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Woman Wanted for Columbine Threat Found Dead; Jefferson County Officials Hold Press Conference. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired April 17, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: They determined that this woman that they thought may have been a threat actually purchased a shotgun there in the area and then the manhunt ensured. We saw they took that incredible step of locking down all of the schools because this had risen to the level of concern that though she might be a threat, not knowing what her specific target was. And --


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Josh, I want to interrupt you.

This is Jefferson County having a news conference. Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We thank you for coming on such short notice.

This morning, we will have three brief statements from the gentleman to my left. First, we will have a statement from Jeffco sheriff, Jeff Shrader. Following will be our superintendent, Dr. Jason Glass. And after that John McDonald, our executive director for the Department of School Safety for Jeffco public schools. We will then take a few questions afterwards. We appreciate brevity on the questions because we want to cover as many as possible and apologize if we need to cut off. As you can imagine, there are a lot of things going on in Jeffco and we are working things as they happen.

So with that, Sheriff Shrader?

JEFF SHRADER, SHERIFF, JEFFERSON COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: There has obviously been a lot of hard work by a lot of people throughout the Denver metro area, information that came into the FBI. It did create a significant amount of concern regarding what we believe is a credible threat or had been a credible threat. I know as many of you perhaps have already reported even. The FBI recently just confirmed that they have found Ms. Pais deceased from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. I anticipate that they will be doing a further briefing with details a of the entirety of their investigation a little bit later.

Our focus over the course of the last 24 hours has been how to keep our kids safe in schools. And a lot of ongoing conversation with our school safety partners in Jefferson County Public Schools as well as law enforcement agencies throughout the Denver metro area and school administration right here, with Dr. Glass being heavily involved in conversations throughout that process. Obviously, we are concerned to get kids back to school and so we will continue working with the school district, the school safety team to make sure that we can do that in a safe manner. And that during this very important week to the Columbine community that those events are carried off in a safe manner, as well.


I would like to address the breaking news on this issue by saying that we are relieved that the threat to our schools and community is no longer present.

I want to express deep gratitude to our partners in law enforcement, especially the sheriff's office, for your vigilance in serving as guardians for our community's children.

I want to thank the Jeffco public school's staff for your professionalism, your commitment, and exemplary performance during this ongoing difficult period of time. I am proud of you and I appreciate you.

I am deeply grateful for the support of the Denver metro area superintendents and other state leaders. While Jeffco was the epicenter of the threat, it extended across the whole metro area and affected us all.

While this threat has been the most significant, it's not the only challenge facing our schools and our communities in these days leading up to the Columbine anniversary. I appreciate your community's patience as we continue to navigate these difficult issues. I am always inspired by this community's capacity, resilience and capacity for good in the face of unimaginable evil.

Looking ahead, we are planning to returning to normal school operations tomorrow with heightened safety and security procedures and ongoing vigilance in the days to come. And the other events planned this weekend will continue as planned.

Thank you. I want to turn things over to our executive director of school safety and security, John McDonald.


The shadow of Columbine looms pretty large in Jeffco, as it does across the state and the country. For us, the partnership that we have with the sheriff's office is something pretty special. There are a lot of lessons learned in 1999. Probably the biggest lesson was breaking down the silos. And the ability to train together, to work together, to constantly communicate, to keep our 86,000 kids safe across this district is a foundational aspect of what we do. When this threat came in -- we are used to threats frankly at Columbine. This one felt different. It was different. It certainly had our attention. [13:35:10] We base our decisions based on the best intel we have at

the time. To close an entire metro area is not an easy decision. But at the end of the day, it's the right decision, the best decision to protect all of our kids. To me, that's pretty important. It's critically important to everything that we do. A student who doesn't feel safe at school is not a well-educated student. They can't focus, they can't study, and they can't take that test. We are blessed in Jeffco to have support from seven different law enforcement agencies that provide our school resource officers, helping us protect our kids every day.

I'm very thankful this threat is over and we can get back to the business of learning. But we know that Columbine continues to attract people from around the world. And if I have any message, we are not a place to come visit if you not a student. If you don't have business there, we are not a tourist attraction, and we are not a place for you ta to come and gain inspiration.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, gentlemen.

