My Name is America and I Killed Claire Davis
On December 13th, Claire Davis entered Arapahoe High School for the last time. In the very place that was supposed to secure her future, a boy named Karl Pierson shot her in the head in front of their peers. He then turned to face the oncoming sheriff, and as the man approached, he pressed the barrel to his temple and pulled the trigger1. Claire was kept alive, artificially, for eight days. People prayed and lit candles and laid flowers alongside her picture. Students grappled with the nightmare that had become a reality before their eyes, and Claire toed the line between life and death. "As bad as that was," the National Rifle Association wrote, "things could have been much worse." Claire died on December 21st at 4:29 PM3. I am here to argue that absolutely nothing could have been worse. Not simply because Claire left behind an entire precious potential. It is devastating because by being dead, Claire Davis can now be forgotten. America, in its convenient avoidance, has a habit of piling dirt onto what it does not wish to see. Had Claire recovered, even lacking brain capacity, she’d be a haunting reminder of our failure to protect a girl from the dangers of pursuing an education. Americans would be forced to stare into innocent eyes that had watched a gun take aim at a space above them, and it is increasingly clear that we are far too cowardly to do that. In our fear, we silenced the twenty children of Newtown, who died before they lived. We failed to change. And in accepting that silence, we killed Claire Davis. People will feel sadness and grief while scrolling through quotes about her life, spread among internet articles. Her school will suffer and change due to its new place among an expanding group of bloodstained educational centers. But America will stand still. We will continue to send our children to school every day with a comfortable lack of consideration for the fact that they might not come home. We will recede into the bubble that is our individual, safe reality, and we will forget Claire Davis. How could we let the death of one girl hinder our personal pursuits of happiness? The media reactions to Columbine and Newtown were much more immense than the Arapahoe shooting received, not simply because the Arapahoe casualty count was lower, but because what is more common in this dear nation of ours is sickeningly less shocking. Skeptical? When Claire died, 364 days had passed since the Sandy Hook massacre, as well as 30 school shootings4. Name three that you heard about.
Jan. 7, 2013 –
Apostolic Revival Center Christian School, Fort Myers, FL – Kristopher Smith, 27, a student’s parent, was killed.
Jan. 10, 2013 –
Taft Union High School, Taft, CA – one injured.
Jan. 11, 2013 –
Osborn High School, Detroit, MI – one injured.
Jan. 15, 2013 –
Stevens Institute of Business and Arts, St. Louis, MO – two injured.
Jan. 15, 2013 –
Hazard Community and Technical College, Hazard, KY – Taylor Jade Cornett, 12, Caitlin Cornett, 20, and Jackie Cornett, 53, were killed.
Jan. 16, 2013 –
Chicago State University, Chicago, IL – Tyrone Lawson, 17, was killed.
Jan. 22, 2013 –
Lone Star College, Houston, TX – three injured.
Jan. 31, 2013 –
Price Middle School, Atlanta, GA – one injured.
March 18, 2013 –
University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL – The gunman, James Oliver Seevakumaran, 30, killed himself.
March 21, 2013 –
Davidson Middle School, Southgate, MI – Tyler Nichols, 13, killed himself.
April 18, 2013 –
MIT, Cambridge, MA – MIT police officer Sean Collier, 27, was killed.
April 29, 2013 –
La Salle High School, Cincinnati, OH – one injured.
June 7, 2013 –
Santa Monica College, Santa Monica, CA – several were injured and six people were killed: Marcela Dia Franco, 26, Carlos Navarro Franco, 68, Margarita Gomez, 68, John Zawahri (the shooter), 23, Samir Zawahri (the shooter’s father), 55, and Christopher Zawahri (the shooter’s brother), 24.
June 20, 2013 –
Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, West Palm Beach, FL – Christopher Marhsall, 48, and Ted Orama, 56, both custodians, were killed.
Aug. 20, 2013 –
Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, Decatur, GA – a gunman fired shots and barricaded himself in an elementary school; no one was injured.
Aug. 23, 2013 –
North Panola High School, Sardis, MS – two were injured and Roderick Bobo, 15, was killed.
Aug. 30, 2013 –
Carver High School, Winston-Salem, NC – one injured.
Sept. 28, 2013 –
Gray-New Gloucester High School, Gray, ME – Gaige McGue killed himself.
Oct. 4, 2013 –
Agape Christian Academy, Pine Hills, FL – two injured.
Oct. 15, 2013 –
Lanier High School, Austin, TX – Adrian Alvaresz, 16, killed himself.
Oct. 21, 2013 –
Sparks Middle School, Sparks, NV – two were injured and Mike Landsberry, a teacher and Afghanistan veteran, was killed. The shooter, 12-year-old Jose Reyes, killed himself.
Nov. 2, 2013 –
North Carolina AT State University, Greensboro, NC – one injured.
Nov. 3, 2013 –
Stephenson High School, Lithonia, GA – one injured.
Nov. 13, 2013 –
Brashear High School, Pittsburgh, PA – three injured.
Nov. 21, 2013 –
South Dakota School of Mines Technology, Rapid City, SD – a professor, Alberto Lemut, 37, killed himself.
