Denver Area Schools Closed Wednesday Over Credible Threat to Student Safety

Saturday, April 20th marked the 20 year anniversary of the Columbine shooting. Image Courtesy of Brent Johnson & Columbine Memorial Foundation

   Last Wednesday, Colorado school districts closed hundreds of K-12 schools in the Denver and northern Colorado area as a credible threat to student safety was identified late Tuesday. The suspect was an 18 year old senior who attended Miami Beach Senior High School in Miami Beach, Florida. Police described her as being “infatuated” with the Columbine shooting, a tragedy that on Saturday marked its 20th anniversary.

    The series of events began Monday when she flew into Denver and purchased a pump-action shotgun and ammunition hours after arriving. On Tuesday, the FBI and Colorado authorities first became aware of her presence in the state, resulting in the lockdown of multiple Denver area schools, including Columbine High School. The threat to school safety continued into the next day when school districts around the Denver area closed from the risk to students. School districts that closed for the day included Denver, Arapahoe, Jefferson (where Columbine is located), Cherry Creek, Boulder Valley, and multiple others including some schools as far away as Weld County. Late Wednesday morning the FBI and Colorado authorities confirmed that the threat was over after the suspect was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound near the base of Mt. Evans.

   Despite the closure of the majority of K-12 schools in the area, most of the universities and colleges on the front range remained open on Tuesday and Wednesday. This included the Colorado School of Mines, which notified students of the threat and announced there would be a heightened police presence on campus. The decision to not close Mines for the day drew the ire of some students and parents. One student who posted onto whatsyourbeef, a website for Mines students to raise attention to campus issues, asked “Why is Mines still open?” and commented “I feel like this is totally disregarding the safety of Mines Students”. A Mines parent wrote on Twitter, “I’m very disappointed in your decision. Irresponsible frankly. Your top priority is the safety of your students”. Mines left the decision up to professors to decide whether or not to cancel classes for the day, some of which did end up canceling their lectures. Beyond the decision to not close schools, many in Colorado wondered how a troubled high school senior could gain such quick access to a firearm given her troubled actions.

  The Colorado gun store that sold the suspect the shotgun confirmed through social media that she passed a background test and was then legally sold the weapon. Colorado Gun Broker, who sold the firearm, declared in their statement that “she did go through the full background check (4473), and was given a clearance by both NCIS and CBI. We had no reason to suspect she was a threat to either herself or anyone else”. Colorado gun laws allow for anyone 18 and older to purchase a shotgun or rifle with no waiting period regardless of what state you come from. Florida gun laws allow for anyone 21 years or older to purchase a shotgun with a 3-day waiting period. The suspect did not meet the requirements to buy a shotgun in her home state of Florida.

     Colorado is no stranger to mass shootings in recent history. Although not the first major school shooting, Columbine is remembered as the event that made school shootings a part of American culture. The birth of 24-hour news at the beginning of the 21st century and the shooters’ manifestos have allowed for the Columbine shooters’ stories to live on past their deaths. A Washington Post analysis on the effects Columbine had on society found that Columbine was a guide for many recent school shooters. Multiple school shooters were found to be interested in Columbine, including both the Parkland shooter and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter. As quoted by The Washington Post, “In 20 – or nearly half – of those 46 school shootings [since Columbine], the perpetrator purposely used Columbine as a model”.

    Looking into the future, multiple solutions have been proposed to combat these seemingly endless shootings across all ideologies, including strengthening current gun laws, arming teachers, and offering better mental health access. These options often lie in the hands of politicians, but the  way school shootings are covered, which has seemingly been part of the problem, has begun to change rapidly since Parkland. From the Washington Post analysis, media shows “no names, no photos, and no notoriety for mass shooters in media coverage”, an issue that did more harm than good by inspiring future teens to commit these heinous acts. The calls for action by the public can serve as constant reminders for our public officials to once and for all offer a solution to the epidemic that continues to plague American schools. In the final conclusion of the Washington Post analysis, “the victims and survivors of school violence must not be forgotten, but to prevent another two decades of contagion and copycats, it requires a recognition that it is time to close the curtain on the spectacle of Columbine”.

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