The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Columbine High could be torn down. The district blames ‘morbid fascination’ with shooting.

Students arrive for class at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., on March 14, 2018, before participating in a National School Walkout to honor the 17 students and staff members killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

For more than two decades since it entered the American lexicon, Columbine High School has stood on the same site in Littleton, Colo., mostly unchanged since the massacre that made it synonymous with school shootings. But now, the district is considering tearing down the school, citing overwhelming attention and concern that the site is influencing those who may become school shooters.

In a letter published Thursday, Jason E. Glass, superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools, asked for the community’s feedback on a proposal to raze most of the existing school and build new facilities. On April 20, 1999, two Columbine seniors killed 13 people and wounded 21 in an event that Glass called “a point of origin for this contagion of school shootings.”

“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 wrote. “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.”

The man keeping Columbine safe

The move came less than two months after Sol Pais, an 18-year-old Florida woman, flew to Colorado in the days before the 20-year anniversary of the Columbine shooting and bought a shotgun, setting off a manhunt before she took her own life. An FBI official said at the time that Pais had an “infatuation” with the Columbine massacre and represented a “credible threat,” causing multiple schools to implement lockouts, with classes continuing while outer doors are locked.

But Glass said that Pais’s case was far from an isolated incident.

‘Massive’ manhunt is on for woman with ‘infatuation’ for Columbine shooting, FBI says

“Perhaps influenced by the 20th anniversary of the shooting,” he wrote, “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.”

According to a year-long Post analysis published in March 2018, the number of students who experienced a shooting during school hours was 187,000 and climbing. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

In the run-up to the anniversary, The Washington Post reported on the crush of trespassers John McDonald, the district’s head of security, had to intercept as they followed what Glass’s letter called a “gravitational pull” to the school.

Every day, multiple times a day, people show up at the high school wanting to see it, photograph it and get inside it. McDonald’s team usually stops them before they can even step out of their cars. Some explain that they just wanted to pay their respects to the victims. Others claim they are in love with the shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed themselves inside the school. Some say they have been reincarnated with the shooters’ souls.
— Jessica Contrera, The Washington Post, April 5, 2019

“Most of them are there to satisfy curiosity or a macabre, but harmless, interest in the school,” he wrote. “For a small group of others, there is a potential intent to do harm.”

Glass wrote that in 1999, there was little precedent and no guidance for what to do with a building after a mass shooting, but that experts today recommend demolishing buildings in such cases.

Analysis | More than 228,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine

After the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, residents of Newton, Conn., voted to build a new school and replace classrooms where children were gunned down with a memorial garden. Following the massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Tex., in 2017, the congregation considered doing the same. And just two days after the mass shooting in Parkland last year, Florida officials proposed knocking down the freshman building where the attack took place.

The proposal considers keeping the Hope Library, a memorial to the victims, as well as the school’s name, “honoring the pride and spirit the community has.”

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