Sheriff says gunman in Colorado high school hostage-taking and killing left suicide letter

Friday, September 29th 2006, 12:37 pm
By: News On 6

BAILEY, Colo. (AP) _ A school gunman sent a long suicide letter to a brother in Colorado before he took six girls hostage in a high school classroom, killed one of them and took his own life, investigators said Friday.

The contents of the letter were not released. Investigators were analyzing the note's contents and more details could be made public later in the day, Sheriff Fred Wegener said.

Investigators had traced the handgun used in the shooting to the relative, and the man told agents he had received what appeared to be a suicide note, Wegener said.

Duane Morrison sent the letter to one of his two brothers, said Lance Clem, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety. Clem did not know which brother.

Clem said the note ``was a lengthy piece. It can probably be more described as a letter.''

Authorities say Morrison shot and killed 16-year-old Emily Keyes on Wednesday before killing himself as SWAT team members stormed at Platte Canyon High School classroom.

Morrison molested all six girls and sexually assaulted at least two of them, Wegener said Friday. He declined to elaborate.

One of the hostages, Lynna Long, told the Rocky Mountain News that she was groped above the waist but believes Emily ``got it worse.'' She said she was afraid to look, ``But you could hear Emily saying, 'No. Please don't.'''

The newspaper said Lynna and her mother had agreed to allow Lynna to be identified by name. The family told The Associated Press that the girl was not immediately available Friday.

Lynna said all the girls had been told to stand facing a wall and she could not see what Morrison was doing, but she knew the other girls were being molested because ``You could hear the rustling of clothes and elastic being snapped and zippers being opened and closed.''

Authorities say they knew of no connection between Morrison and the hostages he held for four hours after bursting into a college prep English class at the high school.

Wegener said Thursday the suspect approached a male high school student Wednesday and ``asked about the identity of a list of female students.'' The sheriff said he wasn't sure if it was a written list or names rattled off by Morrison.

It was not disclosed whether the list included Keyes.

Video from cameras outside the school showed Morrison sitting in his Jeep in the school parking lot for about 20 minutes and then mingling with students as classes changed, nearly 35 minutes before the siege began, KCNC-TV in Denver reported.

Investigators said Morrison, 53, was a petty criminal who had a Denver address but apparently had been living in his battered yellow Jeep.

Morrison walked inside the school with two handguns and a backpack that he claimed contained a bomb. Investigators did not say what was in the backpack.

During the siege, Morrison released four hostages. While still holding two girls, he cut off contact with deputies 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. When they couldn't see him through the gap, 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 gun battle, police shot Morrison several times, they said.

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 that left 15 dead at Columbine High School, less than an hour's drive away.

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

``All the hairs on my body stood up,'' she said. ``I guess I was somewhat praying it was a drill.''

One by one, the gunman started letting students go. Chelsea, a tall brunette, said she was the first to leave. Her mother, Julia Wilson, said she thinks the gunman selected the blond, smaller girls. Keyes' yearbook photo shows a smiling blond girl with blue eyes.

Residents of this mountain town of about 3,500 gathered Thursday at the Platte Canyon Christian Church for support. 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.''