The following is my best recollection of recent events. I’ve tried to make it as accurate as possible, but undoubtedly there are mistakes of fact or sequence, as eyewitness accounts are notoriously inaccurate. I’ve also tried to be as honest as possible in regards to my own thoughts, feelings and actions, even though at times that may not reflect particularly favorably on me. I debated for quite a while whether to write anything about this event, but finally decided that I would because it’s what I do, and because I’ve always felt that knowledge was a good thing. There isn’t anything profound here, but by sharing my experience it might help others who find themselves in similar situations.
Friday, December 13, 2013, approximately 12:10 pm
I leave my office and head down to the main office. I have an appointment at the beginning of 5th period with an assistant principal and another teacher and I want to get down there before the halls fill up with students changing classes. Before I head into my meeting, I stop by the principal’s secretary’s desk and drop off my daughter’s open enrollment application. She’ll be a freshmen next year.
Approximately 12:33 or 12:34 pm
I’m in my meeting in the assistant principal’s office with the door closed when suddenly the door bursts open and his secretary yells, “There’s a shooter in the library.” The assistant principal reacts first and bursts out the door. I’m about two steps behind him.
He heads to the front part of the main office and I follow. I have a sense of other people running but I’m not really aware of who they are or where they are going. He heads to the PA system, activates it, and says, “Lockdown. Lockdown.” He then turns, heads down the hallway within the main office by the bookkeeper’s office, and then exits into the cafeteria.
The Sheriff later describes this as “running toward the thunder.” Our School Resource Officer, campus security personnel, and administration all “ran toward the thunder” - the library - that day.
12:34 or maybe 12:35 pm
I’m standing in the main office. I’m not sure what to do. This is not how I’ve rehearsed this. Every drill we’ve done - and every time I’ve rehearsed it in my head - I’ve been in one of two places, either with my Algebra class or in my office. I know what to do in those situations.
If I’m with my class, I make sure the door is locked, the lights are off, and the students are on the floor as far away from the door as possible and out of sight, and I’m in between them and the door. I then try to keep them safe, try to reassure them, and wait for instructions.
If I’m in my office (next door to the library), then I head into the library to help with their lockdown. We’ve had a lot of conversations about lockdown procedures in the library. It’s a large, open space that often has lots of students in it, and it’s an obvious point of vulnerability. There are also only two adults that are staffed in there (the media specialists and the media clerk), and often one of them is elsewhere in the building, so there can be a lot of students and not very many adults, so my responsibility is to go and try to help keep them safe and calm.
But I’m in the main office. I decide to head out into the cafeteria. I honestly have no idea exactly what I was thinking, but I’m pretty sure it was combination of two competing ideas. First, since I don’t have a class, I’m supposed to help in the library. I’ll head there. Clearly that’s a really stupid idea, and I think I realize that as I’m about to open the door to the cafeteria. The second idea takes over, I need to grab any students who are in the cafeteria and bring them into the relative safety of the main office.
As I enter the cafeteria the second idea has definitely won out, but it’s a moot point: there are no students in the cafeteria (they’ve already been grabbed by other people.) Again, I’m at a momentary loss as to what to do. A different assistant principal is running through the cafeteria and has seen me exiting the main office. He screams at me to “get back in there.” I decide that’s excellent advice and make my first good decision.
I re-enter the main office. Somehow I have a sense of which room people have locked down in so I head to that room. I pause outside the door - which is closed and undoubtedly locked. Now what? I’m the only one standing out here and they’ve already been in the room for a minute or two (I think). If I knock on the door or try to open it, they’ll freak out. I briefly debate entering a different room and locking myself in, but quickly decide it’s better for everyone, and eventually for the first responders, if we’re all in the same room. I decide to announce myself loudly at the door, “It’s Karl. I’m coming in.” Then use my key to unlock the door and enter.
I’m guessing all of the above has taken maybe 90 seconds at the most. My various “debates” with myself took longer to describe above than they actually took in my head - probably less than two seconds each. Twenty-four hours later we’d find out from the Sheriff’s press briefing that at about this time the shooter had already taken his own life, but of course no one knew that at the time.
12:35 or maybe 12:36 pm
As I enter the lockdown room it’s dark because the lights are off (of course), but the light from the doorway gives me just a brief impression of the room. I sense that there are quite a few people in the room, but I don’t know how many or who they are. I can only see and recognize the faces of two staff members who are near the door. I quickly close the door and can’t really see as my eyes haven’t adjusted, but I had noticed (or sensed, or something) that there was a small space available on the floor just inside the door. I sit down and turn to face the door.
The thought flashes through my head that just two or three days ago this room would’ve been full of presents waiting to be wrapped for Toys for Tots. Our wrapping party had been Wednesday after school and the wrapped gifts had already been removed to another space. There were still maybe one or two hundred gifts in the room that would go to the Denver Indian Center, but not the more than 1,000 gifts that had been there on Wednesday. We would’ve had a hard time fitting if all the gifts had been there.
When we evacuate I would find out that there were 16 of us in that room, 13 staff members (secretaries, counselors, teachers, including me) and 3 students who had been adjacent to the main office and pulled in. (Correction 1-10-14: After talking with someone else, I remembered that one of the adults in the room was a parent that had been in the school, so 12 staff members, 1 parent, and 3 students.) This is a narrow, rectangular conference room with big tables and chairs down the center and cabinets at the end (and gifts piled on the end with the cabinets). We were all on the floor around the edges with our backs to various walls except for me - my back was to gifts or a chair, I’m not sure which.
