A “credible threat” that closed schools in Jeffco and all along the Front Range ended Wednesday morning after the 18-year-old woman in question was found dead near the base of Mount Evans.
Jeffco Sheriff Jeff Shrader said that the FBI confirmed that Sol Pais was found deceased of an “apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.” He said he did not believe law enforcement was in active pursuit at the time. During a Wednesday morning press conference, Shrader said he expected the FBI to provide more information at a later briefing.
Law enforcement said that Pais, who is from the Miami area, was “infatuated” with the Columbine shooting. She flew into Denver on Monday night and purchased a weapon and ammunition after arriving in Denver. The Jeffco Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies broadcast bulletins on social media and news stations seeking any information about her on Tuesday afternoon.
Several schools in Jeffco and other parts of the metro area were placed on lockout Tuesday afternoon in response to the threat. The decision to close schools for more than 500,000 students throughout the metro area was announced around 12 am Wednesday morning.
“To close an entire metro area is not an easy decision,” said John McDonald, executive director of Jeffco’s Safety and Security department. However, he said when this threat came in, it “felt different, was different.”
Determining that this was a ‘credible threat’
McDonald said the fact that Pais had purchased a ticket, flown to Colorado from Florida, and purchased a weapon once in the state, combined with her fascination with the Columbine shooting presented clear evidence of a threat to schools.
He added that he did not believe she made it onto the Columbine campus, however.
Shrader said the initial information about Pais was received on Tuesday after the Miami FBI office contacted the Denver FBI office after she was reported missing by her parents.
Colorado law enforcement determined that Pais purchased a firearm from a gun shop in the Littleton area, not far from Columbine. Shrader also said all indications were that she purchased the gun legally.
Shrader said they deemed this a credible threat based on statements Pais had made to friends and family as well as online postings. He added that they do not believe she had assistance or friends in the area.
McDonald said that he immediately called the School Resource Officer at Columbine High School after he received the initial call from law enforcement warning of the threat. He and the SRO began taking action and making decisions “within a minute,” he said.
Shrader also addressed questions about what law enforcement could have done if there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest her.
There was certainly the potential for additional charges, Shrader said. Had they apprehended her alive, they would have placed her on a 72-hour mental health hold. Prosecutors and the FBI were also involved and could have determined what charges might apply after they obtained more information.
“I don’t believe our hands were tied,” Shrader said.
School to resume Thursday with “heightened security”
Superintendent Jason Glass said that Jeffco expects to hold school as normal tomorrow with “heightened security procedures in place.” They expected the Columbine observance activities to take place as scheduled, he said.
Glass thanked Jeffco staff and local and state law enforcement agencies who had provided support. While they were relieved the threat was no longer present, “it’s not the only challenge” for school security.
“Our focus has been ‘how can we keep our kids safe in schools?’” Shrader said. “One of the goals of public safety is not only to reduce crime, but to reduce fear of crime,” Shrader said.
Students who don’t feel safe in school aren’t learning, McDonald said. “They can’t concentrate, can’t do well on a test.”
Glass said Jeffco schools would have additional mental health support available for students, staff, and families.
Former Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis was also on the Columbine campus on Tuesday. He said one thing that was different from 20 years ago was all the drills that schools have in place. When the lockout was called, “the kids knew exactly what to do,” he said. It was “like clockwork.”
A lockout means that no one can enter or leave a school building, but business inside continues as normal.
DeAngelis added that the support system is there and important as well.
“We have a support system in place and we take care of each other,” he said.
Thinking ahead to future threats
Glass said that metro-area superintendents “coordinated closely” throughout Tuesday into Wednesday. He said there was a concern that any school could be targeted. He and the other superintendents worked closely with all state and local agencies to make the best decision.
McDonald also emphasized that decisions are not made in a vacuum. His department works closely with school administration, law enforcement, and additional resources in making any decision.
Glass also said they are now working to develop procedures for future situations. They don’t want one person to be able to hold all schools on the Front Range hostage, he said. Procedures for a possible multi-day threat will be addressed. Plans for modifying transportation procedures, security presence at schools and more are complex issues that will be also addressed.
McDonald also had a message.
“We are not a place to come visit if you’re not a student,” he said. “We’re not a tourist attraction.”