Skip to main content

In Arapahoe texts, bonds between father and son shine through

By Michael Pearson, CNN
updated 9:28 PM EST, Mon December 16, 2013
  • NEW: Another student wrote a farewell on his hand, fearing the worst
  • Arapahoe High School father posts texts with his son amid shooting response
  • "Ok I am here and will be here," Kevin Conboy texts. "Until I have you."
  • The shooter killed himself after wounding one other student

(CNN) -- Kevin Conboy was backing out of his driveway for a midday burrito run with a friend when he heard the sirens.

He was driving down the street when he saw the flashing lights at Arapahoe High School.

That's when what Conboy calls "initial parent paranoia" set in.

"Are you ok" Conboy texted his high-schooler son, Ian, at 12:48 p.m. Friday, at first fearing not a shooting but something awry with his diabetic son's health.

Son texts mother during shooting

"I'm fine," Ian texted back. But the school's on lockdown, he added. Something happened.

"Whoa," Conboy texted back.

What followed was a remarkable string of 70 more texts, displaying remarkable calm and the bond between a father and son amid a crisis that made national headlines.

Conboy, a Web developer and self-avowed "data sharer," said Monday he posted the texts to his website to revisit later, to write about more, to remind him on some distant day that "my relationship with my son is absolutely where I want it to be."

Shooting victim described as sweet, smart

"We're in lockdown"

Friday's shooting began at 12:33 p.m., when, according to police accounts, 18-year-old student Karl Pierson walked into the Centennial, Colorado, school armed with a pump-action shotgun, a machete and a backpack containing three Molotov cocktails, a bandolier of ammunition across his chest.

According to police, Pierson shot 17-year-old Claire Esther Davis once in the head amid shots fired randomly into school hallways. He also ignited one of the firebombs in the school library before killing himself in the back corner of the school library.

Conboy didn't know any of that when he heard the sirens and saw the lights at the high school he once attended and where Ian now goes to school.

But he knew something was wrong. He steered the car not toward the Qdoba restaurant where he and a friend had planned to have lunch, but toward his son's school.

"Are you ok" he texted. "There are ambulances going to Arapahoe."

"I'm fine," the boy wrote back. "And yeah. We're in lockdown."

Lessons of Columbine and other school shootings helped in Arapahoe

A constant dread

A school shooting has long been one of the characters in the cast of fears that dances through Conboy's mind when it comes to his three children.

He remembers being a young, young father -- barely out of high school -- cradling 1-year-old Ian and watching the horror of Columbine play out down the road from him in 1999.

The slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, a year ago only intensified the dread.

He vowed back in 1999 he'd never have a gun in his home. And the plague of school shootings since then has only strengthened his belief that U.S. gun laws are, in his words, "severely underpowered."

But, on Friday, he wasn't thinking about gun laws. He had only one thing on his mind: his son.

"I am here and will be here"

Four minutes had passed since Conboy first texted his son.

"What's going on," he asked.

"Dunno," Ian wrote back. "We heard something like a gunshot and then an administrator came by to make sure the door was locked. Now we're all huddled in a corner."

"Please keep telling me you're ok," Conboy texted his son.

I'm good, the son replied, promising to text every five minutes.

"Ok I am here and will be here," Conboy texted. "Until I have you."

"Thanks dad. That Means a lot."

School gunman liked debate, acted 'weird' at times

"He's here"

Dozens of texts followed. Can you get to the Burger King? No, Ian says. Go to Euclid Middle School. Actually, don't. Change of plans. Go to the Shepherd of the Hills Church instead.

I'm there, Dad says. You have to check me out, the son says. Standing in line, Dad answers.

"Okay thanks," Ian texts.

And then nothing for more than four hours.

The last entry is a photo -- Conboy and his son on the basement couch, alone, after Conboy had broken down in tears. After the rest of the family had gone from crying to celebrating. After everyone else had headed upstairs to decorate the Christmas tree.

"Oh my God," Conboy told CNN on Monday of the moment. "He's here, and what have we been through together."

A message on a hand

Another Arapahoe student, Matt Bowers, had his own message. It was written on his hand, in case he didn't get out alive.

"Family, I love you all so much," Bowers scrawled, the last two words underlined. Then he added, "I'm up here now," above a picture of a cross.

Bowers told CNN's The Lead that he was in a literature class when he and his classmates heard a loud bang from down the hall. He didn't think anything of it until they heard two more. His teacher's face "just became completely pale," he said, and everyone rushed to a corner of classroom away from doors and windows.

He's kept the ball-point pen he used to write that farewell ever since.

"I've never had such a frightening experience in my life before that," Bowers said. "It really changed how I looked at my life, and just my whole perspective on what life is."

Part of complete coverage on
School shootings
What if police could pinpoint where a school shooter is? Some schools are betting on it as they install technology that will be wired to local law enforcement.
updated 12:03 PM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
After a shooting at an Oregon high school, many media outlets, including CNN, reported that there have been 74 school shootings in the past 18 months.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Mon September 30, 2013
School security plans have changed to include arming teachers, adding police officers and armed security guards, and changing how schools are designed.
updated 5:24 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Here is a list of incidents of random elementary, middle and high school (excludes colleges and universities) violence with fatalities, from 1927 to the present.
updated 1:02 PM EDT, Wed April 24, 2013
Dr. Angela Sauaia intended to study the impact modernized playground equipment had on lowering children's injury rates. They ended up studying kids' injury rates from guns instead.
updated 10:12 AM EDT, Fri April 19, 2013
Katie Lyles, who teaches third graders in Colorado, was a student at Columbine during the massacre 14 years ago.
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed May 1, 2013
What do you do with the guns in your house? This question appears to be one that parents are asking more often before sending their kids on play dates and sleepovers.
updated 10:14 PM EST, Tue January 14, 2014
Opinion: Parents need to be proactive when it comes to their children's school security plans. Every parent should ask their school administrators the following questions.
updated 4:25 PM EDT, Fri September 13, 2013
When Nelba Marquez-Greene lost her 6-year-old daughter in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, she chose to cope with her loss in a unique way: by writing a letter.
updated 9:16 AM EDT, Sat August 17, 2013
A Maryland company that makes bulletproof whiteboards has contracted with a university seeking to offer its professors greater protection in the event of a school shooting.
updated 12:31 PM EDT, Tue July 16, 2013
Along with math, science and social studies, gun safety could soon be part of the first-grade curriculum in some Missouri public schools.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Some parents say recent school shootings confirm the need to protect children and teach them to defend themselves using guns.
updated 5:57 PM EST, Wed January 30, 2013
The Dunblane massacre, which killed 16 children and a teacher, stunned Scotland, but what did the UK do to try to prevent such a tragedy happening again?
updated 7:30 AM EDT, Fri April 12, 2013
Opinion: The AAP says the best preventive measure against firearm injuries and deaths is not to own a gun. However, if you choose to have firearms in your home, adhere to these rules for gun safety.
updated 10:51 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Federal law makes it illegal to sell or give a firearm to anyone who "has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution" but private sellers and gun shows have no background check requirement.
updated 4:37 PM EST, Wed February 27, 2013
Nearly three-fourths of the nation's teachers say they personally would not bring a firearm to their school if allowed.