The Enduring Legacy of Columbine
Sol Pais, a known sympathizer of the 1999 Columbine shooters, made general threats online, traveled on a one-way ticket to Columbine, Colorado for the 20th anniversary of the shooting, and purchased a shotgun prompting concerns that she aimed to recreate the 1999 Columbine High School attack. In response, over 20 schools went into lockdown on April 16 and overnight hundreds more closed in response. Pais was ultimately found dead on a remote area of Mt. Evans having apparently committed suicide. Sol Pais’ case illustrates the enduring threat of resonating acts of spectacular violence serving as inspiration for subsequent generations.
Who was Sol Pais?
Sol Pais was an unassuming 18 year old student at Miami Beach Senior High School. Originally from Argentina, Pais lived in Surfside, Florida with her parents. Based on evidence gathered from her blog, Pais was infatuated with the perpetrators of the 1999 Columbine shooting. Pais wrote extensively about them in her online activities alongside images of guns, violence and a slew of suicidal depressive imagery. According to interviews of classmates, she was described as a gifted student who was quiet and reserved. Yet in CTG’s analysis of her profile, we concluded that based on the music she listened to, her web page’s content, and her journal, she appeared to emulate a “doomer” personality -- someone who is severely depressed, possibly suicidal, and obsessed with the pain associated with this state of being. “Being alive is f*cking overrated,” reads one of her journal entries. “How do I pull it out of me? I’m f*cking empty.”
On forums and her website hosted by the Neocities tool Pais went by the name Dissolved Girl, a title of a song by Marilyn Manson inspired band Massive Attack. Notably, Marilyn Manson was an inspiration to the Columbine shooters and the lyrics of “The Nobodies” can be found on Sol Pais website. Pais kept a “Record of Awakenings” along with an illustrative journal with drawings of fire, guns, and suicidal thoughts which detailed her descent into depressive imagery and the “doomer” persona. In addition to this, links to occult fantasies, 90’s music, and a page with “destruction text files” that detailed how to make explosives, poisons, and other destructive devices were found on her site.
The Connection to Columbine
The case of Sol Pais highlights the evergreen impact of the 1999 Columbine school shooting and mass killing events
on subsequent generations. Like Pais, the two Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold kept handwritten journals which detailed plans, as well as web blogs that outlined their thoughts on the justification of their planned actions. Sol Pais followed this behavioral pattern by building her own site through the Neocities web hosting service and keeping a vivid journal, augmented with pictures, about her infatuation with Harris and Klebold and her own violent interests.
The factors which contributed to Pais traveling to Columbine for the 20th anniversary of the 1999 Columbine shootings likely began years ago. However, in CTG’s analysis of her online presence, we discovered a condensed timeline in Pais’ recent activities which suggest more active monitoring could have intervened in her descent into a violent pathway. This was likely due to the April 20 anniversary of the attack.
Pais logged her first “Records of Awakenings” entry January 19, 2019. And on March 29, Pais began researching how to purchase a gun in Colorado and Florida on the gun forum National Gun Forum. Then on April 15, Pais was reported missing to the local police by her parents. Local police relayed the information to the Miami office of the FBI, who then informed the Denver office. When law enforcement was alerted that she had made general threats to schools in the Columbine area and purchased a pump action shotgun, school lockouts went into effect at approximately 20 different schools in the Columbine area affecting around 400,000 students. A massive manhunt ensued. An overnight briefing from law enforcement officials detailing Pais’ status and unknown location prompted further school districts to preemptively close for the following day. The morning after the initial threats were made Pais was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound near the base of Mount Evans, Colorado.
According to authorities, the discovery of her body was fortuitously timed as shortly after finding Pais, it began to snow and that would have covered her body likely until summer. Without a conclusion to the saga, local residents and school officials would have had to contend with the unknown threat from Pais’ journey and threats for months.
Image 1.0: Map of Mt. Evans where Pais’ body was found (red) and Denver’s metropolitan area where Columbine High School (blue) and other schools (purple) are located.
Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook Elementary Shooter, isolated himself into a dark state of mind much like Sol Pais and took a dark, suicidal interest into violence in the form of ranking mass murderers. James Holmes, the 2012 Century 16 Movie Theatre shooter, maintained a journal that detailed his suicidal descent and unfolding plans of his imminent shooting and was unveiled to a psychiatrist shortly before the shooting occured. Holmes performed well in school but was described as “socially inept.” In contrast, Sol Pais appears to differ from mass shooters such as Dylan Roof, Anders Breivik, and Brenton Tarrant whose intentions were motivated by a desire to spur social change in the wake of their terroristic actions. With Pais committing suicide and a lack of clinical diagnosis, it will be impossible to determine fully whether her actions were motivated by mental illness as her “doomer” profile suggests. However, her case illustrates that the cult of personality which emerges in the wake of large, spectacular acts of violence will likely persist even as the temporal distance between the event and its copycats grows. Additionally, that Pais mobilized in anticipation of the 20th anniversary of the 1999 Columbine shootings illustrates the evergreen threat of violence around terrorist attacks' anniversaries.
The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) seeks to detect, deter, and defeat all forms of extremism and terrorism. The 1999 Columbine shooting stands as a testament to the allure of terroristic acts and spectacular violence on subsequent generations. The fear that led to the shutting down of 18+ school districts is not going away. Sol Pais’s parents were key players in preventing an incident as they were quick to report their daughter missing and alerting police. Efforts to monitor online activity for threats, as well as reporting by family and friends is a key factor in enacting precautionary strategies rather than reactionary measures that unfortunately still result in unnecessary and tragic casualties.
At CTG we have made it our mission to actively pursue these leads in the digital space and provide early warnings to law enforcement and community centers. If you are one of these services or desire to know more about our services please contact us here.