My eyes start adjusting. There is some light coming in around the doors and, I eventually notice, through the seams between the walls and the ceiling. (The main office was constructed well after the original building, when the school was added on to, and the area was reconfigured with walls that obviously were not load bearing.)
As I sit there I wonder what I should be doing to “prepare” for whatever might happen next. Again, this is something I’ve rehearsed in my head. In my Algebra classroom we have chairs that aren’t attached to the desks, and my students also have laptops. So my plan was always to have a chair ready to throw at an intruder, then follow that up with trying to hit them with a laptop. In the media center, there are similar chairs and lots of things to hit them with.
But in this conference room, the chairs are huge and there’s no room to grab them, lift them and throw them (plus they’re heavy). So I feel around and grab a rectangular gift that’s next to me that feels fairly heavy. It’s not much, and probably pretty useless, but it makes me feel like I’m doing something.
Later I would talk with many other teachers who were going through a similar process, finding something handy to use as a defensive weapon. Several days later I have a dream that the present I grabbed was a Barbie, and specifically the one from a few years ago that said “Math class is tough.” I could only imagine the headlines if I hit an intruder with that. Not sure what that says about me.
The sequence of this next part is pretty confused in my head. At some point all of these things happened, but I can’t remember for sure the order. I think there were three separate “excursions” from the lockdown room, and I think in this order (checking doors and announcement that didn’t go out, then announcement that did, then a second announcement a bit later), but I could be wrong.
Several Minutes Later
I realize that the fire alarm is going off. It probably has been for a minute or two, but I think this was the first time I noticed it. One of the secretaries has her walkie-talkie with her. This is how administration, campus security, secretaries and the custodial staff communicate across the building (not law enforcement). We hear a message come over the walkie-talkie asking if an announcement can be made telling people to not evacuate. They should ignore the fire alarm and stay in lockdown.
The secretary and I look at each other. The PA system is in the main office. The front of the main office, not the room we’re in. Those of us in that room are the only ones reasonably close to the PA system. We look at each other, stand up, and exit the room, along with another teacher, closing the door behind us. The PA system is around the corner, perhaps 20 feet away.
At some point (not sure if it was in the lockdown room or right now in the hallway), the secretary wonders aloud if we were sure we had locked all the external doors to the main office. She checks one door, the other teacher checks another door, and I check two doors (I think). I’m pretty sure I then grab the PA microphone and attempt to make an announcements telling them to stay in lockdown. This is one piece of technology I’m not familiar with. I’ve made announcements before, but they have updated the equipment slightly since then. Because the announcements don’t get broadcasted into the main office, it’s always hard to tell if the announcement actually works.
We return to the lockdown room, announce ourselves loudly, and re-enter the room and close the door. I make a comment about how I hate that I can never tell if the announcement actually works. The secretary looks at me and asks me if I pressed the two buttons first. I say, “What two buttons?”
The secretary and I leave the lockdown room again and run directly to the PA system. She pushes the two necessary buttons and I grab the microphone and say something like, “Do not evacuate. Stay in lockdown. Do not evacuate, stay in lockdown.” We run back to the lockdown room, announce ourselves, then reenter the room and close the door behind us.
I tend to use humor to deal with situations. All kinds of situations. So at some point in the lockdown room, in spite of the fact that we’re supposed to remain quiet, I make several comments. Somehow by this point I know there are some students in the room, so I think humor might keep them calm. Later I decide it was probably for my own benefit.
To the principal’s secretary, “About that open enrollment application I just dropped off with you . . .”
To the room in general, “How about those Broncos?” (They had played at home, and lost, to San Diego the night before.) Another memory briefly flashes, the Broncos played at home, and won, against the New York Giants on Monday night, September 10th, 2001. There was some talk that because that game ended so late New York time, that many people in New York were late getting into work the next morning, perhaps resulting in a few saved lives.
To the athletic secretary, “This is going to wreak havoc on your activities schedule.”
An undetermined amount of time passes.
At some point the alleged shooter’s name comes over the walkie-talkie. There’s an audible gasp in the room as we recognize one of our student’s names. I know him. Not well, I never had him in class, but I know him. I also know a bit of the background and why he might have targeted the library. For the second time that day I briefly think about what I would’ve done/would be doing right now if I’d been in my office instead of the main office.
I’ve thought about this a lot since. As everyone present that day probably has. I’ve come to the conclusion that my being in my office would’ve either had no effect whatsoever, or possibly would’ve made it worse. The first shots (along with the last one) were the ones that mattered. I imagine I would’ve reacted like others that heard them. Most people initially thought the first shot was either a book being dropped on the floor, or maybe a locker being slammed. By the second and third shot people started to realize what was going on.
Like the media specialist and media clerk next door in the library, I probably would’ve started heading from my desk to the hallway to see what was going on. Unlike them, the distance from my desk to the hallway is not very far.
What would I have done next? I imagine the initial lockdown announcement was still at least 15 or 20 seconds in the future. Would I have been aware enough to shut my door, turn off the light, and lockdown in my office? Would I have gone into the hallway, figured out what was going on, and tried to grab any students I saw and pull them into my office? Would I have gone into the hallway and started toward the library entrance, which is maybe 30 feet away?
Claire was already injured. No matter what I would’ve done my actions wouldn’t have changed that. As it played out, no one other than the shooter was injured after this point. If I had started toward the library, it’s likely that I would’ve been approaching at the same time as the shooter. Would anything have changed?
