DENVER — The frantic hunt for an armed young woman who threatened Columbine High ended Wednesday near at the base of a mountain 40 miles west of the school. Sol Pais, an 18-year-old who was the target of a nearly 20-hour manhunt, was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said.
It is unclear how long she had been dead when she was found. Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader said officials do not believe she was working with accomplices.
Pais traveled to Colorado this week from her home in Florida. Upon her arrival, she legally purchased a pump-action shotgun at a gun shop near Columbine High School and then, seemingly, disappeared. On Wednesday morning, she was seen running naked through the woods, a law enforcement source told The Denver Post.
The threats Pais made triggered a lockout at Jefferson County Public Schools Tuesday, and on Wednesday, the state’s eight largest school districts were closed. More than 400,000 students were impacted, adding to what was already a stressful week for the community: the 20th anniversary of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School is on Saturday.
[The man keeping Columbine safe]
“We are used to threats, frankly, at Columbine. This one felt different,” said John McDonald, the head of safety and security for the school district. “It was different.”
With the immediate threat over, schools will reopen on Thursday. Memorial events for the anniversary, including an alumni reunion at the high school, will go on as planned.
Pais’s parents reported the teenager missing Monday night, after losing contact with her on Sunday. She is not known to have a criminal record; The Miami-Dade Police Department said Wednesday that it had searched incident reports going back 18 years and found none under Pais’s name.
Online postings and a journal that appear to have been written by Pais indicate that in the last year she’s been grappling with a heightened sense of isolation and anger.
In an entry dated January 15, Pais — whose online handle is “Dissolved Girl” — hinted that she might carry out an attack. “My views and thoughts [are] becoming more extreme and solidified as time goes by,” she wrote on her personal web site’s diary. “[I] feel like a pot of scolding water on the verge of boiling over.”
In late March, Pais wrote on the website of the National Gun Forum, asking how she could acquire a weapon in Colorado if she lived in another state.
Hello everybody,” she wrote. “Florida resident here. I am planning a trip to Colorado in the next month or so and wanna buy a shotgun while I’m there and I was wondering what restrictions would apply for me? I’ve found a few private sellers I might want to purchase from… Thank you for reading, I appreciate your response!”
Several users chimed in with advice.
“First of all, thank you for taking the time to answer my question and in that extent — I really do appreciate it,” she wrote.
Pais’s interest in Columbine is far from a new phenomenon to law enforcement agencies in Colorado. The 1999 attack has long been the subject of intense online interest to individuals known as “Columbiners,” who obsess over investigation records, school blueprints and writings from the shooters made public.
Dozens of school shooters, including the killers at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Virginia Tech, are known to be among these obsessives. They publicly or privately worship the Columbine shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed 12 of their classmates and one of their teachers in 1999.
“People relate to them because they view Columbine as a case of the oppressed students rising up against their oppressors, the bullies,” said Peter Langman, an expert on the 1999 attack and other school shootings. “That’s a complete misunderstanding of what happened at Columbine — but it is a common view of it.”
As the 20th anniversary of the attack on Columbine has approached, the Jefferson County Public School District has seen an increase in threats and concerning messages, which often come in the form of emails to the school or phone calls to the 24-hour dispatch center run by the district’s security team.
More than 150 people per month have been apprehended in the Columbine parking lot, attempting to take photos of the school or get inside it.
While most of those threats and trespassers have been deemed harmless, the threats by Pais were considered far more serious.
John Nicoletti, a psychologist who works as a consultant to the Jefferson County Public Schools, said the accumulation of actions made by Pais — buying a plane ticket, taking the flight, purchasing a weapon — shows “somebody who is committed to carrying this out.”
“What we want to avoid is saying we don’t think this person means it,” Nicoletti said. “Then, if they do do something, how do you explain that?”
Julie Tate, Mark Berman and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.
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