Denver, CO — I’m a high school senior in Littleton, Colorado. I go to school about twenty minutes away from Columbine High School. Although the Columbine shooting happened 20 years ago, it still casts a shadow over our community.
On Tuesday night, Denver FBI Chief Dean Phillips gave a press conference about Sol Pais, a young woman who “expressed an infatuation with Columbine.” Phillips warned that she had traveled to Denver and that she was armed. Within hours, several school districts in the Denver metro area announced that they would close the next day due to safety concerns.
By midday Wednesday, the FBI announced that Sol Pais was dead. It has been a whirlwind that’s shaken up my local community.
I’m accustomed to living with Colorado’s relaxed gun laws. Still, it was disturbing to think that Pais flew to my home state and legally purchased a gun from a store close to Columbine High School. Gun shop owner Josh Rayburn confirmed that he sold her a gun, but he added that she passed the background checks required to purchase a firearm.
Before Pais was located, many parents and other students expressed concern. On Facebook, I saw posts from parents who wanted to keep their children home from school the next day, regardless of whether classes were canceled. Many of us breathed a collective sigh of relief when school districts announced closures.
After school, I work part-time as a preschool teacher aid. Several hours after I arrived at work on Tuesday night, my supervisor showed me Sol Pais’ picture and told my fellow coworkers that the FBI had asked citizens to be on the lookout for this person. I was afraid not just for myself, but also for the young children I watch. I instinctively scanned the classroom for potential weapons that I could use to protect the children and myself.
The next morning, I felt that I should not go out in public alone. A friend and I met at a coffee shop to study for an exam. In between practicing math problems, we discussed how crazy it was that one woman’s threats could shut down so many school districts in the entire Denver metro area. We felt dazed, but sadly, I also feel desensitized to events like these.
I was born two years after the shooting at Columbine. My peers and I have come of age in an era where school shootings are the norm. In some ways, I feel that my generation is more used to the reality of gun violence than our parents. At school, we practice lockdown drills, where we turn off our classroom lights and hide in corners or behind chairs, outside the line of sight of a potential shooter. These drills seem foreign to people of older generations. Last summer, I covered an anti-gun violence rally, where a survivor of the Columbine High School shooting, Annette Haugh spoke. She questioned the lockdown drills. “Should we really be asking our children to practice for mass shootings? Enough is enough,” she said. But practicing for gun violence is my reality.