A young Florida woman who traveled to Colorado, bought a shotgun and allegedly threatened Denver-area schools just days before the Columbine massacre anniversary was found dead Wednesday with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in Clear Creek County after a nearly 24-hour manhunt, the FBI confirmed.
“We are relieved that the threat to our schools and community are no longer present,” said Jason Glass, the Jefferson County Public Schools superintendent. Columbine High School, more than 20 other schools in Jefferson County and many other schools in the Denver area locked their doors for nearly three hours Tuesday afternoon, and then shut down all day Wednesday because of the threat.
Sol Pais, 18, was found dead near the Echo Lake Lodge at the base of Mount Evans. She was reported missing from her home in Surfside, Fla., on Monday after flying to Denver on one of three one-way plane tickets she purchased for April 15, 16 and 17, FBI Special Agent Dean Phillips said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Once in the state, she immediately went to a gun store and legally purchased a shotgun.
FBI officials would not specify the store. However, Josh Rayburn, owner of Colorado Gun Broker in south Jefferson County, posted on Facebook that Pais passed a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
“We had no reason to suspect she was a threat to either herself or anyone else. We are very sorry to hear of the outcome in this situation. It is never good when someone loses their life. We are praying for her family. And are very thankful this situation did not escalate into a public tragedy,” wrote Rayburn, whose gun shop is located less than two miles west of Columbine High School.
Phillips confirmed that Pais was not yet on the state’s radar when she procured the gun Monday morning.
Non-residents over the age of 18 are permitted to buy a long gun — a shotgun or rifle — from a federally licensed firearm dealer with a background check. There is no waiting period to acquire the gun once a background check is finished.
Pais traveled from the airport, to the gun store and into the foothills via a “for-rent vehicle” with a driver. Neither Phillips nor FBI Denver spokeswoman Amy Meyer would specify if the driver worked for a ride sharing, taxi or other transportation service.
The driver contacted investigators and helped to pinpoint where Pais had holed up Tuesday. Officials waited until daylight Wednesday to send search crews out into the woods near Mount Evans in Clear Creek County.
She was found dead about 10:30 a.m. An autopsy will confirm when she took her life, Phillips said.
In response to the discovery of her body, Gov. Jared Polis said, “It’s times like these that help us appreciate friendship, family, and community. Today, parents across Colorado — including me — are hugging their children a little tighter.”
Pais’ potential penchant for violence was first discovered by Miami-area law enforcement earlier this week. Interviews with people who knew her uncovered her “troubling infatuation with Columbine” and her “recognition that the anniversary is coming this weekend,” Phillips said. Those comments, others made by her on social media and the plane ticket “caused us great concern.”
Phillips would not specify which social media platforms Pais used. NBC News obtained an apparent online journal signed with Pais’ full name and under the handle “Dissolved Girl” in which she describes herself as feeling miserable and out of place. She also wrote about her suicidal ideations and desire to buy weapons.
Another entry referenced plans for a shooting. Another included a drawing of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine gunmen.
“Had a dream last night about the future and it was eye opening. Was only a week away from the day and I had my (expletive) shotgun … ” an entry reads, according to NBC.
The 20-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School, which left 12 students and one teacher dead, is Saturday. None of her writing or comments specified a target, Phillips said.
Pais also may be behind a series of posts on the National Gun Forum. Under the same screen name as the blog, the person asked how they could buy a shotgun in Colorado.
“The problem is i have no friends in FL who are into guns like me so it’s not as fun having to do all of this alone,” according to one post found by the Miami Herald.
Glass said weekend events for the Columbine massacre anniversary would go as planned and his district’s students would return to school Thursday.
John McDonald, the safety executive director for the Jefferson County Public Schools, said the decision to cancel school Wednesday was hard but the best “for our kids.”
When students are concerned about their safety, “they can’t focus, they can’t study, they can’t take that test,” he said during a news conference Wednesday. “I’m very thankful that the threat is over.
“We know that Columbine continues to attract people from around the world. If I have any message, we are not a place to visit if you are not a student. If you don’t have business there, we are not a tourist attraction. We are not a place where you can come to gain inspiration.”
Pais lived in a small oceanside town in southern Florida called Surfside, a heavily Brazilian community with a household income lower than the national median. She attended Miami Beach Senior High School, where she was enrolled in AP and honors classes, the Miami Herald reported. Her classmates described her as “smart and unassuming, if socially awkward at times.”
“She didn’t seem any type of way,” Justin Norris, 18, a senior said to the Herald. “She was just bad at starting conversations.”
The manhunt was “like a bad dream,” her father told NBC 6 in South Florida. “We don’t know, we don’t have any idea,” he said to the TV station.
He said he also believed she had a mental problem. The FBI would not comment on her mental status during Wednesday’s news conference.
Surfside Police Chief Julio Yero told the Associated Press that the family be given “privacy and a little time to grieve.”
“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,” he said to the Associated Press.
The FBI will continue its investigation to ensure that Pais had no accomplices, said Phillips. Investigators are working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office to file appropriate charges.
Colorado Springs-area schools were open Wednesday with boosted security. District 11, Academy School District 20, Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 and Woodland Park School District RE-2 all brought on extra hands to secure their schools.
Sand Creek High School was placed on lockout about 5:30 a.m. Thursday while officers investigated an armed robbery at a nearby convenience store that was unrelated to the manhunt in Clear Creek County. Two suspected thieves were found in the 7600 block of Barnes Road, but a third is still on the run.
The lockout was lifted at 8:10 a.m.
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