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Mall fire draws Columbine thoughts

LITTLETON, Colo. -- Authorities couldn't help seeing similarities to the Columbine High School shooting after a fire forced the evacuation of a mall just two miles from the notorious campus.

Just as in Columbine, an unexploded pipe bomb and propane tank were discovered Wednesday at Southwest Plaza Mall. And the blaze coincided with the 12th anniversary of the deadly shooting that left 12 students and one teacher dead.

"We're concerned about the date, the time, things of that nature, but we don't have anything solid that would indicate any link at all other than, certainly, circumstances," Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink said yesterday.

Dozens of law enforcement agents were scouring security video and following other leads to try to identify a man seen entering the mall through a side door not normally used by the public.

No one was injured, the bomb didn't explode and the mall reopened yesterday.

Two propane tanks were discovered in a hallway of the food court at the mall after the fire was reported around 11:50 a.m. The Columbine shootings started at 11:12 a.m. and ended 24 minutes later on April 20, 1999. Unexploded pipe bombs and a propane tank with explosives attached were found in the school cafeteria after the shooting.

Despite authorities' assurances about safety, the community seemed uneasy. Elementary students were moved to another school yesterday after a man entered the building to use a restroom. Schools were locked down Wednesday and alerts sent to Denver area malls. -- AP

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