In every scenario that I play through my head either nothing changes or things change for the worse. If the shooter ignored me and I turned around (the most likely scenario), nothing would’ve changed. If the shooter saw me and decided I was a worthy target, then things could’ve changed for the worse. (Not just for me, it might’ve kept him in the hallway longer and changed his next destination, and the ultimate outcome.) If the shooter was slightly ahead of me and entered the library and I followed him trying to do something (unlikely), then things could’ve changed for the worse. (Instead of firing, missing, and then quickly ending his own life, I might’ve distracted him and more students might have been hurt.)
Perhaps this is all just to make myself feel better, to convince myself I couldn’t have changed anything, but those are the conclusions I’ve come to. I questioned whether I should even share this - is this just self-indulgent? But, in the interest of sharing my thoughts and feelings, I ultimately decided to share.
Keeping in mind how fluid information is when events like this are happening, and how often the initial information is either incomplete or just wrong, I decide to make another comment since we have students in the room. I say something like, “We don’t know if that information is accurate. Please don’t share that information with anyone yet.” Someone else says, “No texting [that information out]”.
Later we would find out how quickly the information had already spread, and it had nothing to do with the message that came over the walkie-talkie. Multiple students saw the shooter and shared that information via text and social media. Some students in many locked-down classrooms (most?) knew the shooter’s name very quickly.
Another undetermined amount of time passes.
At some point another request came over the walkie-talking: could someone please shut off the fire alarm? The secretary and I look at each other again. The shutoff for the fire alarm is also out in the main office, by the front desk, near the PA system. We again exit the lockdown room, and run to the receptionist area. The secretary presses the two PA buttons and then proceeds another few feet to the alarm panel, where she proceeds to silence the fire alarm. The sound stops, but the lights continue flashing. Only the alarm company or the fire department can stop the lights. As soon as the fire alarm sound stops I pick up the PA microphone and make another announcement. I say something like, “Remain in lockdown. Please remain in lockdown. Thank you.”
It’s amazing to me how the brain works so much on auto-pilot. “Please” and “Thank You” were surely not necessary, or even intentional, they just came out.
We race back to the lockdown room, announce ourselves, open the door and enter, and close the door behind us.
We have no idea what is happening, still have no idea that it’s essentially over, but from the tone of the last request on the walkie-talkie I think we all have a sense that perhaps the worst has passed. It has . . . and it hasn’t.
We start to hear more noises through the walls. Lots of voices shouting and sounds of movement. It sounds like what we were expecting to hear next - lots of law enforcement personnel moving throughout the building. Because the room we’re in is on the edge of the main office, adjacent to both the cafeteria and a hallway, we hear lots of activity. Probably because we’re in the relatively secure main office, it’s still quite a while before those voices get closer.
At some point I decide to say something again. Apparently I have no ability to control my need to feel in control, but at least this time I’m not trying to make a joke. I address myself to the students in the room (still not knowing how many there are) and explain to them what is likely happening, and that eventually they will come to our door and help us evacuate. I say something about they’re likely to be talking loud, but not to be frightened, and to make sure to keep your hands visible and move slowly and deliberately.
On days when I’m feeling charitable toward myself, I congratulate myself on handling this well. On other days I think I was probably just talking to make myself feel better.
The voices get really loud. Clearly they have now entered the main office and are going room to room. They come to our portion of the main office last. They pound on the door and announce themselves as law enforcement and ask if anyone is in there.
The secretary and I look at each other again. We’re closest to the door, but this goes against our training. We’ve been explicitly trained not to open the door, even if they announce themselves as law enforcement. Instead, they are supposed to open the door themselves with a key, we’ll see they are law enforcement, and then proceed from there.
This is the only thing that day that I was part of that didn’t go according to our training.
We stay silent, like we’re supposed to. They keep pounding, identifying themselves, and asking if anyone is in there. The secretary and I make eye contact again and finally decide we should say something otherwise they are either going to leave or break down the door, so we answer them.
Even though it was against our training, it seemed pretty obvious that it actually was law enforcement. Lots and lots of voices and sounds of movement, and members of different agencies identifying themselves. If it was a ruse, it would’ve had to have been extremely well done.
They ask us to open the door. The secretary does and we see men in appropriate gear who smile at us reassuringly. They ask if everyone is okay, then explain that they will be evacuating us soon, but not yet (they were still setting up the secure pathway for the evacuation from our area). They tell us to remain where we are and shut the door. We still hear lots of shouting and movement in the immediate area. Three or four minutes later they announce themselves again and we open up.
I’m not sure if it’s now or if it was earlier, but at some point we ask for the names of the students in the room and write them down, figuring that it’s going to be chaos and at some point it might be good to be able to say they were safe. It turns out we didn’t need that information. At some point I’ve also managed to get texts out to my wife, my daughter and my brother saying I’m fine. It takes several tries to get them to send as the cell towers are overwhelmed.
They identify themselves again, and again ask to make sure everyone is okay. We assure them that we are. The lead deputy/officer/agent/whatever (I don’t remember what agency he was from anymore) explains what’s going to happen next. He apologizes, but says that they are going to have to pat each one of us down just to make sure we aren’t involved. He asks us to stand up with our hands in the air and keep them in the air.
