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Rocky Mountain News
By Charlie Brennan, Marilyn Robinson And Felix Doligosa Jr., Rocky Mountain News
September 30, 2006
BAILEY – Duane Morrison went into Platte Canyon High School on Wednesday determined to kill two girls and himself.
That was the conclusion reached by Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener on Friday, based on a 14-page letter that Morrison mailed to one of his brothers Wednesday morning, the last day of his life.
In the handwritten letter, postmarked from Shawnee, just down U.S. 285 from the school, Morrison apologized to his family for something he was about to do.
“Some events will not make my family proud,” he wrote.
He complained about childhood problems he had with his father and other issues. He made a point of saying he was not writing “a suicide note or diary.”
But, the sheriff said, “Many times, the letter references suicide. It clearly acknowledges his pending death and apologizes to his family.”
What the letter left unstated, Wegener said, is “it doesn’t tell me a lot of why.”
From the Shawnee post office, it’s less than a minute to Platte Canyon High School, where, according to student witnesses, Morrison sat in his Jeep for a time Wednesday morning, staring down those who looked his way.
He entered the high school building about 11:30 a.m. and took six female students hostage inside an English classroom.
He sexually assaulted them in various ways, released four – one by one – then shot 16-year- old Emily Keyes in the back of the head before turning a gun on himself when a SWAT team gained entry with explosives. The sixth hostage was rescued unharmed.
Wegener said that while there was no specific threat against the school or the girls in Morrison’s letter, the gist of it made the sheriff believe “my greatest fears” were valid.
“He probably intended to kill both of the young ladies and then kill himself or have us kill him,” Wegener said.
The sheriff also said Friday that an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, found in its case at a riverside campsite about a mile north of the school, was confirmed to have been registered to a relative of Morrison’s.
The rifle, considered a civilian equivalent of the M-16 rifle commonly used by military personnel, was found after campers reported seeing trash at an impromptu campsite along the South Platte River.
Investigators have identified the weapons possessed at the school by Morrison as a .357 Magnum revolver and a Glock semiautomatic pistol.
No link between Morrison and the Keyes family has been found, Wegener said, and there was no suggestion of one in the letter.
Authorities also haven’t been able to establish a previous link between Morrison and the community of Bailey.
But at least one resident said he saw Morrison in town Tuesday, about 24 hours before the assault on the high school.
Randy Marsh said he noticed Morrison sitting in his Jeep outside a gas station about 10 a.m. Tuesday, as Marsh crossed U.S. 285, heading to his job at the Moore Lumber & Hardware store.
Marsh thought nothing of it until Thursday, when news reports showed the face of the high school invader.
“So many people come through here,” Marsh said.
Morrison mailed his letter to his brother, Gary Morrison, of Aurora, according to a law enforcement source. Family members turned it over to authorities, unread and still sealed, Wegener said.
According to the sheriff, the letter was written during a period of several days, goes into some detail about the gunman’s life and references a Denver motel where he had been living.
“There is no reference to Platte Canyon, no reference to harming anyone, no student names or contacts in the area,” Wegener said.
The letter was written in ink on notebook paper and alluded to problems between Morrison and his father, Bobby Morrison, who lives in Tulsa, Okla., a law enforcement source said.
Bobby Morrison told CBS4 News on Friday that his son Duane “was a loner and noncompliant with my rules and regulations.”
At the home of Morrison’s sister in Franktown on Friday, Morrison’s brother-in-law said that a statement was going to be released through a family representative. The statement had not been issued by Friday evening.
Antidepressant medication was recovered from Duane Morrison’s Jeep, but investigators are still working to put together the puzzle of the crime.
“I still don’t have all the answers,” Wegener said. But the letter contained clues.
“It makes me realize a calculated outcome was inevitable,” the sheriff said. “Unfortunately, Emily paid a price.”
Chief investigator Steve Johnson said, “I don’t know if we’ll be able to say what all he was trying to communicate. It takes a lot of directions.”
Autopsies on Morrison and Keyes have been completed, but results will not be released until next week. Preliminary indications are that Emily died from a single gunshot wound to the back of the head. The SWAT officers, who also were fired upon by Morrison, shot at Morrison several times.
Some Platte Canyon students were allowed back into the school Friday to collect backpacks or other belongings – except for those whose possessions were anywhere near Room 206, where Wednesday’s horror unfolded. Students also were allowed to retrieve their cars.
It wasn’t known when the school would return to normal operations, but late Friday, the campus, which includes Fitzsimmons Middle School, was returned to the school administration’s control.
As the third of Wegener’s three longest days in law enforcement drew to a close Friday, he admitted the extreme difficulty of the ordeal he and his community have been subjected to.
He went to sleep at midnight Thursday and was up again at 2 a.m. Friday.
“It’s a healing process that will take some time,” he said.
Referring to his shell-shocked constituents, Wegener added, “I’ve always known these people were courageous.”
Brennanc@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-2742