(DENVER) — Colorado school officials say they are “exploring the concept” of demolishing Columbine High School, the site of one of the nation’s most notorious school shootings, and building anew.
Two students opened fire at the high school in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999, gunning down 12 of their fellow students and one teacher before killing themselves. The massacre preceded a wave of school shootings to come, including those at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“The tragedy at Columbine High School in 1999 serves as a point of origin for this contagion of school shootings,” Jason Glass, superintendent of the encompassing school district, Jeffco Public Schools, said in an open letter to the community on Thursday. “School shooters refer to and study the Columbine shooting as a macabre source of inspiration and motivation.”
In the letter, Glass posits, “In 1999, no guidance existed on what to do with a building such as Columbine High School. Today school safety experts recommend tearing down buildings where school shootings take place. Since the morbid fascination with Columbine has been increasing over the years, rather than dissipating, we believe it is time for our community to consider this option for the existing Columbine building.”
“No one anticipated that we would still be talking about Columbine,” Frank DeAngelis, who was Columbine’s principal during the massacre, told ABC News on Friday. “What we’re seeing 20 years later is the names of the two killers still being out there — people being mesmerized by the two killers… there are still people who are infatuated with the building.”
DeAngelis said he’d see tour buses drive by the school over summer breaks.
The superintendent referenced Sol Pais, an 18-year-old woman from Florida who was allegedly obsessed with the Columbine shooting. This April, Pais traveled to Colorado with a shotgun and ammunition, and threatened schools in the Denver area, prompting lockdowns. Pais then killed herself.
DeAngeli called the April lockdowns a tipping point, after which officials met to see if a new building was a possibility.
“Columbine High School has a gravitational-pull for these sorts of individuals,” Glass said, noting that local law enforcement and the Jeffco Public Schools Department of School Safety make contacts with “hundreds of individuals” every year seeking to enter Columbine.
“Most of them are there to satisfy curiosity or a macabre, but harmless, interest in the school,” he added. “For a small group of others, there is a potential intent to do harm.”
Columbine High School is now among the safest schools in the country, boasting a “sophisticated system” of surveillance and security protection, according to Glass. But the building’s blood-stained history remains.
“The school site continues to serve as a source of inspiration for potential school shooters, and its lasting impact only seems to be growing,” Glass said. “Perhaps influenced by the 20th anniversary of the shooting, over the past 11 months the number of people trying to enter the school illegally or otherwise trespassing on school property has been increasing – now to record levels.”
A $15 million renovation and expansion of the current school was approved by voters last year. But the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education and administration are exploring the possibility of asking voters for an addition $60 to $70 million to build a new building, according to the superintendent.
Some of the ideas Glass said they are considering include demolishing the existing building and replacing it with fields and controlled entry points, and constructing the new school just west of the current location with enhanced safety features.
“We are in the very preliminary and exploratory stages of these conversations,” he said, “and we are seeking community feedback and thoughts on this proposal.”
DeAngelis, the former principal, said he’s in support of a new building if it’ll alleviate some fear.
He stressed that it’s important to get input from the Columbine survivors who remain staff members at the high school.
“We are Columbine. Who we are is not because of the bricks and mortar — it’s because of the people,” DeAngelis said. “I want these kids, the future students, not only next year but for generations to come, to be in a school where they don’t have to worry about people showing up unexpectedly.”
“I think what people need to do is sit back and look at all the rationale,” DeAngelis said. “Talk to some people who are being effected by it, which are the teachers, students. And I think that’s what Dr. Glass is trying to do.”
Sandy Hook Elementary School in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, was torn down after Adam Lanza killed 20 students and six teachers in December 2012. There has also been discussion of tearing down Building 12, where the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, took place in February 2018.
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