And now we will open it up to questions.

Yes, right here.


SHRADER: I don't have that information, but I believe she was found on a search. The FBI will be doing a more comprehensive briefing. They are currently processing the scene where her body was found to determine all of the factors that would lead to those conclusions. I don't know if she was -- I don't believe that they were in active pursuit at the time that she was found dead. They will confirm that and the details surrounding it.


SHRADER: We have had staff on the Street Task Force that have been actively involved. We have had people in the command post during the course of the last 24 hours to aid in that investigation. We have had plenty of staff that have been boots on the ground searching different areas. Everything that I have heard in briefings does not indicate that she had any assistance or friends in the area. Just the fascination with the Columbine area and the horrendous crime that went on there 20 years ago.


MCDONALD: For me, looking at school shooters and the history of what we have seen for the last 20 years, there are real indicators we look at. The fact that she was committed, purchased a plane ticket and made that journey, made the pilgrimage to Columbine, once she got into our area to purchase a gun -- I say made the pilgrimage, I don't believe she made it to Columbine property. I don't think that's ever been confirmed. There was a pilgrimage here. Certainly, she purchased a weapon. And those two things combined along with her fascination of Columbine, that's pretty clear and convincing evidence that we have a threat to the school.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you please speak louder? It's harder to hear you. Thank you.


SHRADER: I'm not going to reveal the gun shop. It was in the Littleton area not far from Columbine.


SHARDER: The reports that have been in briefings have indicated that she had made statements to friends, family and some online type postings or communications.

GLASS: And before we take other questions, I want to introduce Frank DeAngelis. He's the former principal of Columbine High School, who is here to answer any questions around connections to the historical Columbine events and events related to the memorial this weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) -- She is only one person. (INAUDIBLE) -- that there is so much concern -- (INAUDIBLE)


[13:39:53] MCDONALD: Well, I will say this. We base all of our decisions on the intel that we have at the time. So from our perspective, the information that came into us, we made a decision based on what we needed to do at Columbine. And then that extends to other areas within the Columbine articulation area to protect those immediate schools based on further information that we were provided by law enforcement. We made decisions to place some of the mountain schools on lockout, as well. So all of those decisions are not done in a vacuum or a silo. It is constant communication back and forth looking at what the threat is and having decision makers together. We had good partners, mission partners that were looking at our entire school safety program and from the school district. That extended out metro wide when we were advised that the threat was not specific to Columbine. However, in my mind, the fascination with Columbine, where she purchased the weapon, the fact that she made the journey here, for me, is all about protecting our environment, our schools. It's how we made that decision.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, over here. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Was the purchase of the gun legal? And if she were still alive, what could law enforcement do in terms of containing the situation? Could she have been charged with something or was law enforcement's hands tied in this situation? SHRADER: I don't believe our hands were tied in this type of a

situation. Obviously, communication was ongoing. Do I know what charges could necessarily have applied in this case? No, not without additional information. There were prosecutors as well as many law enforcement officers involved in that communication. Minimally, based on the information that we had, she certainly would have been subject to being taken into custody for a mental health hold, a 72-hour hold and treat, to determine a little bit more about the mental state and what risk would have been posed. Minimally, that would have happened. Certainly, there was potential for other charges. Absent additional information, I wouldn't be able to comment on what those would be.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: In addition to the additional security tomorrow, do you anticipate any need for additional mental health support or counseling?

GLASS: After events like this, we typically deploy additional mental health support, counseling, and make that available to our staff, our students, our families. Regrettably, this is not the only time situations like this have happened at Jeffco and in schools across the country. It's a sad statement that we are becoming more used to handling the situations like this. But we expect that there will be some grief and processing, mental issues to contend with tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Right there.


GLASS: We will not disclose what exactly it looks like. It will involve processes and procedures at buildings regarding entrance into schools, operations at the schools during the day, release of students at the end of the day, additional patrols using camera systems, without going into details that might reveal our system of support. It is those types of things.

MCDONALD: Students will see, as they typically do, we are all over schools all day long. They are used to seeing us and they will continue to see us. And they'll see additional patrols in the near future.


Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: This question is for Frank. I know this is already an emotional and difficult weekend for you, for families. When did you first learn about this? What did you think? I know you have relationships with these families. Have you talked with them? What are they thinking right now?

FRANK DEANGELIS, FORMER PRINCIPAL, COLUMBINE HIGH SCHOOL: Yesterday, I was in Columbine High School when we went into lockout. First, I checked in on the 15 staff members who were there when it happened 20 years ago. Some families start reaching out to me just to provide support for everyone. It's very important that we continue to look at what happened 20 years ago but, at the same time, not let it detract what we are hoping to do this week. The support was so great when Jeffco got together. Everybody came together and there was a confidence that we were working with. It just takes us back. I think you talk to people that were part of Columbine High School when that month of April comes, it does something to us all. We have a support system in place and we take care of each other. We have that famous saying, we are Columbine, and during times like this, it resonates loudly and clearly.

[13:45:10] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you talk personally for you and what you personally felt and thought when you heard about this and your message to parents out there in the community?

DEANGELIS: The one thing that is so different from this time as opposed to 20 years ago is all of the things we have in place. Prior to that time, the only drills we did were fire drills. Yesterday, as soon as there was an alert to go on lockdown, Columbine High School acted so professionally. The reason they did this is because of the training being done by the Jeffco Sheriff's Department and John's office. It was like clockwork. I was there through the entire time and the kids knew exactly what to do. There was support. That is much more reassuring that where we were 20 years ago. So I think we know we have things in place now, lessons learned. The support system is there. So again we reach out to everyone. The schools did fantastic. Dr. Glass and his leadership has been fantastic providing everything we need for Columbine as the 20-year remembrance approaches.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sheriff, I want to ask you the question about, was the gun purchased legally. Can you explain the laws? A lot of people are asking, how should she be able to purchase a shotgun here in Colorado?

SHRADER: The things that I have been briefed on, all appearances are that the firearm was purchased legally. I'm sure there will be ongoing evaluation in that regard by federal law enforcement officers perhaps with the ATF. But every appearance is that it was purchased legally. One of the requirements when somebody purchases a gun or obtains a concealed handgun permit in the state of Colorado is that there are finger prints where the information is run through the Colorado Insta-Check Program. That would be a requirement and provide the gun seller the legal right to sell that gun to an individual based on the information that they have there.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And could someone from the school speak to what the lead time was maybe when you found out about this potential threat and the seriousness of it and what action was taken?

MCDONALD: I received a call from law enforcement. As soon as I had that call from the task force agent, I immediately called our school resource officer at Columbine. We began within a minute of taking action and making decisions.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you describe the process that the other districts in the metro area? I have been here a long time. This is unprecedented to have hundreds of thousands of children affected.

GLASS: The Denver metro area superintendents coordinated closely on this. Jeffco was the epicenter of the threat. As it was determined the threat wasn't specific to any one school and we knew she was present in the metro area and clearly had developed means to move around from the airport and to Littleton up to the foothills of the mountains. There was a concern that any of our schools could be targets until the situation was resolved. So we worked closely with law enforcement, the FBI, state law enforcement. The governor's office was involved. There were a lot of conversations. Collectively, we stood together and made the decision to close all of the schools in the metro area today because the threat couldn't be determined. We did begin thinking about if this were to continue then what? What would we be doing tomorrow and the next day, and how would we adapt to school leaders in our school systems to meet the new challenge. That work was happening as of half an hour ago. We were still working on what that would look like in the face of this new threat. I believe that this may not be the first time we see something like this. These things we see copycat versions of threats and actions nor more commonly. We are developing systems and procedures on how we will react to situations like this in the future.


GLASS: We don't know. We were working on what changes to what school looks like would have to happen for us to be open. We did not wish to have one person hold all the schools here hostage. We want to have a reaction to that to allow learning and our children's development to happen. So it would have required different transportation procedures, different processes for kids coming into schools, locking systems, patrols, food service. It's complex the amount of changes that need to happen. But we were working that problem and thinking about, how do we change what school looks like on a normal day to how school looks like under this threat. And we, fortunately, didn't have to execute that but we've saved it all. Because we may have to come back to it at some point. I think it may be helpful to not only Jeffco Public Schools but other school leaders in the state and perhaps the country, which may face the situation in the future.

