Abusing Safe2Tell, at Roosevelt or anywhere else, is disgusting insult to school shooting victims


Terry Frei


Roosevelt High School in Johnstown. (Weld RE5J School District.)

It’s Safe2Tell.

It’s not Safe2MakeItUp.

That was the moral in Johnstown last week, when a Roosevelt High School female student was charged with suspicion of false reporting of an explosive device and interference with an educational institution in the wake of concocted bomb and shooting threats reported through the Safe2Tell  system.

It came against a backdrop of planned student walkouts and protests over multiple teachers being placed on leave.

Using Safe2Tell as an indirect means of protest, which I’m assuming this was, is disgusting. It illustrates a complete lack of understanding that Safe2Tell primary is a reaction to the horrific April 20, 1999, murders of 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Jefferson County — a day of carnage that led to “Columbine” to this day being a catchword for school shootings and the loss of young lives. More shootings have followed with both revolting and numbing regularity, but April 20, 1999 remains the day America changed.

Think that’s overdramatic? Next time you’re in the Denver area, go to the Columbine Memorial in Clement Park, adjacent to the school. Read the memorial messages saluting the 13 killed. Think of the young lives ended too soon. Consider what has followed, including the shootings elsewhere, usually with the talking-head experts citing Columbine as the reference point.


 On the same day threats were received though the Safe2Tell system, leading to the Thursday arrest of a female student, Roosevelt High School students walk to the Johnstown-Milliken Re-5J School District administration building last Tuesday. Students say they were demanding answers from the administration about why several teachers at the school and in the district have been placed on leave. (Megan Garcia)

Frank DeAngelis was Columbine’s principal from 1996 to 2014. Yes, he remained on the job for 15 years after the shootings before retiring, more than fulfilling his pledge to stay on as principal until all students in the Columbine feeder system in 1999 had graduated.

Even in the eyes of many law enforcement officers on the Columbine scene that day, the passive, secure-the-perimeter response protocols in place for such events as school shootings at the time were maddening. Those protocols have been overhauled.

DeAngelis makes appearances around North America, speaking at conferences and symposiums, and he begins every presentation by reciting the names of the Columbine murder victims. He is a Safe2Tell proponent.

“As I go around the country speaking, that’s one of the recommendations I give to the various states, to have some type of program that empowers students to come forward,” DeAngelis told me Friday. “Our students really need to be thinking, ‘See something, say something,’ and, ‘Hear something, say something.'”

And the response from his audiences?

“They’re on board,” DeAngelis said. “In a lot of different places, they have something similar and I think more and more states are going to it.”

The credibility of the program takes a hit when anonymous individuals make reports they know to be false about others making threats, or when — as in this case — the system is used to make a false threat.

“The anonymity is important,” DeAngelis said, “but if it goes to the point where students are abusing it, in situations such as at Roosevelt, or in situations where students just want to get other kids in trouble … there has to be consequences for students that are false reporting.”

John McDonald is executive director of security and emergency management with Jeffco Schools. Unfortunately, he frequently deals with and has to track down threats. By the time I talked with him Friday, he already was  familiar with what happened at Roosevelt.


Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, whose office is in charge of Safe2Tell. 

“The point that’s a little different here is that instead of somebody calling to report that, ‘I overheard so and so make a threat,’ this is somebody who made a threat using Safe2Tell,” McDonald said Friday. “The ballgame changes with the threat itself. They did a good job up there from all indications in identifying the student. The issue that we’re facing is that this wonderful program, Safe2Tell, as been responsible for saving so many lives, every once in a while you’ll find someone using it for this kind of purpose.

“She used a walkout and chaos to create even more chaos. The ‘Interference’ charge that they hit her with is a great charge. It’s a legitimate criminal charge. You can’t get away with disrupting hundreds of lives like that.”

Here’s how Safe2Tell came about in Colorado: In the late 1990s, a hotline concept was tested as a pilot program in Colorado Springs. Students could call and report potential crimes. Authorities agreed it did some good, and the results were forwarded to Attorney General Ken Salazar and a group of Colorado leaders. They proposed taking the program state-wide.

Then came April 20, 1999.

