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School attacker sexually assaulted hostages

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published September 29, 2006


BAILEY, Colo. - The gunman who killed a student and committed suicide during a high school standoff methodically selected six girls as hostages - reportedly favoring blondes - and sexually assaulted at least some of them, authorities and witnesses said Thursday.

Sheriff Fred Wegener said the assaults went beyond touching or fondling. "It was pretty horrific," Wegener said.

The killer was identified as 53-year-old Duane Morrison, a petty criminal who had a Denver address but had been living in his battered yellow Jeep when he walked inside the school Wednesday with two handguns and a backpack that he claimed contained a bomb. Investigators did not say what was in the backpack.

Authorities said they knew of no connection between Morrison, his hostages or anyone else at Platte Canyon High School in this mountain town of about 3,500.

During the siege, he took the girls hostage in a classroom and eventually released four of them. Morrison, still holding two girls, warned that "something would happen at 4 o'clock," authorities said.

About a half-hour before the deadline, a SWAT team blew a classroom door off its hinges to get inside, officials said.

Morrison fired at the SWAT officers, shot 16-year-old Emily Keyes in the back of the head as she tried to flee, and then killed himself, authorities said.

Wegener defended the decision to try to take Morrison by force.

"My decision was to either wait, with the possibility of having two dead hostages, or act to try and save what I feared he would do to them," he said. "We had to go try and save them."

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

"This is - this is something that has changed my school, changed my community," the sheriff said. "My small county's gone."

[Last modified September 29, 2006, 01:38:06]


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