Colo. School Killing: Why Did He Do It?

Will the killer's rambling letter offer up any answers? Struggling to explain this week's school shooting in Bailey, Colo., Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener said Friday that investigators were poring over a confused 14-page document that Duane Roger Morrison mailed to his family hours before the standoff. In the letter, Morrison, 53, declared he was not penning a suicide note—and then mentioned suicide several times, according to Wegener. The letter revealed no plan to hurt people and did not mention Platte Canyon High School. But the repeated references to suicide convinced Wegener that, once the assault began, Morrison could not have been taken alive. "[The letter] doesn't tell me a lot of why," Wegener told reporters, "but it does maybe tell that … he probably intended to kill both the young ladies and then kill himself or have us kill him."

Puzzled investigators are still searching for explanations why Morrison chose to attack the school, take and sexually abuse six hostages during a four-hour standoff that ended when he shot and killed 16-year-old Emily Keyes on Wednesday. They also wanted to learn how long Morrison had targeted the school before beginning his assault. Morrison had moved to the area from Denver in recent months and appeared to split his time between his car and a local motel. Wegener said the man may have cased the school in the days before he took hostages in Sandra Smith's English class by brandishing two guns and a backpack he falsely claimed contained a bomb. A male student told sheriff's investigators that Morrison had asked for a list of girls at a school sporting event within days before the school assault. "He may have been inquiring about a list of names of females and asking if can get it from a student," Undersheriff Monty Gore told NEWSWEEK Friday. "He was inquiring from a student at a football game or some sporting event." Responding to a question at a Friday afternoon press conference about whether the attack may have been weeks in the planning, Wegener seemed to indicate he believed there was preplanning of some kind. "I do believe it's starting to narrow."

PARK COUNTY SHERIFF

AP

Killed: Emily Keyes, 16

Investigators continued to look for any connections Morrison had with people at Platte Canyon High School. "It just doesn't feel like a random act," said a law-enforcement official close to the investigation who was unwilling to speak on the record about speculation.

Officials confirmed Friday that an AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle recovered at a campsite about a mile from Bailey belonged to Morrison. It was not used in the attack.

Also on Friday, Wegener said investigators were checking out a rumor that the killer could have learned about female students by checking out students' MySpace pages. MySpace officials confirmed that the company is in contact with investigators, but declined to comment on the rumor itself. "We cannot comment on an ongoing law enforcement investigation," Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer of MySpace and Fox Interactive Media, said in a written statement issued to NEWSWEEK. "We are in contact with the Park County Sheriff's Department to provide any assistance we can and to determine if there is any connection to MySpace." Millions of teens have personal pages at the seemingly ubiquitous social-networking Web site, which is frequently the subject of speculation whenever a teen gets into trouble. It's not known whether Keyes or the other hostages had pages on MySpace.

Morrison had no history of violent crime. He had lived in Denver for years before apparently becoming homeless last spring when his landlord raised the rent at his apartment building. He worked as a carpenter, acquaintances and family members told reporters. He may have had a connection with a business that ran commercial haunted houses. A Colorado state filing lists him as an officer in a company called Primitive Fear, and a Denver newspaper reporter who interviewed him in 2004 for a pre-Halloween story on haunted houses cited him as "co-owner." He had a few brushes with the law. In 1973, Morrison was arrested for possession of marijuana and burglary. Another arrest last year involved a minor charge of disrupting a local business. Morrison was not a convicted sexual offender in Colorado.

He liked guns. Neighbors in Denver report that he frequently went shooting in the mountains. In 2005, he reported to Denver police that that his apartment had been broken into, and the thief had stolen five rifles and 10 handguns worth an estimated $13,000.

If Morrison's motive remains opaque, the four-hour standoff is sharply focused. After stalking the halls, Morrison entered Room 206 where Smith's 11th-grade English class was in progress. Morrison had two guns, a revolver and a semiautomatic pistol, and he claimed his backpack held a bomb. He ordered the students to come to the front of the classroom and fired one warning shot when they didn't move quickly enough. Morrison sent the boys out of the room—as well as Smith and all but six of the girls.

Meanwhile, school officials announced a "Code White" evacuation warning over the intercom, and teachers and staffers quickly led the school's 400-plus students out of the building to safety. Two SWAT teams arrived as well as dozens of other law-enforcement officials. An experienced SWAT unit from nearby Jefferson County set up outside the classroom and began to negotiate with Morrison. He spoke little and had few demands. Meanwhile, he abused his hostages. "Each one of the hostages was molested or groped," Wegener told NEWSWEEK. Two were reportedly sexually assaulted. After abusing the girls, he let four of them go, one by one. Four times in succession, he allowed one girl to leave the classroom, and they ferried information about the molestations and Morrison's demeanor to the SWAT team outside.

Officials became even more worried as a vague 4 p.m. deadline Morrison had issued drew closer. At 3:25, another student came out, leaving only two hostages with Morrison. After the SWAT team made "observations" that alarmed the sheriff, he ordered them to break in. Blasting the door with one explosive and breaching a wall with another, SWAT members hurled a "flash-bang" grenade that failed to halt Morrison. The man fired a shot at the officers, who were holding a bulletproof shield. Then, as Keyes ran toward her would-be rescuers, Morrison fired a shot that hit her in the head. Then he shot himself; a moment later SWAT members shot him, too. Keyes was pronounced dead after being helicoptered to a hospital. Morrison died in the classroom.

Sheriff Wegener reported that SWAT team members are "devastated" that they couldn't rescue Keyes. Wegener felt that he made the right decision by ending the standoff because Morrison would likely have killed the girls and himself anyway. Explains the sheriff: "He was hurting my girls."