Woman accused of making threats against Columbine high school found dead

Joanna Walters in New York


The young woman being hunted in Colorado after making threats against Columbine high school just days before the 20th anniversary of the mass shooting there was found dead by police on Thursday, apparently as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, law enforcement officials said.

Sol Pais, 18, who authorities said had traveled to the Denver area on Monday from her home in Florida, had been declared armed and dangerous on Tuesday after purchasing a pump-action shotgun and ammunition. She was hunted down in a forested campground in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, west of Denver, late morning on Wednesday.

At first the FBI put out a statement on Twitter declaring she was “no longer a threat to the community”. Then law enforcement later confirmed that she was dead.

Pais was said to be obsessed with the 1999 school shooting of students and teachers at the high school in Littleton, near Denver, which killed 13. The two students who perpetrated the massacre died, in addition to their victims.

Schools in and around Denver were closed on Wednesday after she made unspecified threats.

The anniversary of the Columbine high school shooting is on Saturday. The tragedy ushered in the modern era of repeated US school shootings.

Just a few minutes before its tweet that Pais was no longer a threat, the FBI had said that it was searching in the area of Mount Evans, west of Denver, and images on television showed investigators in snowy forest, aided by a snowcat vehicle with caterpillar tracks.

The Jefferson county sheriff, Jeff Shrader, held a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, during which he said it had appeared that Pais had killed herself.

She was found dead as police closed in, but Shrader said: “I don’t believe they were in active pursuit at the time she died.”

He said he believed Pais had purchased the weapon legally after arriving in Colorado from Florida, where she lived near Miami, and from where she was reported missing on Monday by her parents.

Police were searching her home in Surfside, Florida, on Wednesday, and schools in the Denver area were put into lockdown on Tuesday and then closed on Wednesday while she was still at large in the area, following unspecified threats.

Shrader said Pais’s body was found “not far from Columbine”. The school is in Littleton, near Denver, and the woman was in densely wooded snowy hillside terrain, at a campground in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, in the Arapahoe national forest.

She was said to have had a fascination with the Columbine school shooting and its perpetrators.

“Looking at school shooters there are some real indicators, the fact that she purchased a plane ticket and made this pilgrimage here. There is no evidence that she was [seen] on the Columbine property, but the fact of her history and the fact that she bought a firearm indicate that she was a threat,” said John McDonald, executive director of the Jefferson county department of school safety.

The sheriff said it was not clear what, if anything, Pais would have been charged with if she had been captured.

“She would have been subject to being taken into custody for a mental health check, 72 hours holding and treatment, to assess the threat,” Shrader said.

Frank DeAngelis, the former principal of Columbine high school who was in charge on the day of the massacre in 1999 and has been there ever since, said that when the alarm was sounded about the threat on Tuesday, the school employed its lockdown system “like clockwork”.

“The kids knew exactly what to do. There was help there. It was much more reassuring than it was 20 years ago,” he said on Wednesday.