[13:50:35] MCDONALD: Between 1999 and 2018, Colorado has experienced eight school shootings. I think each of those school shootings that have occurred, we've learned a lot of lessons and we're paying attention to what is happening around the country. So decisions that are made today are not decisions that we would have made in the past. And that is part of the learning. It is part of the training that we do each and every day. And in schools, we plan for two types of threats. We plan for the insider threat, potential student, and we plan for the outsider threat. So the practices, protocols and programs that we have in place for the outsider threat came into play yesterday. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have time for one more question.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How were you aware of her presence here in Colorado?

SHRADER: The FBI developed information that came forward from the Miami FBI office to the Colorado FBI office I believe after she was reported missing by her parents. And again the FBI will in all likelihood be conducting a more thorough briefing, media briefing, on the details of their case and they probably would be better equipped to answer that.

But if could get back to the question that you asked, one of the goals of public safety is not only to reduce crime, but to reduce the fear of crime. I had the opportunity to listen in on the superintendent's calls last night and today, and the thoughtful deliberation that went on throughout the Denver metro school superintendents, that was a large piece of it. Are kids going to be fearful? Are their parents concerned with their kids? And ultimately, is that a good learning environment? But that is the thing that we work on hard every day is to make sure that with our school safety partners, to make sure that the schools are safe, and that kids are in an environment where they feel comfortable so they can learn their very best.


SHRADER: I'm sure it will come out in the FBI briefing. But it was an Uber-type of a system, I believe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. I think that wraps it up for us today. Thank you all for coming. We appreciate it. On behalf of Jeffco Public Schools, we're eternally grateful to our partners in our community who helped bring this to a conclusion. And we appreciate your time and attention today.

Thank you.

KEILAR: Josh Campbell and Juliette Kayyem with us as we see the end of the press conference from Jefferson County.

The threat is over. That is what authorities are saying, Josh and Juliette. And we learned important things from the press conference, that Sol Pais, 18-year-old, who came from Florida to Colorado had made a -- some sort of threat, maybe not specific to a school but in the Columbine area, the school district, she died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and she purchased the gun, they said, near the Littleton area. But we heard from one of the officials that she had been in the Littleton area. So wondering if that was a gun shop in Littleton. And she purchased that legally, meaning she would have been fingerprinted in Colorado. And we learned she was getting around, she was mobile, Juliette, using an Uber-type system so some sort of ride- sharing system.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALLYST: That is exactly right. And as they said at the end, these were the school officials. So they said the FBI will give us more information. So this was the school security apparatus. Spent a lot of time defending the decision to close down the schools and they seemed defensive at times. I don't think they should be given the totality of the circumstances of this week in Columbine. And what Columbine means to a group of crazies -- and I use that as expert language -- it was, I think -- they had no choice. They lost track of someone who had gotten a gun and made at least specific enough threats on Columbine. Quickly, what people have to remember about Columbine, especially younger people, we know Columbine in terms of the killers, in terms of the mythology around the two young men, books written about them, one of the parents wrote a book. It wasn't until Parkland when teenagers were able to tell their own story through social media and own their victimization and, therefore, become independent and heroes. And so the Columbine killers, Dylan Harris -- Dylan and Eric, I'll call them -- there's a curiosity industry around them amongst crazy people. And these people have been showing up at Columbine for the last four or five months. And to end this, that is what you heard the school officials say, this is not over. They have been monitoring these people over the last couple of months who are surrounding the schools. It is really, really horrible and creepy. And so there's going to be a strong presence over the course of the next couple of days because of what the killers at Columbine -- the industry that they have created that, I guess, I say only in America, right?

[13:56:00] KEILAR: People who are curious, people who are obsessed show up daily. Multiple people show up daily to Columbine. That's why John McDonald has the job he has there as a security expert and making sure the kids are safe in the school district. As he said, don't show up to Columbine if you are not a student. He said, this is not a tourist attraction.

And authorities outside of the woman's home just spoke. We'll hear what they found.

Our special coverage continues in just a moment.