Dec. 4, 2013 –
West Orange High School, Winter Garden, FL – one injured.
When I first heard via Twitter that a shooter had entered Arapahoe High School, a 30-minute drive from where I sat in my desk, I was nervous and curious about what was going on inside the building. However, an uncharacteristic anger soon drowned my anxiety. Not at Karl. Not at guns or a lack thereof. For the first time, I was purely, wholly livid with my country. Claire Davis was murdered by every single political businessman who sat comfortably on the senate floor and defended gun rights for financial security. Remington Outdoor Company, maker of the Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle used in the Newtown massacre, announced5 that its profits have risen by 52% in the year after the tragedy6. Claire Davis was murdered by the media, who bickered for political power, cleverly disguised as a gun control reform or false grief. And we continue to mock her corpse. “Claire Davis Dead after Socialist Karl Pierson Shot Her at Arapahoe High School,” an article released just hours after her death, claimed Karl “was really no different than any elected Democrat today.” How can we call ourselves humans when we use the bodies of innocent children as ammunition in our snarling, narrow-minded grabs for power? It is revolting in a way that I cannot express by arranging letters. Claire Davis was murdered by every single American who cowered further into their gun control opinion instead of trying to understand the situation for the sake of the children who have choked on their own blood at the hands of other children. I am entirely unsympathetic if that image upsets you. It is our reality. I am 16. I go to high school in Colorado. In childhood, I struggled to understand why people talked about Columbine in hushed voices. I knew it was our state flower, and I thought it was beautiful. But in the mouths of others, its name was void of pride. In 2012, I exited the “Dark Knight Rises” premiere to a group of tense policemen, those who weren't in the Aurora theater 20 minutes away where the light of a silver screen flickered over a dozen dead bodies. The guards in my school, while I thank them for their intentions, are simply another varyingly effective obstacle between the next homicidal child and my favorite teacher, my best friend, my little brother, the peers I have never met, and the kids I’ve grown with since Kindergarten. Each face in the school hallways is that of a developing human sitting somewhere on a broad spectrum of mental health. We, as a student body, are the products of our experiences, be they devastating or nurturing, and we all need care in different ways. But some see my peers differently. Arapahoe Sheriff Grayson Robinson said7 of Karl Pierson, "His intent was evil." The NRA was quick to point out8 “Gun-control laws didn't stop a possible massacre at Arapahoe High School. A good guy with a gun stopped the rampage.” While I nod to both Robinson and the NRA for their eloquent accounts of Good Guy with a Gun’s heroic stance against the devil’s vessel himself, I cannot honestly blame an all-powerful force of darkness for the Arapahoe shooting. Rather I feel failure press on my shoulders. It would be easier to blame metaphysical evil than swallow responsibility for these deaths. But the part of me that pointed fingers and converted guilt into excuses died along with Claire. Adam Lanza has baby pictures. James Holmes smiled. Karl Pierson, according to his peers, was loudly intelligent. I will not apologize for humanizing them. Upon careful inspection, one can see that they were humans. The problem, stripped down to its very core, is the series of developmental occurrences that cause a child to kill himself after the blood of his peers has painted the very books that they study in. If we are to say our system is good-- adequate even--for nurturing mental health, then we are liars. While some people are born with varying predispositions to mental illnesses, such as psychopathy and depression, the full scale development of unwarranted, mass, merciless killing is a foreign state of being brought on by ignorance of a festering instability. In every situation I have researched, investigators found in retrospect that the shooter had clearly expressed their psychological deterioration. In 5th grade, Adam Lanza wrote a book in which children were slaughtered, and a boy shot his mother in the head10. The Oscar for most ironic death was subsequently awarded to Nancy Lanza. Karl Pierson was isolated in his compulsive need to be correct, and his expressed interest in bomb-making. He fully vocalized death threats toward his debate teacher days before his rampage11. A now-fired Arapahoe security member, Cameron Rust, wrote in a Facebook post that the administrators were well aware of Pierson’s problems, but didn’t act to solve them. "Karl was a known threat for a long time, he should have gotten the necessary help and appropriate resources should have been involved," Rust said12. Maybe we killed Karl Pierson too. James Holmes's psychiatrist had warned campus officials about his homicidal inclinations13. However, she stopped seeing him, campus operations continued normally, and a few weeks later, 70 people were hurt and 12 were dead in the Aurora massacre. Once, an anonymous caller on Oregon-based anarchy radio commented on Travis, the long-domesticated Chimpanzee who attacked his owner’s friend and was then shot. “Travis wasn't an untamed monster at all. He wasn't just feigning domestication.” said the voice. “Look what civilisation did to him,” he went on. “It had the same exact effect as it has on humans. He was profoundly sick in every sense of the term... His attack wasn't simply because he was a senselessly violent, impulsive chimp… some little thing that he experienced was the last straw, and he was overwhelmed, by the life that he had, and he wanted to get out of it by changing his environment... His attack can be seen entirely parallel to the attacks, the random acts of violence that you bring up on your show every week, committed