Emily Keyes
Park County Sheriff  /  AP
This is a July 2006 photograph of 16-year-old Emily Keyes.
updated 9/29/2006 11:52:36 AM ET 2006-09-29T15:52:36

As the hours dragged by and the gunman inside Platte Canyon High School released four hostages one by one, standing among the desperate parents was John Keyes, wondering about the fate of his 16-year-old daughter, Emily.

Louis Gonzalez, a spokesman for the family, said the father had just bought Emily and her twin brother cell phones for their 16th birthdays. As he stood near the school, he searched for a volunteer to send a text message to Emily.

“How are U?” it asked.

At 1:52 p.m., Emily messaged back: “I love U guys.”

Less than two hours later, Emily was dying from a gunshot wound to the back of her head delivered by the suicidal gunman as authorities stormed into the classroom. He died at the school and she was declared dead at a Denver hospital.

Random acts of kindness
“In memory of Emily we would like everyone to go out and do random acts of kindness, random acts of love to your friends or your neighbors or your fellow students because there is no way to make sense of this,” Gonzalez said. “It’s what Emily would have wanted.”

A sorrowful Sheriff Fred Wegener defended the decision to try to take Duane Morrison by force.

“My decision was to either wait, with the possibility of having two dead hostages, or act to try and save what I feared he would do to them,” the sheriff said. “We have confirmed he did traumatize and assault our children. ... This is why I made the decision I did.

“We had to go try and save them.”

Morrison selected six girls as hostages and sexually assaulted at least some of them, authorities and witnesses said Thursday. Wegener said the assaults went beyond touching or fondling.

“It was pretty horrific,” Wegener said, without elaborating.

Killer's connection to school unknown
The killer was identified as a 53-year-old petty criminal who had a Denver address but had apparently been living in his battered yellow Jeep when he walked inside the school Wednesday with two handguns and a backpack that he claimed contained a bomb. Investigators did not immediately say what was in the backpack.

Wegener said investigators spent much of Thursday examining a roadside camp about a mile from the school where a resident found some trash and an assault rifle. The sheriff said it was too early to know if the rifle is connected to Morrison.

Authorities said they knew of no connection between Morrison, his hostages or anyone else at Platte Canyon High School in this mountain town of about 3,500. The sheriff said Morrison at one point confronted a male student in the school parking lot and asked about a list of names.

During the siege, he took the girls hostage in a second-floor classroom and eventually released four of them. Morrison, still holding two girls, soon cut off contact and warned that “something would happen at 4 o’clock,” authorities said.

About a half-hour before the deadline, a SWAT team used explosives to blow a hole in a classroom wall in hopes of getting a clear shot at him, but they couldn’t see him through the gap, and they blew the door off the hinges to get inside, said Lance Clem, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.

Morrison fired at the SWAT officers, shot Keyes as she tried to run away, and then killed himself, authorities said. During the lightning-fast gun battle, police said, they shot Morrison several times.

'Changed community'
Classes were canceled for the rest of the week as the community tried to come to grips with the bloodshed, which evoked memories of the 1999 shooting rampage at Columbine High School, less than an hour’s drive away, that left 15 dead.

“This is — this is something that has changed my school, changed my community,” the sheriff said. “My small county’s gone.”

Student Chelsea Wilson said she was in the college prep English class when the gunman came in and told the students to line up facing the chalkboard.

“All the hairs on my body stood up,” Chelsea said. “I guess I was somewhat praying it was a drill.”

One by one, the gunman started letting students go, and Chelsea, a tall brunette, said she was the first girl to leave. Her mother, Julia Wilson, said she thinks the gunman made all the blond, smaller girls stay.

Chelsea said she heard what might have been a gunshot after she left the classroom.

“He’s a pervert,” Chelsea said. “I’m not sure of motivation. I just knew it wasn’t good.”

A 16-year-old student at the school, Cassidy Grigg, initially said in interviews with network morning shows that he was in the classroom and offered to stay with the girls but the gunman threatened to kill him. His father, Tom Grigg, gave a similar account of what his son had told him to The Associated Press.

On Thursday, the teen’s mother said he made the entire story up. Larina Grigg said her son told her he fabricated the story because he wanted it to be true.

“He said, ’Mom, all those kids were my friends and I just wanted so much to help them. ... I guess I just made it up in my mind. I just wanted it to be true so bad,”’ she said.

'Weird dude'
Morrison was arrested in July in the Denver suburb of Lakewood after he failed to appear on a 2004 harassment charge in Littleton, another suburb. He was also arrested on suspicion of larceny and marijuana possession in 1973.

“He’s a weird dude. It was a telephone harassment. He left some messages at a business in the city,” Littleton police Sgt. Sean Dugan said. He declined to release details of the charge, but said Morrison received a nine-day jail sentence in August that was suspended.

At their home in Tulsa, Okla., Morrison’s stepmother said she and her husband, Bob Morrison, “have no record of him being, having any trouble before.”

“We just know the way he was raised,” Billie Morrison said, declining to elaborate. She said the last time she saw him was three to four years ago, she doesn’t know what prompted the violence in Colorado.

“We don’t know why,” she said. “We don’t know how.”

Residents gathered at the Platte Canyon Christian Church for support and others stopped by the Cutthroat Cafe, where Keyes had worked for about two years.

“It’s very sad here. You know, the family lost their daughter but as a community, we lost a child,” said Bobbi Sterling, a waitress and cook. “We’re just sitting here, numb and in shock. We’re all just kind of stunned.”

Keyes’ family thanked the community for its support and the Park County government Web site said a memorial service is planned for Saturday in Bailey. It also said an “I love U guys” memorial fund has been established at a local bank.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments