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Monday, December 16, 2013

Inside Arapahoe High When Gunfire Erupted

Brett Stewart was sitting in psychology class at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo., early Friday afternoon when he heard what sounded like a heavy book drop outside the classroom door.

“Then the sound came again,” he wrote about the experience, after returning home from school Friday night. “It took my class a moment to realize that gunshots had been fired less than a hundred feet from where we were. Our teacher immediately locked the door, turned down the lights, and had everyone get on one wall. Pepper spray in hand, she crouched at the door lying in wait for any possible threat.”

At the same time, Claire Davis, 17, was sitting near the school library when Karl Halverson Pierson, a fellow student she hardly knew, walked in and began shooting, striking her in the head, the police said. He had entered Arapahoe High School, armed with a shotgun, two Molotov cocktails and a machete looking for his debate coach who had earlier disciplined him. After shooting randomly at Ms. Davis, who remained in critical condition at a nearby hospital on Monday, Mr. Pierson turned the gun on himself, dying of a self-inflicted wound. He had bought the shotgun only days before.

School officials announced the high school would be closed until after the holidays, and counselors were available to students, as the CBS television affiliate Channel 4 in Denver reported.

In an interview, Mr. Stewart, 18, said he felt compelled to write and publish his experience online, because he wanted people to understand the horror of what it was like to be inside a school with a gunman loose in the hallways on the day before the anniversary of the shooting death of 20 children and six faculty and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“I never thought I would be at the other end of the cameras,” he said, recalling how he and thousands of other students filed outside of the school, with their hands above their heads. “I thought back to Newtown and how traumatic it was to watch that on TV, and then I realized that I was now on the other side of that and the entire country was now watching this terrible event unfold at my school. It was very odd to realize that I was on the other end of the cameras.”

In his essay, titled “From Inside the Walls of Arapahoe â€" A Student Account of Today’s Shooting,” which he published on an online student literary publication he started called Strike, Mr. Stewart began with the first minutes when no one knew what was going on except for the sound of gunshots

After the shots, you could hear screams down the hall. “He ran that way!” “He has a gun!” Sobbing students in my class began to face their own mortality, questioning who the shooter was, would he come for us, and if he did, would he shoot us? Over the course of 30 minutes, sirens, flashing lights, screaming and loud footsteps thundered throughout the campus. Entire SWAT teams rushed onto the scene within 10 minutes and tactically pushed through the halls shouting “Blue!” or “Clear!” when a room was clear. In hindsight, we now know that the last shot heard must have been the self-inflicted death of the shooter, but at the time, it was absolutely terrifying, because all of the screaming made it sound as if the incident was prolonged much, much longer.

Eventually, men with guns slammed on our door and directed us out of the room. Leaving my phone, keys and jacket (which I would later regret in the cold Colorado weather), I was ushered out of the room by legions of police. They made us put our hands over our heads, and they frisked some students, which is understandable, considering at this point in time they weren’t aware of the extent of the threat.

The debate coach, Tracy Murphy, who was also the school’s librarian, had left the school when he was alerted the gunman was looking for him. He was unharmed. In a statement released over the weekend, he said that he and his family shared everyone’s concern “for all of the victims of this tragedy. ”

The father of Ms. Davis asked people to pray for his daughter, who is in coma, according to a statement from the family posted on Littleton Adventist Hospital’s Facebook page.

Students have been conducting prayer vigils and tributes to Ms. Davis on the school’s grounds, as well as asking people on Facebook and on Twitter to #prayforclaire.