies that the eighteen-year-old gunman's primary motive was to avenge himself on a teacher who'd demoted him on the debate team.
"That report has more holes in it than Swiss cheese," says Rebekah Nichols, the mother of one of the students on Pierson's hit list.
Nichols says she learned last spring from an ACSO investigator that her son Wade was one of the people on a "short list" referenced in Pierson's diary; only a few brief excerpts from the diary have been made public. She decided not to tell Wade, a senior, about the list until after his graduation last May. She says her family doesn't know to this day why Wade was on the list and that police have never interviewed her son.
"We want to know what Karl wrote in his diary about Wade," she says. "It's important for him to know, to get some closure on this. But the school and the police want to keep all of this hidden."
On December 13, 2013, Pierson -- a senior with a history of angry outbursts, threats, and bizarre behavior -- walked into Arapahoe armed with a shotgun, a machete, bandoliers loaded with shotgun shells and three Molotov cocktails. In the hallway, he shot seventeen-year-old Claire Davis, fatally wounding her, then went into the library, looking unsuccessfully for debate coach Tracy Murphy. He fired off one of his Molotovs, setting a bookcase on fire, then shot himself in the head before the first armed officer could respond.
Pierson knew Davis only slightly. He'd had a class with Wade Nichols during his junior year, during which the two occasionally got into political debates that left Pierson, who sometimes espoused the virtues of communism, flushed with anger. In his diary, Pierson described his plans to attack the school as "a 10 year subconscious project for me to exact revenge, not on the individuals who perpetrated wrong, but instead by those I believe have done me wrong...I am a psychopath with a superiority complex."
Rebekah Nichols says that she was told that Pierson's list of specific targets included at least two other students besides Wade and possibly another adult other than Murphy. There may not have been any coherent reason behind the names on the list; Pierson also wrote about "shooting up the school" in general. But his preparations indicate that he did plan to attack at least four specific locations, though the room numbers have been redacted in the report released by the sheriff's office.
One of those rooms was apparently the one in which Wade Nichols had an AP government class. The day before the shooting, Pierson asked the teacher if he could "sit in" on the class. Rebekah Nichols suspects he was getting the lay of the land, checking out where his target sat, prior to his attack.
Nichols is frustrated that investigators won't share with her family what could have driven such planning or publicly acknowledge that Pierson had specific targets in mind aside from Murphy. "I'm not asking to see the diary," she says, "but it is our business what he said about Wade. The school and the sheriff's office have just buried those victims who were on Karl's short list."
Arapahoe County Sheriff Dave Walcher will neither confirm nor deny that the official investigation produced any evidence of a hit list. "I am not going to comment on specific individuals being named as targets," he says.
Walcher adds that specific locations mentioned by Pierson were redacted from the report out of a concern about not further traumatizing Arapahoe students and staff. He encourages Nichols to contact investigators if she is still seeking additional information, and he notes that the agency is planning to release more information soon, including redacted witness interviews, 911 calls and dispatch tapes. Pierson's diary, however, will not be released.
"It's important to remember that the report is just a summary of a criminal investigation," Walcher says. "It contains what we consider the key points in a homicide case. There are a lot of things we find out about that really aren't relevant to that investigation."
Nichols doesn't believe that Arapahoe High has done enough to improve security -- or transparency -- in the wake of the shooting, which two whistleblower security guards have claimed was possibly preventable.
"I forgive Karl," Nichols says. "He was so sick. But I do hold the educated adults around him accountable."
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