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September 28, 2006

Gunman assaulted girls before killing himself



Morrison

Standoff leaves 16-year-old dead

By ANSLEE WILLETT AND DENNIS HUSPENI - THE GAZETTE

A 53-year-old man sexually assaulted girls he held hostage Wednesday at a Park County high school before fatally shooting one and killing himself.

Duane Roger Morrison of Denver held six girls captive at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey southwest of Denver before letting four of them go, one by one.

“He did traumatize and assault our children,” Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener said this morning, describing the assaults as “sexual in nature.” He didn’t say how many of the girls were assaulted during the four-hour ordeal.

Morrison shot 16-year-old Emily Keyes as SWAT team members stormed the English classroom where he was holed up with two of the girls. Keyes, a junior, later died at a Denver hospital. Autopsies are scheduled today on Morrison and Keyes.

Keyes grew up in Bailey and had a twin brother, Casey, said Sabrina Blea, also 16. She described Emily as friendly, bright, an athlete who played volleyball.

“She liked to talk a lot,” Blea said. “About how people need to change and live life good. She’s so innocent. I can’t believe it.”

Morrison, who had been living out of his car but had a Denver address, had a semi-automatic pistol and a revolver.

Investigators haven’t found a link between him and the school, and the motive “still remains a mystery,” the sheriff said.

“This is something that has changed my school, changed my community,” said Wegener, a 36-year resident of Bailey. “My small county’s gone.”

Morrison began the takeover about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday when he walked into a classroom, fired a shot at the floor and ordered students to line up at the chalk board. He then allowed some to leave, but kept six girls hostage.

Morrison initially talked with negotiators, then did so by having his hostages yell replies down a hallway. Before he broke off communication, Morrison said “something would happen at 4 p.m.,” Wegener said.

SWAT team members witnessed Morrison assaulting some of the girls, and relayed the information to the sheriff. Wegener said his decision to move in on Morrison was prompted by the vague deadline threat, Morrison cutting off negotiations and the SWAT team’s observations of what Morrison was doing to his hostages.

“My decision was either wait — (and have the) possibility of having two dead hostages or act and try to save what I feared he would do to them,” Wegener said. “We had to try to save them.”

As SWAT members rushed the classroom, Morrison fired at them, shot the girl, then shot himself, Wegener said. SWAT members fired back.

Asked about his decision to send in the SWAT team, Wegener said: “Being a sheriff in a small community, knowing all the parents, knowing the kids — my daughter graduated last year, my son’s a junior here — it is very difficult. Because I’d want whoever was in my position to do the same thing, and that is to save lives.”

As the hostage situation began, the school went into “Code White,” and teachers instantly reacted by locking students in classrooms and keeping them away from doors and windows. Eventually, SWAT team members led students out of the building to safety.

Students were bused to a nearby elementary school, where they were reunited with frantic parents who scrambled to find their children.

“All we could do is pray,” said Mary Sasser, who has a 15-year-old daughter at the school. She heard the sirens as deputies rushed by and followed.

Court records show Morrison was arrested in July in the west Denver suburb of Lakewood on a charge of obstructing police in Littleton. He also was arrested in 1973 for larceny and marijuana possession.

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,” she said, but declined to elaborate. She declined to give her first name.

She said she and her husband, who live in Tulsa, Okla., had not heard from Duane Morrison recently.

She said Duane Morrison’s mother died 30 or 35 years ago.

“His father was in the services and he grew up in different places,” she said.

It was unclear how the gunman entered the school, but Katrina Keller, 16, may have been one of the first to spot the intruder. She said she was walking by an empty classroom about 11 a.m. when she spotted a man inside. He was wearing a hooded jacket and looked angry, she said. But she didn’t report him to the school office.

“I should’ve said something,” she said. “If I’d said something, it might not have been this bad.”

Others just wondered why.

“It’s Bailey,” said 15-year-old Sophie Sasser, her eyes red from crying. “Not a lot of things happen in Bailey.”

Anyone who knew Morrison is asked to call the sheriff’s hotline, (303) 816-5947.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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