Denver Metro Schools Reopen As FBI Examines Florida Teen’s Past

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
FBI Special Agent in Charge Dean Phillips talks to reporters at the agency’s Denver field office about the tips that put them on the trail of Sol Pais of Florida, and how authorities eventually found her body near Echo Lake below Mount Evans, April 17, 2019.
Photo: Sol Pais Manhunt 3 | FBI Dean Phillips - HVD
FBI Special Agent in Charge Dean Phillips talks to reporters at the agency’s Denver field office about the tips that put them on the trail of Sol Pais of Florida, and how authorities eventually found her body near Echo Lake below Mount Evans, April 17, 2019.

The death of a Florida teenager who authorities say was obsessed with the Columbine school shooting and may have planned to carry out her own attack in Colorado did not end an investigation into the 18-year-old, authorities said as they examine whether the young woman acted alone and Denver-area schools prepared to reopen their doors.

The body of Sol Pais was discovered in the mountains outside Denver with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Wednesday after investigators got a tip from the driver who took her there, the FBI said.

Dozens of schools that closed as a precaution during the daylong manhunt planned to reopen Thursday with heightened security measures. Events planned to mark the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine attack will go on as scheduled throughout the week, including a ceremony near the school on Saturday.

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, some of whom committed other mass shootings over the decades. 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.

The details of Pais’ travel from Florida to Colorado began to trickle out Wednesday along with some classmates’ confusion at her involvement. The student at Miami Beach High School dressed in black and kept mostly to herself, said Adam Charni, a senior at the school.

Charni 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.

But the Miami Beach high school student made troubling remarks to others about her “infatuation” with the 1999 assault at Columbine High and this weekend’s anniversary, said Dean Phillips, FBI agent in charge in Denver. He did not elaborate on what she said.

Investigators will seek to learn more from Pais’ social media and her other online presence, largely to ensure that she had no “accessories” or “accomplices,” Phillips said. He confirmed that the material being scrutinized includes a blog containing hand-written journal entries that occasionally feature sketches of guns or people holding large firearms.

In Pais’ hometown, Surfside Police Chief Julio Yero asked that the family be given “privacy and a little time to grieve.” Pais’ parents had reported her missing on Monday night, police said.

“This family contributed greatly to this investigation from the very onset. They provided valuable information that led us to Colorado and a lot of things that assisted in preventing maybe more loss of life,” Yero said.

Photo: Sol Pais Manhunt 4 | Echo Lake Lodge - HVD
Echo Lake Lodge, which sits at the intersection of Squaw Pass Road and Mount Evans Road, April 17, 2019.

Pais purchased three one-way tickets to Denver on three consecutive days, then flew in on Monday night and went directly to a gun store, where she bought a shotgun, authorities said. Authorities said she did not threaten a specific school. But Columbine and more than 20 other schools outside Denver reacted by locking their doors for nearly three hours Tuesday afternoon, and some canceled evening activities or moved them inside.

“We’re used to threats, frankly, at Columbine,” John McDonald, security chief for Jefferson County school system, said when the manhunt was over. “This one felt different. It was different. It certainly had our attention.”

McDonald described her trip as a “pilgrimage” to Columbine, though Pais is not believed to have been on the campus.

The threats and response added an emotional burden for many with ties to the Columbine community ahead of this weekend’s anniversary.

Frank DeAngelis, Columbine’s principal at the time of the shooting, said he was on campus Tuesday when the threat prompted officials to lock the high school’s doors. He immediately went to check on several staff members who continue working there 20 years after the attack.

“The support was so great,” he said. “Everybody came together.”

Denver-area parents faced the difficult job of explaining 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 8 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.

Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader said the sale of the shotgun apparently followed the state’s legal process. Out-of-state residents who are at least 18 can buy shotguns in Colorado. Customers must provide fingerprints and pass a criminal background check.

Pais’ body was found off a trail not far from the base of Mount Evans, a recreation area about 60 miles southwest of Denver, authorities said. She used the weapon she bought, Phillips said.