We then exit the conference room one at a time. We get patted down in the hallway and then asked to line up along the wall as they pat everyone else down. Once we are all patted down he asks who is the “senior person” here. We’re not completely sure how you define that, but the secretary is first in line so she speaks up and the rest of us are thankful. He addresses her but really all of us and asks us to count off so that we know how many of us there are.
This is when I find out there were 16 of us in that conference room.
He tells the secretary that it’s her job to check when we reach the evacuation site to make sure that all sixteen of us make it there. He explains that we are going to be escorted across the cafeteria and then outside of the building. I don’t recall for sure, but I don’t think he tells us that we’re headed for the track area, just that we’ll be escorted to safety. He tells us to walk, stay calm, stay close to the person in front of you, and to follow directions. He also tells us we need to keep our hands up the entire time.
A different officer escorts us across the cafeteria. There are multiple law enforcement officers in the cafeteria and we’re headed toward one in the Northwest corner of the cafeteria. I glance at the clock on the wall. It’s 1:42 pm. We’ve been in lockdown for a little over an hour. Seemed much longer.
We make it to the Northwest corner of the cafeteria and the next officer. We’re told to wait for a minute. We are then escorted out through the hallway next to the social studies office (at least that’s what I remember, I’m pretty sure we didn’t exit out through the cafeteria doors). We exit the building. I can no longer recall if we stayed on the sidewalk up by the building or walked out toward the driveway that goes behind the boiler room. I think we went behind the boiler room, but I’m not sure.
We pause once or twice. During one of these pauses the officer in the front tells us we can put our hands down. Those of us in the front of the line hear him and put our hands down. The folks further back still have their hands up. At some point I realize that and pass the message back. We proceed slowly toward the track.
As we approach the track, we pass another officer who tells us to put our hands back up. Several lines of students/staff are approaching at the same time. We form into two or three lines and get patted down again, then “released” to the north end of the track. There are hundreds of students and maybe two dozen staff members already there, with a few more coming. And lots and lots of law enforcement.
I talk to a few staff and students who are closest to me, but mostly just turn and look back at the school. Some folks are still being evacuated, but it appears as though most people are already out. I’m reassured that things seem pretty calm and orderly, and I don’t see any running, shouting, or smoke. I text my wife again and let her know I’m on the track and “helping” with the evacuation and I’ll let her know more later when I know something.
Everyone’s talking about what they know (or don’t know), how they’re doing, asking what’s happening, what are we going to do next. For the first time I hear (from students) the name “Claire.” I also hear the name “Karl” for the second time (the first time was over the walkie-talkie).
I talk with another teacher whose husband also teaches in the building - she hasn’t heard from him yet. He was teaching in our portable classroom (we have two classrooms in a modular portable) and we don’t know if he was evacuated somewhere else or is still in lockdown or what. I talk briefly with a social studies teacher. I have his daughter in class. He hasn’t heard from her yet, but he knows what class she was in and that it was relatively far from the action.
Later I would also think about his wife, who’s an elementary teacher in our district. How hard must it be for her to be in lockdown with her kids, plus know her daughter and husband were both at AHS? Later I would hear she was actually at a conference that day, but got a call from a friend.
I see another staff member with their own child. The secretary who had been in lockdown with me has found her daughter. She’s with one of my students who is the daughter of another teacher at my school.
I think about all the teachers at school who also have children at school, and how much worse that would’ve made this. I think about how for the next four years that could be me.
We’ve disturbed the geese. At this time of year there are hundreds of geese out on our athletic fields, and we’ve upset them. There must be at least 250 geese flying and squawking overhead. It just adds to the surreal aspect of all of this.
I’m having random thoughts about the probability that at least some of us are going to be hit by goose droppings, and then further inappropriate concerns that the helicopters flying overhead might be in danger of getting tangled up with the geese.
I talk with various students, some of who I know and some I don’t. They all seem to be doing well, considering. I spot a few of my Algebra students in the crowd and make my way to each of them that I can and check on them briefly. I again try to use humor to make them (me?) feel better, so I tell one of them that he can’t use this as an excuse not to study for his final this weekend.
As soon as I said it I realized how stupid the comment was (not the first and, as you’ll see, not the last one I’d make that day). Thankfully, the student took it the way it was intended and smiled. I thought about telling him that we probably wouldn’t be having finals next week (if ever), or even any semblance of regular school, but decided I shouldn’t since I didn’t know for sure what would be decided.
I’m talking with an assistant principal who indicates that he’s being told we’re going to walk across the fields toward University and board buses to get evacuated to another school where we’ll be picked up. He’s not sure when it’s going to happen, but he thinks pretty soon. Shortly after that the word goes out to try to gather all the faculty that are on the track in one area for instructions. Those of us in the front walk through the crowd asking for faculty to come to the front and we have a quick meeting.
As an aside, the track was just one of many gathering places for evacuees. Many were across the street on the east side of the building in the Burger King parking lot, many were across the street on the south side of the building by King Soopers (and eventually Shepherd of the Hills which ended up being one of the pickup places for parents), and of course some kids just walked home or saw their parents in the crowds that were forming and joined them.
Law enforcement addresses the gathering of teachers and indicates that each teacher who has a class out on the track needs to get them together to prepare for evacuation via the buses. I don’t say anything, but my first thought is unprintable and basically I think that’s a hopeless cause. But we fan out through the kids and spread the message, and within 5 minutes it’s basically done. I mentally apologize to law enforcement - and our students - for doubting them.
