Arapahoe High tragedy: Five years later

Former Arapahoe student: ‘Talk about mental illness ... with anyone that will listen’

Alumna who was on site during incident talks path forward, addressing gun violence


After the shooting, it felt like the world was ending.

That’s a glimpse into Harper Brown’s mental state after a tragedy struck that forced her to hide in the corner of her fourth-period class, “thinking Columbine was about to happen to me,” Brown said.

“I was lucky — I only heard the shots,” Brown, now 22, said. “I can’t imagine what it would have been like to see any of the violence.”

She felt her world upended when she continued to hear of similar incidents around the country in the years to follow.

“I was hyperaware of school shootings that occurred in the next few years,” Brown said. “I sent social media messages of hope to the students and ripped my own emotional wound open again each time.”

Five years after the incident at Arapahoe High School, Brown, who graduated from the school in 2014 and was friends with Claire Davis — who was killed in the shooting — still deals with post-traumatic stress when she hears gunshots and other loud sounds. But she speaks about the incident with clarity, adamant that discussing mental health is a meaningful step toward preventing shootings at other schools in the country.

Brown said she went to therapy a few times, but her healing also came from the emotional support of family and friends, her faith and writing about the tragedy of Dec. 13, 2013.

“I felt not only the desire but the responsibility to document my feelings throughout the process of healing,” Brown said.

It wasn’t an easy one: A nauseous feeling sat in the pit of her stomach for weeks after the incident, and her feelings about it shifted from shock to sadness, confusion and an anger that still flares up whenever she hears of another shooting. It’s on the public to prevent such tragedies, she said.

“There are other ways than just gun control,” Brown said. “It was (mental health) that wasn’t under control that caused my classmate to use a gun in a violent way. Talk about mental illness with your therapist, with your family, with your friends — with anyone that will listen.”

Davis’ friends supported each other by talking frequently about the tragedy, but it was difficult to accept her death, Brown said.

“Just this past February, I hung out with one of my best friends who was very close with Claire our senior year,” Brown said. “We visited her grave and gave her flowers and a card for Valentine’s Day. That was when it finally felt real.”

Teachers, parents and students in the Arapahoe community pulled together to weather the tragedy at the time, and Brown is still in touch with former students there. Her sister just graduated from the school, and Brown meets with a few current seniors each week through her church in Highlands Ranch. She lives in Centennial, just a few miles from the school, and works as an engineering and construction recruiter in the Denver area. Brown graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder in May with a degree in journalism.

She hopes people reflect on not just the tragedy, but also on what people can do to address what leads to incidents like it.

“I’m glad Arapahoe created Clarity Commons on campus,” Brown said. “It means a lot to me and so many others that (Claire) is remembered and that we all learn from Dec. 13, 2013. The PTSD fades more and more every year, but I’ll never forget.”

Arapahoe High School, Arapahoe school shooting, Centennial Colorado, Littleton Public Schools, Arapahoe mental health


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