by humans, which the mainstream also has no explanation for... I just don't think it would be such a stretch to say that he very well could have been a teenage mall shooter or something like that.”9 The effect of society rather than a persistent force of evil. The feeling of being trapped. This does not sound the words of someone who was a worshiper of Satan, but rather a carefully-worded speech who draws parallels between the life of Travis and the life of developing humans. The voice belonged to Adam Lanza. I do not believe that these people should wander free of justice for their actions. I am not expressing that they should be romanticized and pitied, but rather we should listen and act to prevent these situations in the first place. We have a debt to pay for killing Claire Davis, and it can only come in the form of improvement. At Claire’s Memorial service, her father, in between tears and unsteady breaths, forgave Karl. "My wife and I forgive Karl Pierson because he didn't know what he was doing. We would ask all of of you here, and all of you watching, to search your hearts and also forgive Karl Pierson.”14 Then, in one of the strongest expressions of human understanding I have ever witnessed, he told us how to change. “By forever showing compassion and forgiveness, and using whatever is within your power to to reach out to those around you that might need your love to help guide them through the darkness.” Michael Davis demolished the last excuse that America could cower behind. Despite our political or religious discord, we can all act to improve. Even if we are stubborn in believing in a darkness, we must believe equally in our ability to enlighten. So, we have options. We can, in fact, debate and converse maturely and unselfishly about the topic of gun control. We can analyze its successes, exemplified in Australia15, as well as its failures, and act after careful consideration. I will not pretend that I have done the research required to push confidently for either side, although I am attracted to the idea of fewer violent weapons. However, the problem is not the existence of firearms, rather the culture of those who use them, and I am open to proposals of all natures, as long as they are well-researched and genuine. Asking this of Congress seems akin to placing a strip of scotch tape on the shards of a shattered window and asking for protection from a storm. I both accept and express that I am upset by the lack of political cooperation, but I feel this way because I love my people and I do believe that we are capable of improving. Not that it is easy. Only that it is possible. We can push for mental health reform. Never before have we been able to understand the human brain to the extent that we do. Put in motion acts to educate parents, teachers, and children about maintaining mental health. Foster caring and compassion toward one another in primary schools, and let it grow into a social change. If Adam Lanza’s mother hadn’t assumed that he would “grow up to be a confident man,” and fought to understand his mental state, maybe 20 angels would be happily entering 2nd grade this year. If we had worked to improve, maybe Claire Davis would be waking up for school tomorrow. So here I stand, 16 and ridden with the complexity of the world that I live in; a puppet through which my dead peers speak. And I have only this to say. If we do nothing, do not make the mistake of thinking that we as a country are being silent. Infact we are screaming, “MY NAME IS AMERICA AND I KILLED CLAIRE DAVIS” “AND I WILL KILL AGAIN.”
Andrieski, E. (2014, January 2). Family of slain Colorado student Claire Davis forgives killer. NBC News. Retrieved January 14, 2014, from http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2014/01/02/22146318-family-of-slain-colorado-student-claire-davis-forgives-killer?lite
Cabrera, A., Watkins, T. (2013, December 15). Colorado's school shooting over in 80 seconds. CNN. Retrieved February 7, 2014, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/14/us/colorado-school-shooting/
Colorado high school shooting victim Claire Davis dies. (2013, December 21).NBC News. Retrieved January 4, 2013, from http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/colorado-high-school-shooting-victim-claire-davis-dies-v22001114
News. (n.d.). James Holmes' psychiatrist warned of threat before attack. Fox News. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/04/04/james-holmes-psychiatrist-warned-threat-before-attack/
Gurman, S. (2014, January 17). Arapahoe High security guard: Shooter's warning signs ignored. The Denver Post. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_24930749/arapahoe-high-security-guard-shooters-warning-signs-ignored
Karlamangla, S. (2013, December 14). Arapahoe High community rallies behind gunshot victim Claire Davis. LA Times. Retrieved January 4, 2014, from http://articles.latimes.com/2013/dec/14/nation/la-na-nn-claire-davis-arapahoe-shooting-20131214
Lahainanews. (2013, November 26). Conn. gunman's motive still a mystery.Lahainanews. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from http://www.lahainanews.com/page/content.detail/id/414821/Conn--gunman-s-motive-still-a-mystery.html?isap=1nav=5022
NRA-ILA (2013, December 20). Stopped in 80 Seconds: Armed Response, Not Gun Control, Halted School Rampage. NRA ILA. Retrieved January 4, 2014, from http://www.nraila.org/get-involved-locally/grassroots/gras
Short, K. (2013, December 13). Sandy Hook Gun-Maker Profits Up 52 Percent In Year Since Massacre. The Huffington Post. Retrieved January 3, 2014, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/13/sandy-hook-gun-profits_n_4442034.html
Sohmer, S. (2014, January 15). The Sad List: There Have Been 30 School Shooting Since Newtown. HyperVocal. Retrieved January 16, 2014, from http://hypervocal.com/news/2014/30-school-shootings-newtown/
Stanglin, D., Winter, M. (2014, January 16). Tape surfaces of Adam Lanza's call to radio show. USA Today. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/01/16/adam-lanza-newtown-sandy-hook-radio-program/4505649/