| Crime |

Arapahoe High Shooting Report: "Major Failures" in Threat Assessment

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

A just-released report on the 2013 Arapahoe High School shooting faults the school administration for failing to share information about troubled teen Karl Pierson, performing an inadequate threat assessment after Pierson declared that he wanted to kill a teacher, and ignoring other serious red flags in the months leading up to Pierson's final rampage and the shooting death of 17-year-old student Claire Davis. 

The report is a joint effort by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder's Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence and the University of Northern Colorado's Department of Criminal Justice. Through an unusual agreement between Davis's parents and the Littleton Public Schools to seek arbitration rather than engage in a long, drawn-out lawsuit over her death, various depositions of witnesses and other materials were made available with the aim of making improvements in school violence prevention policies. The approach is in marked contrast to the kind of secrecy surrounding other school shootings fallout, including the multi-year legal battle that parents of victims in the 1999 Columbine shootings endured to learn what law enforcement and school officials knew about the two shooters before the attack. 

Yet many aspects of the Arapahoe High shooting sadly echo the Columbine tragedy. As we've previously reported, Pierson studied the 1999 attack on Columbine intensely and, to an eerie degree, found inspiration in that much-imitated template. And as the new report makes clear, the inadequate investigation of Pierson's bullying, outbursts and threats prior to the 2013 shooting indicates that schools such as AHS still are not properly training staff in threat assessment or encouraging students to report suspicious and alarming behavior. 

Pierson had a history of such behavior that apparently dated back to elementary-school assaults on other students. At Arapahoe High, he came to the attention of various teachers and other adults through classroom tantrums, attention-seeking stunts on the speech team, and a loud threat to kill his debate coach. But an assessment conducted after that incident deemed him a "low risk" —  but only by ignoring key risk factors and failing to gather all the necessary information. Three months after that assessment, Pierson was bragging to other students that he'd purchased a shotgun; the following day, he killed Davis and himself.

In an introduction to the report, parents Michael and Desiree Davis write: "The current state of our society demands that it’s time to change our thinking about the role schools should play in the lives of students in crisis. Schools are the first place in most children’s lives where they learn to socialize and it should be one of the first places where children learn to practice respect for themselves as well as others. In many, if not most cases, helping troubled youths with unmet emotional needs costs nothing more than some time given by a caring administrator or teacher to lend a helping hand, share words of hope and encouragement, and open the door to other available resources. The goal of this report and the entire arbitration process was to encourage this change in thinking about our public schools – to challenge parents, administrators, teachers and legislators to embrace a caring, tolerant and compassionate culture that empowers our schools to intervene and help kids in crisis."

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.