CENTENNIAL, Colorado (CNN) — The victim in Friday’s school shooting in Centennial, Colorado, “probably was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson told reporters Saturday.
Robinson said that to his knowledge the shooter and the victim, identified as 17-year-old Claire Esther Davis, did not know each other.
“His intent was evil, and his evil intent was to harm multiple individuals,” Robinson said about Karl Pierson, whose entrance into Arapahoe High School just before 12:33 p.m. was documented on security cameras, as was the bulk of the one minute, 20 seconds that ensued prior to his suicide.
The high school senior and debate club member parked his car along the curb in the student lot, then — wearing a bandolier of shotgun shells and carrying a pump-action shotgun, a machete and a backpack holding three Molotov cocktails — entered a door adjacent to the library on the north side of the building, Robinson said.
“He took no effort to conceal the fact that he was armed,” he said.
Once inside, Pierson “fired one random shot down a hallway,” then entered the area where Davis was seated with a friend, “and shot the female victim point-blank” in the head. “There was no particular interaction,” he said. “There was no time for the victim to run from the shooter.”
Pierson then fired another round down the hallway, then entered the library, where he fired again and ignited one of the Molotov cocktails, according to Robinson.
That ignited at least three bookshelves and caused smoke to pour into the library.
He then fired a fifth round and ran to the library’s back corner, “and there took his own life.”
By then, a faculty member, the librarian — accompanied by a janitor — had departed the school building, he said.
The janitor told CNN affiliate KMGH on Friday that the student was wearing tactical gear.
“It just looked weird,” Fabian Llerenas said. “He went in and I heard two pops. That’s when I knew. I said, ‘They are shooting in the school.'”
Llerenas said he called security and then escorted the faculty member out of the school.
Pierson had fired at the man but missed, Llerenas told KUSA.
“He was so shooken up, he felt the wind out of the shotgun just blow his hair out, but it didn’t hit him.”
At the beginning of the rampage, a deputy sheriff working as a school resource officer learned of the threat and, accompanied by an unarmed school security officer and two administrators, ran from the cafeteria to the library, Robinson said. “It’s a fairly long hallway, but the deputy sheriff got there very quickly.”
The deputy was yelling for people to get down and identified himself as a county deputy sheriff, Robinson said. “We know for a fact that the shooter knew that the deputy was in the immediate area and, while the deputy was containing the shooter, the shooter took his own life.”
He lauded the deputy’s response as “a critical element to the shooter’s decision” to kill himself, and praised his action after hearing gunshots. “He went to the thunder,” he said.
Pierson’s initial target appeared to have been the faculty member who had been involved in running the debate team and had disciplined Pierson in early September, Robinson said. “I don’t believe the decision was inappropriate nor was it overly harsh,” he added, without elaboration.
At that time, Pierson had threatened the faculty member, he said.
But there may have been other targets on Friday. “It is my very strong opinion that this individual would not have come to this school armed with a shotgun and multiple rounds had he not intended to shoot multiple people.”
The shooter’s weapons had been purchased legally on December 6 at a local outlet, Robinson said.
Robinson credited the faculty member on Friday for leaving the school. “In my opinion, that was the most important tactical decision that could have been made,” Robinson said. The faculty member “left that school in an effort to try to encourage the shooter to also leave the school.”
In a statement read by Robinson, Davis’s parents said that first responders and the trauma team at Littleton Adventist Hospital had saved her life, but that she remained in critical condition with severe head trauma. “She needs your continued prayers,” it said.
Pierson’s body remained inside the school until about 5 a.m. Saturday, when the Arapahoe County Coroner’s Office removed it.
His mother was out of town on family business, but both parents have spoken with investigators, said Robinson, who added that the dead man appeared to have acted alone.
Police executed search warrants for Pierson’s car and his mother’s house and his father’s house, though Robinson would not say what may have been found.
While Pierson’s act may be long remembered, his name will not be, if Robinson has his way. “I choose never to use his name again in public,” he said.
Still, others recalled him with affection. The shooter was a “nice young man,” a neighbor told CNN affiliate KUSA. He was an achiever, an athlete who ran cross country, and he had worked on an Eagle Scout project.
Frank Woronoff told CNN he had known Pierson since they were freshmen together.
“He was the last person I would expect to shoot up a high school,” the high school senior said. “He was honestly incredibly humble and down to earth. He was a little geeky, but in a charming way.”
When it was all over, police escorted the 2,000 students from the building. TV crews who by now had descended on the campus en masse showed dozens of students — their hands in the air — walking out of the school. Some stood in lines at a field, where they were patted down by police.
Students were then taken by bus to a nearby church, where they were reunited with their families, Robinson said.
Gov. John Hickenlooper called the shooting an “all-too-familiar sequence, where you have gunshots and parents racing to the school and unspeakable horror in a place of learning.”
By CNN’s Tom Watkins and Ana Cabrera
Ana Cabrera reported from Centennial, Tom Watkins reported and wrote from Atlanta.