Failed shopping mall bomb on anniversary of Columbine. Any connection?

Officials seek a 'person of interest' regarding an explosive device at a shopping mall in Colorado. Was it just coincidence that it was the 12th anniversary of the Columbine massacre?

Ed Andrieski/AP
ATF agent Doug Lambert rolls up police crime scene tape at one of the entrances to Southwest Plaza Mall in Littleton, Colo., where police found a pipe bomb near two propane tanks after a fire broke out on Wednesday.
FBI Denver Division/AP
This frame grab from surveillance video released by the Denver FBI shows a person of interest inside the Southwest Plaza Mall in Littleton, Colo. on Wednesday. Investigators want to question the man about a pipe bomb and propane tanks found after a fire at the mall, a discovery that raised the possibility of a connection to the Columbine massacre anniversary.

Law enforcement officials have yet to find a “person of interest” they think might be connected to an explosive device found Wednesday at a shopping mall in Littleton, Colo. – just two miles from Columbine High School, where a similar device was found after the horrendous school shooting that killed 12 students and a teacher.

The device found Wednesday – a pipebomb and two propane tanks – failed to detonate when a fire in a stairwell was quickly extinguished by a security guard.

The incident happened on the 12th anniversary of the Columbine massacre. Authorities, as well as former students and families still living with the memory of April 20, 1999, wonder if there’s any connection.

"Whether it’s coincidental or not, that's something we’re looking at very seriously," Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink told reporters Thursday.

Surveillance video at the Southwest Plaza Mall in Littleton show a white man with graying hair and mustache wearing a dark cap, striped shirt, dark jacket, and jeans. He’s carrying a white plastic bag.

For Brian Rohrbough, whose son Daniel was among those killed at Columbine, "It certainly appears to have a link to Columbine, in that it's a similar style crime and that the intent was obviously to hurt and kill innocent people."

After killing their fellow students and a teacher – apparently at random – Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed themselves. Unexploded pipe bombs and a propane tank with explosives attached were found in the Columbine cafeteria after the shootings.

"The kind of crime like Columbine will motivate a certain segment of the population to attempt the same type of crime, whether they're doing it because they're purely evil or in addition to being evil, they just want attention, I don't know,” Mr. Rohrbough told the Associated Press.

Twelve years after Columbine – and four years after the even deadlier attack at Virginia Tech when student Cho Seung-Hui killed 33 people and then himself – guns and schools remain a major social and political issue.

On Monday, Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona – a strong gun-rights supporter – vetoed a bill that would have allowed guns on university campuses.

On Tuesday, a 6 year-old kindergartner brought a loaded pistol to the Ross Elementary School in Houston. When it dropped from his pants and discharged in the school cafeteria, the boy and two other students were slightly injured.

Last school year, the Houston Independent School District reported three incidents of students using or possessing guns, all at an elementary school, reports the Houston Chronicle. The year before, the school district had 16 gun incidents.

While schools around the country have beefed up security with metal detectors and other means, many experts say the issue starts with the home.

"It would be a concern about supervision, how a child gained access to a gun and was able to transport it," spokeswoman Gwen Carter of Texas Child Protective Services told the Houston Chronicle. "In cases like this, we look to the parents to try to understand what has happened."

Such episodes remind others that the lessons of Columbine need to be reinforced and in some cases relearned.

Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services in Cleveland, writes on his blog:

“What have we learned and what is the state of school security and emergency planning 12 years after the Columbine High School attack in 1999? The answer is simple: We need to return to a focus on the fundamentals. A new generation of school board members, superintendents, central office administrators, school safety specialists, principals, teachers, support staff members, and their community partners needs practical nuts-and-bolts resources for managing school safety during tight budget times.”

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.