schools

Jeffco officials, former Columbine High School principal reflect on threat

”Extremely dangerous” 18-year-old from Florida caused Jeffco schools to close for a day

Posted 4/17/19

After two days of disrupted schools, and a statewide hunt by law enforcement, Jefferson County Public Schools will be heading back to something closer to normal Thursday. Multiple Jeffco schools — …

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schools

Jeffco officials, former Columbine High School principal reflect on threat

”Extremely dangerous” 18-year-old from Florida caused Jeffco schools to close for a day

Posted

After two days of disrupted schools, and a statewide hunt by law enforcement, Jefferson County Public Schools will be heading back to something closer to normal Thursday.

Multiple Jeffco schools — including Columbine High School, all other schools in the Columbine High School area, and all schools in the mountain areas of the county — were placed on lockout around noon on April 16. Lockouts involve limiting all access in or out of area schools, but allows teachers and students to maintain most school-day activities inside. Those schools dismissed students at the normal time, albeit with additional security from the district and county sheriff's deputies.

The reason for the lockout, along with similar precautions taken by districts across the Denver metro area, was 18-year-old Florida resident Sol Pais. The FBI described Pais as being “extremely dangerous” and “infatuated” with the 1999 Columbine High School shooting that left 13 victims dead. Her presence in Colorado led to a statewide hunt for her.

Due to the nature of the threat, all metro area school districts, and some from as far away as Boulder and Fort Collins, canceled school for April 17.

It would not be until mid-morning of April 17 that Pais would be found, dead, near Echo Lake and the border of Clear Creek County and Jefferson County.

The Jeffco school district held a press conference April 17 with Sheriff Jeff Shrader, shortly after Pais' body was found.

“Every report that we get as a threat, law enforcement works it, the school works it, and my team works it, and it all comes together — that trifecta of responding. My biggest fear is not being there,” John McDonald, director of safety and security for Jeffco Schools, said at the press conference. “That would be devastating to me. I struggle taking vacations. They pay me the medium-size bucks to protect the school district. I take great pride and ownership of that.”

MORE: Hard lessons from Columbine help protect kids now

District officials said that school and special activities, including Columbine anniversary events, would continue as normal for the rest of the week.

McDonald said that, sadly, Columbine in particular was no stranger to threats over the years, though he wished that was not the case.

“We are not a tourist attraction, and we are not a place for you to gain inspiration,” he said.

The incident opened up old wounds for Frank DeAngelis, who was the principal of Columbine High School at the time of the 1999 shooting. DeAngelis also spoke at the press conference. He was at the school on April 16 when the lockout was announced, and said he felt the same anxiety as that day in 1999.

Every year, during the week of April 20, the day the 1999 Columbine shooting occurred, DeAngelis is at the school to offer support.

“When I started teaching back in 1979, and even when I was principal, the only drills we did were fire drills. It was amazing yesterday to see how the kids were so well trained and the staff was so well trained and everything just clicked into place,” said DeAngelis. “It didn't happen by accident, because of all the training that is being done. People ask why we have to do it? Our society has changed from 20 years ago. There's been so many lessons learned.”

Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Jason Glass also spoke a the district press conference. He has two children who are in kindergarten and first grade. He told his children that there was someone who wanted to harm students at school, and that he was keeping them home so tto be safe while the search for Pais continued. His children asked why Pais would do that, and what she was thinking, questions that he said are tough for adults to answer.

MORE: School safety and crisis resources ; Talking to children about violence

“I think when it comes to those questions that come up with children, we have to let them ask, and we have to be as honest as we can and know that neither the adults nor children fully understand what's happening,” said Glass.

In a news release about the events of the last few days, the Jefferson County Education Association called for an end to school violence.

"We demand that this not be the norm of our community. We demand more mental health supports for our students and educators. It is time to have hard conversations about meaningful gun reform and demand that our legislators pass those laws," the statement reads in part.

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