When Claire Davis was in middle school, she looked like most other young teens: gawky and gangly, all teeth and elbows and knees. Yet even at that self-conscious age, she never shied away from being goofy or enjoying a good laugh with her family and friends. Anyone who’s ever been there—in other words, every one of us—knows what a minor but remarkable act of courage it is to let the world see your true self at one of your most vulnerable stages of life, and Claire not only revealed her light, she fearlessly let it shine.

Claire eventually grew into her smile, and into herself. By her senior year at Arapahoe High School in 2013, she’d become as lithe, graceful, and resilient as a willow frond. But she never lost her goofiness; if anything, she embraced it. In one of her college application essays she wrote about her greatest joy: sharing her laughter with others. That’s why it’s a mortal lock that the second-to-last thing Claire Davis ever did was make someone laugh.

On December 13, she was at school, eating cookies with friends, when she saw a classmate striding through the Arapahoe halls armed with a shotgun. By now, American high school students are well versed in how to respond to such threats, but Claire didn’t dive under a table or hide behind a bookcase. The last thing Claire Davis ever did, without hesitation, was to walk up to the young man, and with care, compassion, and truly remarkable courage, she asked him what he was doing.

When young children die unexpectedly, it’s as if their slates, nearly blank, are suddenly erased, their promise brutally doused. Teenagers are more complex. They’re mature enough to have made a few choices about which direction they’d like their lives to take. They’ve discovered a passion or two. (Claire’s was horses, which she rode with regal grace and unabashed delight.) The luckier ones have found first love. (Claire’s was her boyfriend, Alex.)

Yet as ready as they often think they are to face the world, teens are still profoundly fragile. They can’t earn much of a living. They still have insecurities in any number of categories. They’re raw and unfinished. They still need mom and dad.

It was from her parents that Claire, so gentle and kind, received her greatest sense of self and, clearly, much of her courage. On New Year’s Day, her father, Mike Davis, spoke at Claire’s memorial service at the National Western Events Center alongside his wife, Desiree. With herculean tenderness he uttered the name of the young man who stole Claire’s bright, shining life and assured everyone that he and Desiree have already forgiven him.

Words fail to encapsulate the strength of spirit, humility, and humanity it must have taken to proclaim such forgiveness so publicly, so soon. But the Davises are determined to make sure their daughter’s light will never be extinguished. The least the rest of us can do for them, and for Claire, is anything we possibly can.

—Image courtesy of the Denver Post.

Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.