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Columbine High School could be torn down to thwart "morbid fascination" by potential copycats

Officials consider demolishing Columbine High

Twenty years after the 1999 massacre that claimed the lives of 13 students and teachers at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, officials are considering tearing down the school and building a new one. Superintendent Jason Glass said he fears the school remains a source of "morbid fascination" and an "inspiration" for gun violence.

Glass calls them "Columbiners" — people obsessed with the shooting who seek out the school for inspiration or curiosity. After two decades of dealing with the aftermath of one of the world's most notorious mass shootings, Glass is asking the Jefferson County community whether the school should be torn down completely. 

"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," Glass wrote in an open letter to the community Thursday. "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."

Glass told CBS Denver, "We have hundreds of people who try to enter the building or walk onto the grounds or slow-roll by it. We even have tour buses of people that stop outside Columbine High School." 

Jennifer Dunsmore (L) and Cassanda Sadusky look at a line of crosses commemorating those killed in the Columbine High School shooting on the 20th anniversary of the attack in Littleton
Jennifer Dunsmore (L) and Cassanda Sadusky look at a line of crosses commemorating those killed in the Columbine High School shooting on the 20th anniversary of the attack in Littleton, Colorado, U.S., April 20, 2019. RICK WILKING / REUTERS

According to Glass, it is standard for school safety experts to recommend demolishing schools where shootings have taken place. But 20 years ago, there was no protocol on how to move forward, so Columbine High School instead installed a surveillance system and implemented police and security protection. But the increase in schools shootings in recent years has led the district to reconsider. 

"School shooters refer to and study the Columbine shooting as a macabre source of inspiration and motivation," Glass said. In April, as memorials were held to mark the anniversary, authorities searched the area for Sol Pais, an 18-year-old woman who was "infatuated" with the shooting and had traveled from Florida before arming herself with a shotgun and ammunition. (She was eventually found dead in an apparent suicide.)

Glass said that was just one example of the hundreds of people who are stopped by local law enforcement from entering the school each year. "Most of them are there to satisfy curiosity or a macabre, but harmless, interest in the school," he said. "For a small group of others, there is a potential intent to do harm."

The cost of building a new Columbine High School would cost $60-$70 million, Glass said. He proposed keeping the name Columbine to honor "the pride and spirit" it holds for the community and preserving the Hope Library — where 10 students were killed — as the cornerstone of the new school. 

The district released an online survey for members of the community to consider allocating the funds needed for the project. 

In Newtown, Connecticut, Sandy Hook Elementary School was demolished 10 months after the mass shooting that took the lives of 20 first-graders and six educators in 2012. Contractors were asked to destroy the materials to eliminate nearly every trace of the building. But just as Glass has proposed, Sandy Hook kept its name.