COLORADO SPRINGS – Thousands of students in the Denver area returned to class Thursday after school was canceled the day before as a precaution while authorities searched for a woman believed to have made serious threats to carry out a mass shooting.
The FBI believes 18-year-old Sol Pais of Surfside, Florida was infatuated with the 1999 Columbine High School shooting. She flew to Denver this week and legally purchased a pump action shotgun. Investigators found her body near Mount Evans on Wednesday morning with what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Saturday will mark the 20th anniversary of the Columbine attack and school safety professionals believe systematic changes implemented in the years since that tragedy help investigators to know about Pais’ intentions ahead of time and try to stop her.
“When you have somebody who has made the effort to buy a plane ticket and come all the way to Colorado and purchase a weapon, that you have a serious threat and people responded accordingly,” said Christine Harms, Director of the Colorado School Safety Resource Center.
Her agency compiled 26-page list noting all of the significant studies, commissions, and changes in state law and policy to occur since Columbine. Yet the most visible transformation at local schools has come about more recently.
In 2015, state lawmakers passed the Claire Davis School Safety Act, named after the Arapahoe High School teenager murdered at school in 2013. The law holds schools legally liable in the event of a mass shooting if administrators fail to exercise reasonable care to protect staff and students from foreseeable acts of violence.
There has been a spending spree on school security since then which was boosted by at least $60 million in state grants last year.
“Everything from locks on classroom doors to cyclone fencing around playgrounds as well as very sophisticated access control systems,” Harms said.
She explained that Colorado schools all have developed emergency operations plans to train staff and local law enforcement on how to respond in the event of a mass shooting. Mock drills are a common occurrence.
While the investments in security help, Harms believes the issue of treating students for students with mental health issues remains largely addressed. Lawmakers gave $400,000 in grants to school last year for suicide prevention programs.
Suicide remains the top concern for students contacting the Safe 2 Tell tip line and Harms points out the 98 students took their own lives last year represented a 27 percent increase over the previous school year.
“If we had lost 98 students in an active shooter situation last year, we would be making sure we had the resources to address that problem.”
State Representative Donald Daldez, (D) La Jara, is cosponsoring a bill to boost grant funding for school psychologists by $3 million. That bill is on currently hold in the State House waiting for appropriations.