Opinion | The STEM Shooting in Denver shows media’s hypocrisy in deciding who is a threat

On Tuesday, May 7, a school shooting at STEM School Highland Ranch (just seven miles away from Columbine High School) left one person dead and eight injured.

The STEM shooting

Two suspects were taken into custody. One has been identified as 18-year-old STEM student Devon Erickson. As per usual in the cases of school shootings, Erickson is a white man.

Police searched the Erickson household and removed a white Honda sedan from the premises. The car had “666,” a Pentagram, and “Fuck Society” spray-painted on it. Apparently, Erickson was very active online and often railed against the Trump administration. Still, his motives for the shooting remain unknown.

The way this tragedy was handled was quite different to how authorities and the press
handled the situation involving Sol Pais last month.

Sol Pais

Pais was an 18-year-old Argentinian-American girl from Miami, Florida. Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shooting, Pais traveled to Denver, purchased a shotgun, and committed suicide in the mountains near Littleton, Colorado. This whole ordeal took place in just one day — April 15.

By April 16, after Pais’ family reported her missing, a massive manhunt was underway in Denver for the girl who was supposedly “obsessed with Columbine” and made “legitimate threats” to schools in the Denver area.

Here are the facts about Sol Pais:

She had a blog where she talked about her own depression, her own feelings of isolation. Yes, Columbine was mentioned, but not in a way that portrayed desire to emulate the tragedy. Rather, Pais identified with the loneliness of the Columbine perpetrators, according to her close friend Adrianna Pete.

“She never threatened anyone,” Pete said. “There are no credible threats and only assumptions that she was just because the word Columbine was included.”

Indeed, nearly a month later and the FBI has not released specifics about the nature of the so-called threats Pais posed.

“She had no idea what occurred from late Monday afternoon to Tuesday when a search for her began and to Wednesday when her body was found,” Clear Creek County Undersheriff Bruce Snelling told The Denver Post. “The logical likelihood was she was here to end her journey.”

“I had no direct information from the FBI that any of her writings indicated she would do a school shooting,” Snelling stated. “She didn’t have a master plan.”

Who is a threat?

At the end of the day, Sol Pais’ story was one of depression and loneliness. Not one of a crazed person with a desire to harm others.

Yet, when her body was found on April 17th, the FBI took to Twitter to say there was “no longer a threat” to the Denver community.

Sol Pais never posed a threat. And the STEM School shooting just goes to show that there were still very legitimate threats posed by Denver residents themselves.

The Center for Homeland Security and Defense has shown that the majority of school shooters have been male. Since 1970, 1,168 school shooting incidents have been carried out by men. Meanwhile, women carried out a mere 59. Additionally, the majority of school shootings were carried out by someone who had an affiliation with the school in question, such as a student. Between 1982 and 2019, Statista reports, 62 out of 110 shootings were instigated by a white shooter.

Statistically speaking, it is way more likely that a white male student of the school in question would carry out a shooting. It is highly unlikely that a Latina woman would travel across the country to commit an atrocity in an area she had no affiliation with.

But that didn’t stop the media from labeling Pais a terrorist. Meanwhile, I see no headlines saying Erickson was a terrorist who was “obsessed with Columbine.” Rather, Erickson was taken into custody and will be appearing in court May 8th. The media reports that he loved to skateboard and that he was once in a production of Legally Blonde the Musical. He apparently had a penchant for dying his hair bright colors, too.

I saw nothing positive reported about Pais, with the exception of pictures and videos shared on Instagram by Adrianna Pete.

The way these two incidents were handled by authorities and the press, as well as the way they are being talked about online, make one thing very clear to me: misogyny and xenophobia are alive and well. Meanwhile, we continue to fail to call white male aggression what it actually is: terrorism.

In the wake of the Sol Pais situation, I saw people online questioning her age, questioning her American citizenship. They shared fake photos of violent tattoos Pais did not in fact have. They made her out to be crazy. And the only thing the media loves more than a crazy woman (see: Lorena Bobbitt) is a dead girl.

Featured image: Facebook

Rafaella Gunz

Rafaella is a graduate of The New School in NYC, where she majored in Journalism and minored in Gender Studies. She writes for publications including DeadState, Gay Star News, Alma, BUST Magazine, and more.