Throughout this entire event our students were amazing. They handled things well, remained amazingly calm overall, followed directions and tried to help those around them. The Sheriff would tell us on Monday that not one person was injured in the evacuation. Not one. He indicated he would’ve thought ahead of time that was impossible with a situation like this and over 2300 people on campus.
After we get the kids organized by class (and those kids who weren’t in a class at the time gathered together), we wait. The sun has gone behind some clouds and it’s starting to get cold. Thankfully it’s not very windy. I think to myself how lucky we were that this didn’t happen 4 or 5 days ago when it was below zero and windy. That would’ve been a nightmare.
This was the first of several times that I’ve thought how “lucky” we were that day. Lucky that the weather was pretty good. Lucky that it was 5th period on a Friday when the majority of our students are in class, which means fewer unscheduled students in the library or the hallways. Lucky that the Arapahoe Singers, who were doing their annual caroling tour of the halls hadn’t made it to the west end, because not only would they have been at risk, but often classes come to the hallway to listen. Lucky that room N13, which is attached to the library, didn’t have a class that period. It’s the only period on Friday when it doesn’t have a class. Not only did that mean fewer students in the vicinity, but at least one student who was in the media center at the time exited through that room. If a class had been in there, the door would’ve been locked. Lucky that - for whatever reason - the shooter decided to end it so quickly after his primary target left the building. Lucky (personally) that one of my assistant principal’s asked the day before to schedule a meeting with me in the main office 4th or 5th period, and I picked 5th.
Each time I question myself about the use of that word. How could anything be “lucky” about this? Am I being disrespectful or unfeeling when I use that word (either mentally or in writing)? I hope not. I decided to use it here because I’m trying to be completely honest and open about my thoughts and feelings.
Since I don’t have a class, I continue to hang out on in the middle of the track, at the edge of our students, in between the students and the mass of law enforcement officers (and the building). Several times I talk briefly with the assistant principal who’s there and trying to facilitate whatever is going to happen next, as well as keep an eye on any students (or staff) on the track who might need assistance.
During one of those conversations I look down and see what appears to be blood spatters on his pants. I look up and tell him he’s going to need some new pants. He glances down, then looks up, and says, “Yeah.”
I’m very thankful that he didn’t take my head off for such an inane question. Especially when I later find out that he helped tend to Claire before the paramedics arrived. This particular assistant principal has also seen way more than his fair share of tragedies over the years, and has held more than one dying student in his arms. And I’m talking to him about his pants.
Eventually we are told that we are about ready to take kids to the buses. They’ve changed their minds, instead of hiking across the field to University, they are bringing the buses along Franklin next to the student parking lot and we’ll walk over there, which is much better. We get the classes that are closest to line up single file with their teacher in front, and then slowly walk one class at a time toward the buses. I finally get to feel a little bit useful as I help with that process. The buses are arriving one by one, so it’s a slow process, just a couple of classes at a time, then we wait for the next bus.
While this is happening, two more classes get led away from the building out to the track. They are just now getting evacuated. Turns out these are the two classes that were in the portable. For whatever reason, they weren’t evacuated until now. I spot the spouse of the teacher I was talking with earlier, so I text her that’s he’s okay and on the track (her class had already boarded the buses and been evacuated to a middle school).
Eventually all the classes on the track are evacuated via bus. There are still staff members and a few students who didn’t have a class remaining. We’re not sure what to do. Law enforcement asks if any of us saw or heard anything. Those that had they asked to step to one side so they could do a quick interview. Those who had not (that included me), stayed where we were.
Finally we’re told that we can go. It’s about 3:15 or so (I think) but it seems much later. We ask where we are allowed to go, since clearly we can’t walk back toward the school or toward our cars in the parking lot.
We - and students - ended up getting access to our cars on Saturday, which I thought was pretty darn fast.
After some discussion it’s decided that we can exit off the north end of the track onto Franklin, assuming the law enforcement officer there doesn’t stop us. He questions us, but lets us go past. I’m with the social studies teacher whose daughter I have in class and a science teacher. The social studies teacher lives just a few blocks away, so we’re walking to his house. We figure it’s far enough away that it’s probably not blocked off, and it isn’t, so our spouses can come pick us up (taking the long way around the roadblocks to get there).
While we’re waiting we turn on the news to see what we can find out. There’s not much more information available than we had before, other than lots of pictures and videos from different areas than we were in. They’re reporting that two students were hurt, plus the shooter who apparently shot himself. Initial reports are that one students had a minor injury, but that the other was at the hospital in “serious” condition. I breathe a sigh of relief, since that seems too good to be true. Only one student with serious injuries, and I knew “serious” condition wasn’t great, but was also a much better condition than “critical.” I began to think we might get out of this with some emotional trauma, but perhaps the only loss of life being the shooter.
It turns out that the other student wasn’t injured - at least physically - at all. It was Claire’s blood on her. It also turns out that Claire was not in serious condition, she was in critical condition.
I’m waiting for my wife and daughter to come pick me up at the social studies teacher’s house. I’d eventually find out the story of their afternoons.
For all of the 2300+ stories of people who were present at AHS that day, there are tens of thousands of people who were fairly directly affected who have their own stories, and hundreds of thousands (if not more) who would be affected more peripherally. I’ll perhaps touch on this later, but the community (local, state and beyond) response to this was nothing short of amazing.
