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The grieving family of the 17-year-old Colorado girl fatally shot by another student at school has expressed a powerful emotion toward her killer: forgiveness.
“My wife and I forgive Karl Pierson for what he did,” Michael Davis said Wednesday night during a memorial for his daughter, Claire.
Pierson, 18, shot Davis in the head before killing himself Dec. 13 at Arapahoe County High School in the Denver suburb of Centennial, sheriff’s investigators said.
"We would ask all of you here and all of you watching to forgive Karl Pierson,” said Davis, his voice choked with emotion. “He didn't know what he was doing.”
His daughter died eight days after the attack. She was an innocent victim of Pierson’s rampage, which officials believe was prompted by him losing his spot on the school’s debate team.
In 80 seconds of terror, Pierson stormed into the school armed with 125 rounds of ammunition, a machete and three Molotov cocktails, first firing a shotgun down a hallway. He then shot Claire point-blank while she sat nearby.
The high school senior suffered severe head trauma and fell into a coma.
Some law enforcement officers have vowed not to use Pierson’s name and have referred to him publicly as “the murderer,” but Michael Davis was conciliatory.
“The young man that shot Claire had a name. His name was Karl Pierson,” said Davis, fighting back tears with his wife, Desiree, at his side.
Davis said Pierson “allowed himself to become filled with anger, rage and hatred. ... The fact is that Karl was so blinded by his emotions he didn’t know what he was doing.”
Davis said his daughter’s last words were to ask Pierson, “Oh my gosh, Karl, what are you doing?"
That was her way of trying to illuminate the emotional darkness that had enveloped Pierson, Davis said.
“Karl is no longer with us,” he added. “It’s no longer our responsibility to pass judgment.”
Claire was remembered as being a popular student and athlete, who loved horses and competed in equestrian events.
The memorial service drew Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin, a Centennial native.
Claire’s loved ones promised that her memory would not be forgotten.
“I loved Claire so much. I always will,” boyfriend Alex Chapman told the mourners, who filled an events center in Denver for the teen’s memorial.
Chapman read from a college application that Claire sent to Colorado State University. She wrote that she uses a sense of humor to connect with people.
“I’m generally a little shy, but I love to make people laugh when they are sad,” she wrote, adding, “A laugh gives me more self-confidence, which has helped me to be less self-conscious and more comfortable reaching out to other people that I don’t know.”
Claire’s dad said his family wanted to forgive Pierson to highlight that sense of understanding their daughter had.
“Unchecked anger and rage can lead to hatred, and unchecked hatred can lead to tragedy, blindness and a loss of humanity,” Davis said. “The last thing Desiree and I would want is to perpetuate this anger and rage and hatred in connection with Claire. Claire would also not want this.”
Flags in Colorado were flown at half-staff Wednesday to honor the teen.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.