CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Karl Halverson Pierson, identified by authorities as the student who opened fire at a suburban Denver high school Friday, wounding another student before killing himself, was a senior who had belonged to the school speech and debate club and the track team, according to students at Arapahoe High School and the school website.
Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said authorities hope information gleaned from searches at the home where Pierson lived with his mother, his father’s home in Denver and Pierson’s car, “will help us put the pieces together.”
Friends described Pierson as an intelligent, likable teen who last year was an officer in the debate club, serving as one of its captains. He reportedly placed third in a regional competition that allowed him to compete at a national tournament.
Joe Redmond, 18, a senior, was one of three co-captains on the debate team, and said Pierson was a good friend whom he had known for about three years.
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“At the end of the day Karl was a good person, and I hate the idea that he might be defined by his ending acts,” Redmond said. “I loved to be around him. I loved to talk to him. It’s always a shame when you hear friends making bad choices, but this one was particularly devastating.”
Redmond said Pierson was kicked off the debate team and suspended from school in September for a few weeks after threatening the coach.
“When he came back he was really, really angry,” Redmond said.
The debate team won first place in a tournament last Saturday, Redmond said, and when students returned to school Monday, Redmond asked Pierson if he would think about rejoining the team.
Pierson told Redmond that he still hated the teacher, and said, “Apparently you get suspended for threatening to kill a teacher.” He said Pierson went cold at that point, looked at Redmond, and then looked at the ground.
Redmond said Pierson and the teacher had argued over changes Pierson had wanted to make to the debate team.
“He doesn’t take a no very lightly,” Redmond said.
Redmond said his team’s victory last Saturday may have made Pierson upset that he was no longer on the team. He said Pierson was the best debater on the team.
Redmond said Pierson also seemed to be affected by the divorce of his parents within the last two years.
“He was honestly a really good guy,” he said. “He and I talked politics and economics a lot. He was very good when he was on the team.”
After the shootings, “I broke down in tears,” Redmond said. “Friends firing guns in a school building, I never expected that to happen in my life.”
Pierson was active on social media, filing his most recent public Facebook update on Dec. 5, when he changed his cover photo to a melded image of the recently deceased actor Paul Walker, the late former South African leader Nelson Mandela, and Brian the dog from the television show “Family Guy,” all sitting in a car.
On the Arapahoe Speech and Debate club’s Facebook page, Pierson was a frequent poster, motivating his teammates with funny images and countdowns to future debates.
“39 more days till nationals!” he posted May 7.
On June 18 he wrote, “Hey guys! I just got back from day 2 of nationals and I’m sorry to say I am not moving on, nor am I in the top 60 of the country. Thank you from everyone for your support, and have a great rest of your summer and hope we can send some more guys to nationals in Kansas next year!”
Redmond commented, “Congrats Karl, be proud of yourself for making it. We’re all very happy for you.”
Pierson was also a member of the Facebook group Smart Sundays, which according to the page is “for people who want to partake in discussions of politics, philosophy, religion and things of that nature.”
On May 28, he posted a question to spark debate in the group: “I know it’s not Sunday, but I was wondering to all the neoclassicals and neoliberals, why isn’t the market correcting itself? If the invisible hand is so strong, shouldn’t it be able to overpower regulations?”