Both my daughter (8th grade) and my wife (1st grade teacher) went into lockout (different than lockdown) that afternoon. They had no idea, of course, why there were going into lockout, or even if it was just a drill or if something was going on somewhere. Not only do we drill reasonably often, but lockouts happen more often than you might think. Robberies, car chases, domestic disturbances - all of these can cause lockouts in schools that are close. In this case, most of the south metro area went on lockout.
My daughter was sitting in her 8th grade language arts class about six miles south of AHS. They had just gone into lockout, but didn’t know why yet. At about the same time that her teacher was being told what the lockout was about, my daughter found out on her own via other students. Her teacher tried to comfort her and took her down to the counselor who did the same. They then called my wife.
My wife (about 20 miles south of AHS) had been in lockout for a little while as well, but didn’t know why. After a little while another teacher came into her room and told her she needed to go talk to our daughter on the phone in the front office. My wife panicked a little and asked if something had happened at her school. The answer was no, Karl’s school. My wife ran to grab her phone before going to pick up our daughter.
She saw the text from me saying I was fine. (I had also texted our daughter, but she didn’t think to check her phone, partially because she’s so well trained not to get her phone out at school.) She had a brief conversation with our daughter’s school to work out the logistics of how to pick her up (since they were on lockout, how does she actually get entrance to the building). (There was already an officer at my wife’s school and he kindly offered to drive her and get her in as well, but that wasn’t necessary.) She drove to our daughter’s school to get her. At some point she tries to call me. That call actually made it through to my phone while I was in lockdown. I obviously couldn’t answer, but I tried to text her back saying I was still in lockdown. Unfortunately, I apparently hit one of the auto-text replies that says something like “Do you want to get together tonight?” That freaked her out, as she thought someone must have my phone. Eventually she got the text I intentionally sent and knew I was fine.
Our daughter calmed down some after my wife picked her up and they proceeded home to wait. My wife tried to get more information on what was going on as well as get information out to others that I was fine. (At some point a bit later I texted her and asked her to not only contact my family - which I figured she already had - but to put something out on Twitter since I know how that blows up. She did.)
When I was eventually able to call and tell them where to come pick me up, our daughter started to melt down again. She didn’t want to get in the car, she wanted to stay at home. My wife knew that was a bad idea, so eventually convinced her to get in the car. My daughter ended up calling my Mom from the car and talking for a while, which calmed her down. But then when they actually got to me she melted down again. The anxiety was just too much and she had to let it out. It was a very long car ride home, but by the time we got there she had calmed down a bit.
Since then she has had questions (don’t we all), but seems to be handling it fairly well. She’s had a few nightmares (haven’t we all), and she takes a long time to process, so we’ll see. After a few days she got up one morning and announced that she was still going to go to Arapahoe next year, and she wore nothing but Arapahoe clothing for the next week or so. I suggested to her that she certainly could, but that if she did she needed to be prepared to answer questions from people (she was wearing this to school and, eventually, on the plane trip to visit my family in Kentucky over break).
Turns out on the plane trip she just replied that “no, my Dad teaches there”, so then I got the questions :-).
When I got home we talked for a bit, played with the dog, and I got on the computer briefly to try to get some info and perhaps share some info out.
Twitter has been an interesting part of this for me. (Facebook, Instagram, and others too, have played a big role I’m sure, but I’m mainly a Twitter user so that’s what I’ve experienced.) I got a quick tweet out to follow-up on what my wife tweeted earlier, and then immediately tweeted something similar on the AHS twitter account.
And then I stopped and wondering if I should’ve done that. When social media was finally approved in my district (Twitter and Facebook), we developed a set of guidelines to generally follow and I was comfortable with those. But this situation was obviously different, and not something we had ever discussed (or I had ever thought about). What was the role of our Twitter and Facebook accounts in all of this? What was my role in using them? What responsibility did I have and what leeway did I have to make decisions about what to tweet?
I was acutely aware of both the importance and the risk of tweeting using the school account. While I always try to be thoughtful and careful about what goes out on those accounts, this was different. Our community was hurting. Our community was desperate for news. And I also knew that the tweets would be seen by a lot more people and that, depending on how things went in the long run, might be looked back at and analyzed and/or criticized. So should I tweet from the school account, or would it be better (certainly safer) not to?
After thinking about it for a bit I decided to cautiously tweet. (Again, looking back, I wonder if this was at least partially for my benefit, my need to do something.) The next tweet on the school account (5:07 pm) was heartfelt, and hopefully helpful. That was quickly followed by an informative tweet.
I then took a break to eat dinner, and then asked permission to watch the news. We generally don’t watch the news in front of our daughter, and especially didn’t want to do that tonight, so I asked if I could close the door and watch. She agreed. So I surfed the local channels to try to learn more, while also using my laptop to surf social media and websites as well. Interestingly, one of the local stations led one of their broadcasts by quoting that heartfelt tweet.
I started getting texts from my principal’s secretary. My principal was in a meeting with district folks talking about lots of things (as you can imagine), and they were finalizing plans for some kind of support meeting that night. The secretary asked me to stand by as they finalized details because they wanted me to tweet and post to Facebook. At 6:22 I tweeted there would be meeting at 7 pm for folks who need counseling support, and then at 6:30 with the location.
I returned to watching the television news and checking social media, and again a local television station (different one than before) now shared the information about the meeting I just tweeted out. I also heard on the news that we would not have school on Monday. I didn’t have any confirmation of that, but decided to tweet it anyway with the caveat that I didn’t have confirmation. I also came across a tweet from the Denver Post (I was searching Twitter for various phrases, but mostly “Arapahoe”) with a phone number for mental health services, so I retweeted that.
