A Time to Mourn

A haze hangs over the Front Range this crisp morning. It is a typical Colorado sunny day that may turn warm. News of a cold front on its way is confirmed as the fog containing dust; humidity, smoke, ash, and carbon dioxide create what is infamously known as the Denver Brown Cloud. Tourists and locals head up from the city to catch the brilliant, golden Fall Aspens and hear the peaceful symphony the leaves play in a quintessential ritual that quickly reaches the coda of the season. Darkness will soon come and the crispness will turn to a snowy fury sooner up here than in the city.
On this day the brilliant Golden color is interrupted. Yellow crime tape and crimson blood, barricades block the gateway to the Collegiate range, and the view of the Sangre de Cristos. Highway 285 has had its fill of automobiles passing through the little towns, winding their way past the miniature village of tiny town, heading westward to the filling stations, and coffee shops of the town of Bailey. Bailey, Colorado is a prelude to the Fall Aspen show. It is a town to catch the quick breakfast, or early lunch, as one heads deeper into the national forest. Bailey is a bustling little mountain town, home to Christian camps, and summer cabins and in recent years commuters seeking peaceful small town charm and values.

The access from Highway 285 has had a history of crimes getaways, misdemeanors and felonies. In the last 24 hours the latest, a man with a sex offender record took advantage of the easy access and violated a school that is just off the highway. It was an opportunity perverted by years of deviant behavior fueled by pornography. Just 24 hours ago a 16 year old girl, readied herself for school, kissed her family goodbye. A mannerly, “sweet kid” who worked after school at one of the cafes that line 285 in Bailey, would be dead before the sun set on the golden array of foliage that lined the highway.
Emily Keyes was the kind of kid who worked hard on the school newspaper, played volleyball and was involved with speech at the Platte Canyon High School team and worked three days a week at the Cutthroat CafÃ?©.”This whole community is affected by this,” said Chip Thomas, owner of the Cutthroat Cafe. “I mean, you’re talking Bailey, Colorado. For something like this to happen, it touches everyone.”

On a Thursday at the end of September, a town that is known for it’s seasons is reeling in one that has become a season to mourn. The day before students saw a man in camouflage and a backpack wandering the halls. Moments later an announcement on the public address system announced a “code white.” In this gateway to seasonal Aspens, memories of Columbine, the tragedy of the tragic Columbine High School shootings, flooded back to parents and staff. Lockdown of the adjoining middle and elementary school followed and the evacuation of the High School was underway. In an Honors English Class the man that students saw was now holding hostages at gunpoint. Rumors of sexual assault were later confirmed and then he started letting students go. Emily Keyes was not so fortunate. At 3:30 in the afternoon the man, now identified as Duane Morrison of Park County, a transient who had a thirty year arrest record, most recently in July 2006.
Witnesses say that Morrison lined all the students at a blackboard in the classroom, and ordered the boys to leave. When some of the boys protested Morrison allegedly, threatened to start shooting. He claimed to have explosives in his back pack and was negotiating with the Sherriff’s office while handpicking who would stay and who would go. When only females were left in the room, Morrison told negotiators that they had a deadline of 4 in the afternoon to meet his demands. Demands were not released at press time. At 3:30 Morrison ended communications, and that is when law enforcement decided to move in. As they did, Morrison fired at the swat team, then shot Emily Keyes, and himself.

The haze has burned off on this Thursday and by noon Highway 285 will be reopened. The array of tourists will continue past Bailey, after they refuel themselves with food and petroleum for their cars. The heaviness in the hearts of the locals is noticeable. Pictures and flowers of the makeshift memorials will remain long after the leaves are gone, and snow and ice usher in a new season. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to a life that was full of promise, now robbed and crushed. And this community will somehow be held hostage in a season of mourning that will need comfort and faith to free them with the hope of Spring.

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