DENVER — A Colorado undersheriff who led the search for a Florida teenager whose actions prompted tightened security at Columbine High School ahead of the 20th anniversary of an attack there that killed 13 people said she likely killed herself before police launched a massive manhunt.
Clear Creek County Undersheriff Bruce Snelling told The Denver Post that Sol Pais, 18, likely killed herself Monday evening. Her body was found in the snowy foothills west of Denver on Wednesday, and it appeared that she had been dead for more than 24 hours.
“She had no idea what occurred from late Monday afternoon to Tuesday when a search for her began and to Wednesday when her body was found,” Snelling said. “The logical likelihood was she was here to end her journey.”
A manhunt was launched Tuesday, the day after Pais traveled from Miami to Denver and bought a pump-action shotgun and two boxes of ammunition. FBI officials said they were concerned that she was planning an attack of her own because she was “infatuated” with the 1999 Columbine shooting.
Columbine, which is marking the 20th anniversary of the attack Saturday, locked its doors for several hours Tuesday as authorities combed the area for Pais, and hundreds of schools in the Denver area canceled classes Wednesday as the manhunt intensified.
Dean Phillips, agent in charge of the FBI office in Denver, said social media posts and comments she made to others led investigators to see her as a credible threat. Pais did not make threats against a specific school, but her history and purchase of a weapon immediately after arriving in Colorado merited a broad response, officials said.
But Snelling said Pais “didn’t have a master plan” to carry out a school shooting.
“She went dark,” he said. “There was no digital footprint anywhere. No phone. No credit card use. To me, that pointed to a near impossibility that this ill-equipped, 18-year-old teenage woman would fly from sea level in Florida to Colorado and then go up into the mountains with plans to go on a killing spree.”
Many questions remain unanswered about Pais, but a friend disputed the contention by authorities that she posed a threat.
Adrianna Pete, 19, painted a complex picture of the teen, saying she was deeply troubled, lonely and often talked about suicide but was also brilliant, kind and a talented artist who loved to draw.
Pete, a college student in Carleton, Michigan, said she met Pais online two years ago through a mutual friend and quickly developed a friendship involving near-daily communication. They met in person twice, once when Pete traveled to Florida and once when Pais went to Michigan.
Pete faulted authorities for overreacting in portraying Pais as a threat based on her activities before her death.
“She never threatened anyone,” Pete said. “There are no credible threats and only assumptions that she was just because the word Columbine was included.”
Pete said Pais had a weird obsession with the Columbine killers but that didn’t mean she was planning an attack. The killers were “someone she could relate to” because they were lonely, not because of their violence, Pete added.
An FBI spokeswoman has not responded to a request for more information on Pais’ background or her Columbine-related comments that sparked the rapid law enforcement response.
Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com