I was not hearing a whole lot of new information, except for one thing: they were now saying Claire (although they hadn’t named her yet) was in critical condition, not serious. My earlier relief thinking that we might get out of this with no deaths other than the shooter evaporated.
Later that evening staff received a communication from our superintendent (that also went out to the community at the same time) that included information about counseling services that would be available tomorrow (Saturday), so I tweeted out that information. After thinking about it for a minute, I decided since it went out to the public, I could upload it to Google Drive and link to it, so I did and tweeted that as well. Later that night I heard on the news that students and staff would be able to get their cars from the West lot beginning at 8 am tomorrow, so tweeted that as well.
Once the evening news shows were over (10:30 pm), I decided I better get some rest. I generally go to bed fairly early (this was late for me), so I hoped I’d be able to fall asleep quickly. As you might expect, it took a while, but eventually I fell asleep, but woke up early hoping for more - and hopefully good - information.
Saturday, December 14th, morning.
On Saturday morning I continued to tweet out what little information I was finding. There wasn’t much new information online or on tv, and we were not yet getting any new information from the district. I started noticing the prevalence of two new hashtags in my stream, #WarriorStrong and #ArapahoeStrong. Late in the morning I got a call from the district asking for the password for the school Twitter account. They asked me to put out one last tweet to direct people to the official district page for all further communication. (At the same time they removed my ability to update the school Facebook page.)
I wasn’t particularly upset by this then (or now). I understand the need of the district to try to make sure that only “official” and accurate information is coming out from district channels (and surely the school Twitter and Facebook accounts are official “district” communications in some form). But the one thing I am suggesting - both to our district and to other districts - is to consider using these channels better.
We are the “primary source document” for our community. While not everyone craves information in these situations, a certain percentage (I would say a large percentage) does. I completely understand the concerns about anything related to the investigation, but for basic information like I had been tweeting out I think these channels are a perfect way to help meet the needs of our community.
On Friday local media was all over the story, but by Saturday they were only covering it during regular newscasts (and later that day when the Sheriff’s office held a press briefing). At the time the district took over our social media accounts, our five local stations were broadcasting college basketball, Dew Tour (snowboarding), A Tale of Two Tigers, Sports Stars of Tomorrow, and Yu-gi-oh. The “emergency” district page hadn’t been updated in over fifteen hours.
Basic information regarding school being open or closed on Monday, what we were going to do about final exams, when students and staff could get their cars from the parking lot, and resources the district were making available to staff (they were making cash available for any staff whose purses/wallets/cell phones/etc. were still trapped in the building - some young staff might not have any other resources to pay for stuff) are all things that I think it’s helpful to get out there (and were not getting out there via other means). Even when there is no new substantive information, I think it’s helpful to tell people periodically that there’s nothing new.
I know this is complicated, and I’m not suggesting this is the most important issue schools and districts face in situations like this, but I think if districts are making emergency plans ahead of time, this is something to consider and plan for (whichever way you decide to go). Let’s utilize these “push” technologies we already have in place to help serve our communities in times of crisis as well as we do in calmer times.
Social media was also interesting in the way it quickly mobilized to support the Arapahoe community. Not only were #WarriorStrong and #ArapahoeStrong prominent, but people all over Colorado, the United States, and beyond began tweeting their support of the community, and Claire in particular.
I was now using my personal twitter account to both share information and retweet some of the support I was seeing.
The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department held a press briefing on Saturday afternoon. For the first time, they identified Claire Davis by name. Unfortunately, her condition was still critical. The Sheriff also stated that he would no longer say the shooter’s name, but simply refer to him as the shooter. (And, later, as “the murderer”.) He said he didn’t want to make the story about the shooter, but about Claire and the Arapahoe community. He also used the word “evil” multiple times.
I understand what the Sheriff was trying to do and, in some ways, I support it. Certainly I would rather have more of the focus being on helping Claire and the community. Yet from the time he stated this, I’ve also been uncomfortable with it. The “shooter” was also a student at Arapahoe; also a member of our community. While I certainly agree with not making him “famous” or somehow glorifying his actions, it doesn’t change the fact that Karl Pierson was one of our students. Not saying his name won’t change what he did. For me, using the word “evil” doesn’t really help, either.
As time has passed, my feelings on this are just as conflicted. While I don’t begrudge the Sheriff’s opinion or his intent, I still think it’s not the best approach. I realize that others will disagree. But I agree with what another AHS teacher said later, “I want to say Karl’s name.” I think if we want to understand and learn from this, we can’t pretend as if Karl didn’t exists. We have to look at his experience at AHS (and outside of it), and try to figure out what happened. And we have to realize that his friends and family are mourning as well. The Davis family has come to the same conclusion. The response of the Davis family has been nothing short of amazing.
Sunday, December 15th
Sometime on Sunday we received word about our schedule for the following week. On Monday the AHS staff would have a meeting at another district building. On Wednesday staff would be allowed back in the building. On Thursday and Friday students would be allowed back in the building one class at a time.
I was really glad to hear this. I was worried that for various reasons they might not allow anyone back in the building until after winter break. I thought it was really important for both staff and students to not only get back in the building to get their stuff, but to see each other. I worried the longer we waited, the worse everyone would feel, and the harder it would be to return to school.
Monday, December 16th
On Monday the staff met for about three hours. We heard from our superintendent, our administration, the Arapahoe Sheriff, and our district Student Support Services folks. It was a very good, but very emotional, day. We received some additional information, comforted each other, and made plans for how to help the students on Thursday and Friday.
