Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, which forever changed schools' approach to security and law enforcement's response to active assailant events.
Survivors and the local community have several memorial events planned for the weekend to honor the victims. Survivors also spoke to the media, including the TODAY Show, about how they are moving forward from the horrific act of violence—some even becoming teachers at Columbine.
On 20 April 1999, two student gunmen opened fire on their fellow classmates at Columbine High School—killing 12 students and one teacher. While it was not the first school shooting, it did mark a turning point in the security industry by spurring investment in security technology and active assailant prevention methods, according to Security Management's analysis on the 10th anniversary of the shooting in 2009.
Columbine was one of those schools that invested heavily in security technology after the shooting. It installed an access control system, cameras that track suspicious individuals on campus, a social media monitoring program for troubled students, training from former SWAT commanders, and more.
These upgrades have become essential to the high school, which still receives a variety of threats and visitors who want to see the location of one of the most notorious mass shootings in America. The school has recently seen an uptick in these visitors in the lead-up to the anniversary, according to a recent report by The Washington Post that focuses on the role of John McDonald, school safety executive director for Jefferson County Public Schools—which includes Columbine.
"With the anniversary approaching, the intense and sometimes disturbing interest in Columbine that has long festered on the Internet is spilling into the real world with greater frequency," the Post reports. "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."
Just this week a massive manhunt was launched to locate one of these potential visitors. Law enforcement issued warnings and a began a search effort to locate a missing Miami teenager obsessed with Columbine who'd traveled to Colorado and purchased a firearm and ammunition. Schools in the Denver area were placed on lockdown, or closed, until 18-year-old Sol Pais' body was found in the mountains on Wednesday—four days before the Columbine anniversary.
"Law enforcement officials said that Ms. Pais, a student at Miami Beach Senior High School, had been 'infatuated' with the Columbine shooting and had made alarming social media posts and threatening statements to friends and family," according to The New York Times. Pais' family reported her missing on Monday, and actively worked with law enforcement to help locate her in the Denver area.
Mass shootings are on the rise, and schools are facing increased challenges to prevent and respond to them. Recently, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission released a roughly 500-page report about the shooting that left 14 students and three staff members dead in February 2018.
"Safety and security accountability is lacking in schools, and that accountability is paramount for effective change if we expect a different result in the future than what occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School," the report found.
Senior Content Manager Mark Tarallo spoke to Jason Destein, a member of the ASIS International School Safety and Security Council, about the report's findings for the April issue of Security Management. Destein said the report's scope and analysis were impressive, but that he was concerned about the number of times the word "legislature" popped up in the analysis.
"That's one thing that really sticks out to me," he said. "I think it is indicative of the country itself, and not just Florida—we are trying to spend and legislate our way to safer schools. But I don't know if that's getting to the heart of the problem."
One organization that's pledging its efforts to help create safer schools and improve response times when an active assailant incident occurs is Safety Alerts for Education Foundation (S.A.F.E.). It announced on Friday that is donating its emergency mobile alerts platform to all schools, colleges, and universities in the United States for free and in perpetuity.
"We found ourselves in the position to do something good for our communities and our country, and we thought we should do this," says Jim Bender, CEO of S.A.F.E., about the decision to make the alerts free to education institutions.
The alert technology was used to send alerts about the Boston Marathon bombers and is already in use by school systems across New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Bender says the company has seen interest from other school systems. The technology allows administrators to send hyperlocal emergency alerts to individuals within a designated area. It also provides two-way communication, letting alert recipients send information—such as the location of a gunman in a school—to administrators and law enforcement.
"There's a widespread feeling amongst students that their schools aren't as safe as they should be," Bender explains. "Nothing's really changed since Columbine."