Florida teen obsessed with Columbine shooting found dead
Sol Pais was discovered by FBI agents with apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound
A Florida teenager authorities say was obsessed with the Columbine school shooting — and may have been planning an attack in Colorado just ahead of the 20th anniversary of the massacre — was found dead Wednesday in an apparent suicide after a nearly 24-hour manhunt.
The body of 18-year-old high schooler Sol Pais was discovered in the mountains outside Denver with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound after investigators got a tip from an unidentified driver who took her there, the FBI said.
During the manhunt, Denver-area schools closed as a precaution, with classes and extracurricular activities cancelled for half a million students.
Agents had focused the search around the base of Mount Evans, a popular recreational area about 95 kilometres southwest of Denver.
The FBI had considered Pais "extremely dangerous" and said she had "made threats to commit an act of violence in the Denver metropolitan area" just days before the 20th anniversary of the attack at a Littleton, Colo., high school by two students, who shot and killed 13 people.
We can confirm that Sol Pais is deceased. We are grateful to everyone who submitted tips and to all our law enforcement partners for their efforts in keeping our community safe.—@FBIDenver
All schools in the Denver area were urged to tighten security because the threat was deemed "credible and general," said Patricia Billinger, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Safety. Columbine and more than 20 other schools outside Denver locked their doors for nearly three hours Tuesday afternoon before Wednesday's complete closures were announced.
"We deal with a lot of threats at Columbine," John McDonald, executive director of security for the Jefferson County school system, said when the manhunt was over. "This one felt different. It was different. It certainly got our attention."
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and the FBI say Pais travelled to Colorado from Miami on Monday night and bought a pump-action shotgun and ammunition at a Littleton-area business.
Officials said there was no evidence she ever got close to Columbine High.
The business, Colorado Gun Broker, posted on Facebook on Wednesday that the firearm was purchased legally.
"We had no reason to suspect she was a threat to either herself or anyone else," the post said.
Denver Public Schools said the decision to close campuses and halt afternoon activities was in collaboration with other Denver metro-area school districts due to the ongoing safety concern.
On Tuesday, some schools released their students after additional security was called in and cancelled evening activities or moved them inside.
"We always have heightened awareness close to high-profile anniversaries like this," Billinger said.
With the threat over, officials said all public events related to the grim Columbine anniversary were still scheduled to take place. They said there was already a comprehensive security plan in place given the notoriety of the event.
Two teenagers attacked Columbine on April 20, 1999, killing 12 classmates and a teacher before taking their own lives. They have inspired cult-like admirers and motivated other mass shooters over the decades. Since Columbine, a growing "no notoriety" movement has urged news organizations to avoid naming the perpetrators of mass shootings to deprive them of the notoriety they seek.
Quiet and smart
In Florida, Adam Charni, a Miami Beach High School senior, said Pais dressed in black and kept mostly to herself. He said he was "baffled" to learn she was the person authorities in Colorado were searching for. Another classmate, 17-year-old Drew Burnstine, described Pais as quiet and smart.
Denver-area parents struggled with how to explain to their children why they had the day off school without scaring them.
"This is definitely a challenge in their generation, and watching my kids learn how to navigate this is really hard. It is really heartbreaking," said Suzanne Kerns, of suburban Arvada, whose children are eight and 15.
Kerns said she was angry about how easy it was for someone reported missing to come from out of state and buy a gun.