I was impressed with the Arapahoe County Sheriff (despite my concerns with some of his word choices). He updated us with current information (at least what he was allowed to share), gave us some advice to take care of ourselves (and our students), and answered questions to the best of his ability.
He also said something that I think is important. He said that me misspoke on Saturday. On Saturday he said that Claire was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Today he said, “Claire was exactly in the right place. She was exactly where she belonged. She was at AHS, she was there to learn, to grow. She was just there at an unfortunate time.” Some folks may see that as just semantics, but I think it is an important distinction.
Wednesday, December 18th
Staff is allowed back in the building. The building was in very good shape. The library was closed and off-limits, but everything else was ready to go. As they had warned us, it did look a bit weird because it was as if time had stopped. All the students’ stuff was still on their desks in the classrooms, whatever teachers’ had out on their desks was in the same place. That part actually wasn’t that weird for me. As teachers, we fairly often walk into our classrooms and see something like that (after going to an assembly, or a presentation, or the computer lab, or similar). I think the part that was a bit eery for me was still seeing PowerPoint or Google Presentations still up on screens, mid-presentation. It was emotional, and tough for a lot of folks, but I think it was a good day.
Thursday, December 19th
Roughly half of our students returned to the building. Students returned by class (Seniors, Juniors, Sophomores, and Freshmen), with each class getting a two-hour window. Today was Seniors first, then Juniors. They returned to the class they were in when we went into lockdown, to retrieve their stuff and to touch base with their teacher. They they could spend as much time in the building as they wanted to.
As our principal told us, it’s their building.
Most students went to their class and then their lockers, then met up with each other and their teachers, and walked the building. It was a very good day. Some crying, some laughing, lots of hugging. It was very good to have the students back in the building.
Friday, December 20th
Sophomores and then freshmen came in today. Same story as yesterday: it was really good to have the students back. Because I teach just one section of Algebra, with all freshmen, this was when my current students returned to the building.
I had called all of my students’ parents the night before to see how the students were doing and whether they had any concerns about returning to school. Most of them were doing well, but a few expressed concerns. Our guidance department had started a Google Form where we could submit names of anyone who we felt might need some extra attention, so I submitted those students names. (I had already submitted a few other folks’ names as well.)
On Friday I tried to see as many of my 29 Algebra students as I could. The night before I had written down which class they were in for the lockdown, so I hung out by one of the entrances and grabbed a few of my students as they came in, then made my way around the building looking for all the others. One of my students was out of town, but I managed to find 26 of the 28 that came that day (and verified with their teachers that the other two made it and seemed okay).
Was that for my students, or was that for me? I’m not sure it matters.
Now we were on Winter Break. I communicated via email with my parents and students regarding our tentative schedule for the week back, as well as asking them for information about whether they wanted to take their first semester final exam for Algebra after we came back or not. (We had decided to make final exams optional - students could choose to take them if they wanted to, or they could simply keep the grade they had.)
Saturday, December 21st
The call finally came. Claire died. It wasn’t a surprise, but we had been holding on to hope anyway. By this point the district had returned the school’s Twitter and Facebook account to me. I had been mostly sharing out some basic information and the amazing support we were receiving from around the world, but especially from other high schools in the Denver metro area. Not really knowing what to do, I simply tweeted words of support and a link to counseling resources on our website. I also emailed all the parents of my students reminding them of the counseling available to them as well as my contact information if they or their student needed to talk.
Lots and lots (and lots) of decisions were being made by my school administration and by the district over the next few weeks. I had some peripheral duties related to the website, getting information out about Claire’s Memorial Service, and a few other things, but mostly I just tried to stay on top of social media, sharing support from other folks.
Monday, December 23rd
A small group of teachers and administrators from Columbine High School offered to meet with any of the AHS staff who were available and interested to share their experiences. A small group of us spent a little more than two hours at Columbine, and it was good. We talked about how to support our students and a lot about how to support ourselves, and our families. They said as educators it’s really easy for us to focus on helping the students, and put aside taking care of ourselves and our families.
The focus on not forgetting to take care of ourselves wasn’t a surprise, but I guess I hadn’t really focused on how rough this could be for our families as well (despite the fact that my daughter had struggled so much with it initially). So it was good to get that reminder.
December 25th - 31st
We go to Kentucky to visit my family. It was good to get away. Our daughter chose to wear an Arapahoe sweatshirt jacket on the trip out (she had pretty much been wearing AHS gear every day since the incident). I told her it was perfectly fine but, as I’d indicated all the previous days, she had to be prepared to answer questions from folks who were curious. Several folks were, but she just said her Dad taught there and looked at me, so I got the questions instead :-). She wore the same sweatshirt jacket on the way back to Colorado.
January 1st, 2014
Claire’s Memorial Service and Celebration of Life was today. Even though I knew I would be back in town in time, I decided not to get tickets for it (there was no charge for tickets, but you had to get them ahead of time.) Initially I thought I would go to be supportive, but then decided it was probably more important to spend the time with my family. As it turns out, I ended up watching most of it streamed live over the web. I’m not sure if not going was the right choice or not.
After the memorial service was when I finally made the decision to start writing this. As the Davis family stated, we should try to learn from this. I hope in some small way this might help someone, somewhere, sometime. There’s more to say, and I may eventually write more, but I’ve run out of steam.