Columbine High School could be torn down to deter copycat gun violence

Attack survivor Cassanda Sadusky looks at a line of crosses commemorating those killed in the Columbine High School shooting.
Attack survivor Cassanda Sadusky looks at a line of crosses commemorating those killed in the Columbine High School shooting. PHOTO: REUTERS
Columbine High School teacher Ivory Moore (centre) speaking at a remembrance ceremony in April 2019.
Columbine High School teacher Ivory Moore (centre) speaking at a remembrance ceremony in April 2019.PHOTO: AFP

LITTLETON, Colorado (NYTIMES) - Fearing that Columbine High School remains a target and an "inspiration" for potential gun violence, officials in Colorado have proposed razing the site of the massacre that left 15 people dead in what at the time was the deadliest school shooting in the nation's history.

"School shooters refer to and study the Columbine shooting as a macabre source of inspiration and motivation," Jason Glass, the superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools, wrote on Thursday (June 6) in an open letter to Columbine students, parents and staff members and local residents.

The 20th anniversary of the attack, in April, was planned as a time for prayers and memorials, but instead hundreds of schools in Colorado were closed as authorities frantically searched for Sol Pais, an armed 18-year-old woman who was infatuated with the massacre and who had travelled to the state from Florida.

John McDonald, the school safety executive director for Jefferson County Public Schools, which includes Columbine, at the time called it a "pilgrimage."

Glass cited Pais as an example of the concerns at Columbine, and said that school safety officials stop hundreds of people each year who try to enter the school or are caught trespassing on campus. This year's numbers were the highest on record.

"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."

A new school would be built nearby; one idea is to preserve the high school's library - where 10 students were killed - and make it a cornerstone of the new campus.

 
 
 
 

The school district released an online survey for residents to consider a ballot measure to allocate up to US$70 million (S$95 million) for a construction project. There was no time period specified for a decision or possible new construction.

In Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six staff members were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, the school district demolished the building, out of respect for the tragedy, and built a new school on a different part of the same property.

The new building opened over three years after the attack. Security was a chief feature of the design.

On Friday (June 7), Columbine High School looked just like any another school on a June day: the sun beat down on its tan bricks, the parking lot sat half empty and a park next door was filled with children in bathing suits, who ran with glee around a fountain.

Only a few signs indicated that something darker had happened here - a placard pointing visitors to a memorial and a large sheriff's truck parked horizontally in front of the school's doors.

Other survivors have decided to maintain mass shooting sites to honour victims.

Last month, the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, opened a new sanctuary next to the original site for worship. The congregation converted the old church, where a gunman killed 26 people in 2017, into a memorial to the victims.

"We don't want it to look like a fortress, but we also wanted to make sure everybody could feel safe on the inside," Pastor Frank Pomeroy said at the dedication of the new building.

Not surprisingly, security was also a key consideration in the construction. Pomeroy, whose daughter was killed in the attack, would not disclose details about the safety features.

A refurbished bell from the old building now tolls in the new church.