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Drifter Was Sexually Assaulting Colo. School Hostages, Sheriff Says

Duane Morrison had dressed like a student for the attack. Victim Emily Keyes text-messaged `I love you' to her family before she was killed.

September 29, 2006|Stephanie Simon | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — Authorities said Thursday that they had pieced together more frightening details of the deadly attack at a rural Colorado high school but were no closer to determining what led a drifter to capture and assault several teenage girls -- and kill one of them.

Duane Morrison, 53, a loner with a short record of minor criminal offenses, walked into Platte Canyon High School in the mountain town of Bailey on Wednesday dressed like a student -- with a sweatshirt and backpack -- just after 11:30 a.m. Armed with a semiautomatic pistol and a revolver, Morrison separated six girls from the other terrified students and herded them into a second-floor classroom.

Over the next four hours, he released four of the hostages, one by one. But before he did, he sexually assaulted at least some of the girls, according to Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener.

"He did traumatize and assault our children," Wegener said.

One of the girls, 16-year-old Emily Keyes, was able to text-message her family on her cellphone during the ordeal. "I love you guys," she wrote.

When SWAT officers stormed the classroom a short time later, Emily tried to run. Morrison shot her in the back of the head, then shot himself amid a hail of bullets from the SWAT team.

Paramedics standing by at the high school struggled to revive Emily as she was flown to a trauma center, but she was pronounced dead soon after arriving at the hospital.

Wegener said investigators had found no connection between Morrison and Platte Canyon High School. A male student told authorities that Morrison had approached him Tuesday and asked for help identifying a list of names, but Wegener said that account had not been confirmed.

Morrison had apparently been living in his car, Wegener said, though he had a Denver address. His brief criminal history includes a 1973 arrest in the Denver suburb of Aurora for larceny and possession of marijuana. In July, he was arrested and briefly jailed in the suburb of Littleton for obstructing a police officer, according to Colorado state records. That case was pending.

As students sought counseling at a local church, scores of parents called the Sheriff's Department to express their support for Wegener.

The veteran sheriff said he would forever mourn Emily Keyes' death. But he also said he was certain he had made the right call in sending the SWAT team into the classroom after Morrison broke off negotiations and made a vague threat that something would happen within the next half an hour.

Morrison had said his backpack contained a bomb. The sheriff knew from the four girls who had been released that he was sexually assaulting some of his captives. "This is why I made the decision I did," Wegener said. "We had to try to save these children."

stephanie.simon@latimes.com

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