Salazar and Governor Bill Owens commissioned a report about the Columbine killings that, when released in final form in 2001, was flawed. But it met the challenge of suggesting ways to attempt to prevent future incidents in Colorado schools. (Or, by extension, anywhere.) It endorsed Salazar’s proposal to implement the hotline statewide. However, it was little used and tweaking was necessary.


 John McDonald, executive director of security and emergency management with Jeffco Schools, is third from right; and former Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis is second from right in this photo taken at the school district’s Frank DeAngelis Center, a first-responder training center in Wheat Ridge. Local, state and federal agencies all visit and use the facility. U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., is at the center. 

With a Colorado Trust grant as the seed money, Safe2Tell Colorado was founded as part of Crime Stoppers, then became an independent 501(c)(3) in 2006. Finally, in 2014, it was incorporated under the auspices of the state attorney general’s office, and the Colorado Legislature voted to fund it. Cynthia Coffman took office as attorney general in January 2015 and essentially has been the overseer of Safe2Tell Colorado ever since. She unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor this year and will leave office next month.

The program, which proponents emphasize can involve 24/7 tips or concerns about widespread issues, not just potential violence, offers assurances of anonymity. Yet after the false Safe2Tell reports, Johnstown police said they tracked down the student through her IP address. That’s an exceptional circumstance — a response to the use of the Safe2Tell system to commit a crime, which is what the false reports were, at least according to the charges against the Johnstown student.

“In many ways, I inherited the Safe2Tell program,” Coffman told me on the phone Sunday morning. “I think it’s a tremendous gift to the state and to our school kids. It’s one of the best legacies of a horrible tragedy, at Columbine High School. It has saved lives. We have stopped suicides, we have taken guns from kids, we have kept kids from driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

“But when the system is abused, it affects all those students. It potentially takes away from the success of the program. It’s very important that when a student makes a direct threat against a school or a classmate, that law enforcement take that very seriously and use our best efforts to identify the person making the threat. False reporting and using the system to make threats should have consequences. And they should be significant.”

And then there’s this twist: Coffman’s ex-husband, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., in the most recent session of Congress sponsored HR 6713, the Safe to Tell Act of 2018. It proposed funding mechanisms and standards for Safe2Tell programs nationally and in September was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary. Coffman served five terms as the 6th Congressional District’s representative before Democrat Jason Crow unseated him in the general election.


Former Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis outside the Hope Columbine Memorial Library. The former library, above the cafeteria, was removed and the new one is in a different location. (John Leyba photo)

For DeAngelis, the unanswerable question is what might have happened if a Safe2Tell program had been in place in early 1999. The two killers recorded their venomous views and horrific intentions on the infamous “Basement Tapes,” made in one of their homes, but as far as anyone knows, no other students saw them.

In 1998, a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office investigator looked at the website of one of the killers and wrote a draft affidavit for a search warrant of his home. The future killer had threatened a fellow student, and that student’s  parents reported it to the  Sheriff’s Office. But the search warrant never was filed.

“The question that I really deal with on a daily basis is did people know,” DeAngelis said. “And if they did, did they take it seriously? But I know for a fact that there have been so many things learned from Columbine, as far as police protocol on different things. I think we’re looking at things differently. Everything changed.”

 In Memoriam: Columbine victims


Cassie Bernall

Steven Curnow

Corey DePooter

Kelly Fleming

Matthew Kechter

Daniel Mauser

Daniel Rohrbough

Dave Sanders

Rachel Scott

Isaiah Shoels

John Tomlin

Lauren Townsend

Kyle Velasquez


For now, Colorado’s Safe2Tell will remain one of the leading examples of trying to head off additional school tragedies. McDonald noted that after 18 were killed in shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in February, Jeffco school and law enforcement received 169 reports — mostly via Safe2Tell — after two threats about Jeffco schools in social media.

“It was a 24-hour-a day run for two weeks for the entire district leadership team and making sure we were doing the right work in protecting the schools,” McDonald said. “Every one of these has to be taken seriously because studies have shown that a majority of attackers broadcast in advance. You have to take the broadcasts serious.”

That’s another reason why false reporting is a disgrace.