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FBI Examines Past Of Teen Suspect As Colorado Students Return To School

Columbine High School
Leigh Paterson

The suicide of a Florida teenager who authorities say was obsessed with the Columbine shooting and may have planned to carry out her own attack will not end an investigation to determine if she had any accomplices, officials said as Denver schools reopened Thursday and preparations to mark the 20th anniversary of the tragedy resumed.

The body of 18-year-old Sol Pais was discovered Wednesday in the mountains outside Denver with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound after investigators got a tip from a driver who took her there, the FBI said.

Dozens of schools that closed as a precaution during the daylong manhunt reopened their doors with heightened security measures. Events planned to mark the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine attack will go on as scheduled throughout the week, starting with a church service Thursday night and culminating with 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 emerge Wednesday along with some classmates' confusion about her involvement. The Miami Beach High School student dressed in black and kept mostly to herself, said Adam Charni, a senior at the school.

He said he was "baffled" to learn Pais was the person authorities in Colorado were seeking. Another classmate, 17-year-old Drew Burnstine, described Pais as quiet and smart.

Dean Phillips, FBI agent in charge in Denver, said Pais had made troubling remarks to others about her "infatuation" with the assault at Columbine and its anniversary. He did not elaborate.

Investigators will try to learn more from Pais' social media and other online activity, largely to ensure that she had no accessories or accomplices, Phillips said. He confirmed 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 of 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," Yero said. "They provided valuable information that led us to Colorado and a lot of things that assisted in preventing maybe more loss of life."

Pais had purchased three one-way tickets to Denver on three consecutive days. She arrived Monday night and went directly to a gun store, where she bought a shotgun, authorities said.

They said she did not threaten a specific school. Still, Columbine and more than 20 other schools outside Denver locked their doors for nearly three hours Tuesday afternoon, and some canceled or moved evening activities inside.

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

McDonald described Pais' trip as a "pilgrimage" to Columbine, though she 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 the anniversary.

Frank DeAngelis, Columbine's principal at the time of the shooting, said he was on campus Tuesday when the threat prompted the locking of the doors. He immediately went to check on several staff members who still work 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 — without scaring them — why they had the day off school.

"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 (97 kilometers) southwest of Denver, authorities said. She used the weapon she bought, Phillips said.

Copyright 2019 Associated Press. All rights reserved.