Celebration of Claire Davis' life draws thousands

Jennifer Smith
Mourners light up the night with candles at the end of the celebration of the life of Claire Davis at the National Western Stock Show Complex on Jan. 1.
Jennifer Smith
Rebecca Johnson, Claire Davis's riding coach, leads Claire's horse out of the arena after presenting the saddle to Claire's parents.
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By Jennifer Smith
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"Oh my gosh, Karl, what are you doing?"

Those are the words that Claire Davis' anguished father says were her last, spoken in the split second before Karl Pierson shot her in the head.

"Claire tried to shine her light on his darkness," said Michael Davis as he addressed the thousands of people who attended the celebration of Claire's life, held at the National Western Stock Show arena on Jan. 1. Claire's mother, Desiree, stood by his side as the room rose in a standing ovation.

Although first responders rushed Claire from Arapahoe High School to the operating room within 30 minutes of the shooting on Dec. 13, she lapsed into a coma from which she would never emerge. She died on Dec. 21.

Friends and family hope the entire community will take her final words forward as it tries to heal from yet another tragedy.

"Before we say or do something, we should reflect and ask ourselves that last question," said Pastor Steve Poos-Benson of Columbine United Church. "Ask ourselves what is it we are doing, and what is it we are doing to one another?"

Michael Davis asked that Claire's legacy be the light with which she filled the lives of all who knew her.

"My wife and I forgive Karl Pierson," he said.

"Karl is no longer with us. It is no longer our responsibility to judge. As each of us must do someday, Karl must face infinity alone."

He said Claire would want everyone to forgive Pierson, and would want all who mourn her to keep love alive and light in their lives.

"Make love more important than hate, desperation and fear," he said.

Light and laughter seemed to fill every crevice of Claire's life. Her boyfriend, Alex Chapman, let her say how important those things were to her in her own words, by reading a letter she wrote as part of a college application.

"I think laughter makes people real," she wrote. "I love to laugh and smile and, more importantly, to make others laugh and smile."

Chapman recalled how he knew she was special the minute he laid eyes on her.

"I looked at her and I said, 'Wow, she would be someone amazing to be with,' " he said. "... I love Claire so much, and I always will."

Several well-known names attended the event - U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Olympian and Centennial resident Missy Franklin all spoke, and Claire's favorite band, One Direction, sent their regrets. Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson was recognized with a standing ovation, and praise went out to all the first responders, including Deputy James Englert, the school-resource officer who got to the scene within seconds, and firefighters from Littleton Fire Rescue Station 15, who rushed Claire to Littleton Adventist Hospital.

But it was the people who knew Claire who brought her to life for those who didn't. They told tales of screaming at teen-idol concerts, giggling for hours on end, making friendship bracelets, drinking milkshakes and talking about boys.

"Almost every moment I spent with Claire we were laughing," said Mary Strauss, a friend since middle school. "Over the years she taught me so much, but most importantly, how to love someone more than you love yourself."

Rebecca Johnson, Claire's riding coach for seven years, said Claire was a fierce competitor on her horse, Graphite Gran Grannus, but rode with grace under pressure and true class.

"Above all else, she was kind, and the horses knew that, and they loved her," said Johnson, who nicknamed Claire "Fluffy Rainbow Child."

"She left me an improved woman and a better coach," she said. "Claire was my friend, and loved her, and I know that love was returned."

Near the end of the ceremony, Johnson walked the horse out and retired the saddle of his fallen rider, presenting it to Claire's mother.

Poos-Benson sent the mourners home with a message to be vigilant in working to end the violence.

"You need to go find the Karl Piersons in our community, and ask those Karls, 'What are you doing? Where are you? We need you to be a part of us,' " he said. "You need to make sure that Karl gets help."

Claire's parents and older brother, Alexander, thanked the community for its incredible support throughout their unimaginable ordeal.

"She knew what it meant to have a friend and to be a friend," said her father. "She was learning to find her bliss. The world was a better place with her in it, but we are coming to accept that it was time for us to return the gift to the giver."

The Claire Davis fund

The Davis family has established a fund in Claire's name that will be used to support mental-health and anti-violence causes in the community.

Arapahoe High School Community Fund

The Denver Foundation

Philanthropic Services

55 Madison Street, Eighth Floor

Denver, Colo. 80206-5423

www.denverfoundation.org

720-974-2602

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