On Sept. 27, lives and fates converged in Bailey when a gunman entered
Platte Canyon High School and took seven hostages in a second-floor
classroom. Here are the personal stories of five of the law enforcement
professionals involved in the response that day.
Park County Undersheriff Monte Gore was busy
in his Fairplay office planning an auction to raise bonus money for
county employees the day he got word that a gunman had entered Platte
Canyon High School in Bailey.
It was nearly noon on Sept. 27, and the auction,
four weeks in the making, was only three days away.
It had already been a difficult year for the
departmentan angry citizen wielding
a gun was killed by law enforcement; other incidents involved citizens
who had killed themselves, or killed their siblings, or forced officers
And it had been a difficult month for Gore,
whose infant son had spent weeks in the hospital with botulism.
Now, he was fighting for the safety of other
children. From his speeding patrol car, he began issuing orders over
the radioevacuate the school, call
Jefferson Countywhile Sheriff Fred
Wegener, along with other officers, assessed their options at the school.
On arrival, Gore was appointed to incident command and set up camp along
with Jeffco officers, who arrived soon after.
"My thought process was, 'As long as we
were negotiating people out of there, this is a good thing,' "
Gore says of the first two hours. "However, if we hear a gunshot,
at that point we make an immediate entry and take out the bad guy."
Only two hostages remained when SWAT team members
were forced to storm the classroom. One was spared; one died when the
gunman shot Emily Keyes.
Gore's heart sank as he delivered the bad news
to Emily's father, waiting nearby.
"He dropped to his knees. It was one of
the hardest things I have ever had to do," Gore said.
It was an average Wednesday for Detective Sgt.
Sven Bonnelycke when he got word from dispatch about the high school
Dressed in plainclothes, he had planned to process
a crime scene where a man had threatened his wife with a gun and endangered
Instead, Bonnelycke, a father of three small
children, found himself 2 feet from an unknown gunman, tasked with one
of the most difficult situations in his career as a hostage negotiator.
Bonnelycke spoke of the weather. He pressed
the man about his hobbies, asked whether he had a family and children
of his own.
"He might have said a whole three sentences,"
Bonnelycke remembers. Then the gunman would speak only through the students.
"One, not to come into the room. And back off and stay away."
Two hours ticked by as he tried to ease the
tension. "Do you want to eat? Do you want to feed the girls?"
Once during negotiations their eyes met as Bonnelycke
peeked through a window adjacent to the schoolroom door. The gunman
had a hostage in a chokehold, and a portion of his face showed from
behind the student, threatening.
The gunman's threat that he had explosives made
Bonnelycke most nervous.
"Show me you are still working with me
on thisgive me one," Bonnelycke
would say, managing to bargain a hostage away every 30 minutes or so.
Under his watch, four hostages walked to safety.
Only two remainedEmily Keyes and
a German exchange student.
"We are not hurt," Keyes told him.
"Everything is going to be OK."
For a time, a Jeffco negotiator relieved Bonnelycke.
Eventually, he repositioned himself on the opposite side of the door
and continued talking to the girls before an ultimatum from the gunman
ended his progress.
Bonnelycke knows what it's like to lose a child.
He had lost a 3-year-old son in a "severe accident," and that
day in Bailey his heart ached for Emily's parents.
"I've had some difficult times with itmuch
like everyone else," Bonnelycke said Monday after an awards ceremony
in Bailey that honored officers for their acts of bravery.
I have done more? The loss overshadows the saves."
Gene Stanley's pager alerted him to the drama
He was at home near Guffey with his wife and
two cats when "gunfire at PCHS" appeared on the pager's read-out.
He rolled out in his Chevy 1-ton for the 90-minute
drive to Bailey, armed with 30 years of experience as a medical technician
and firefighter who serves as an independent contractor for disasters
across the U.S.
Stanley, who teaches emergency medicine at Pikes
Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, is no stranger to violence,
having lost many buddies during the Korean War when the enemy charged
by the thousands.
But this would be Stanley's first school shooting;
he suited up with helmet, goggles and a thigh pack filled with medical
Smoke hung dense in the air after the SWAT team's
attack that day, and Stanley's encounter with Emily Keyes lasted a mere
seven or eight seconds.
Flashlights from officers illuminated her body
on the floor, and he moved in to triage the situation. That's when he
knew she was gone.
On his 90-minute journey home, Stanley got angry.
"I went through an extreme amount of anger
that this son of a bitch caused this kind of problem for these kids
and their parents," Stanley said. "This kind of crap didn't
go on when my kids were in school. I think the whole world is getting
Colorado State Patrol dispatcher Darcy Mount
was three hours from Bailey, in Pueblo, when a message from Trooper
Martin Kenney caught her attention.
Kenney was the first state trooper on scene
in Bailey, and Mount swiftly verified that the incident was not a drill.
It was a slow day, and many officers were in
a meeting, she remembers. But suddenly it was all hands on deck, and
Mount swung into action directing the comings and goings of state troopers,
wildlife officers and Colorado Department of Transportation officials
in charge of road closures.
"The hardest thing was, I am in Pueblo,
physically," she remembers. "I don't know that areathey
are using common names, pedestrian bridges, which made it difficult
to know where my people were."
Yet she persevered along with a roomful of others,
knowing the experience was an extremely heavy load for the smaller local
"This incident would have tasked any center,
not only just the volume but the intensityno
matter how many people there, it would have never been enough."
Since then her agency has critiqued its performance
to improve service should there ever be a next time.
"Oh, my God, it had to have been hard there,"
she said of local dispatch. "It was personal; it was their community;
it was their families, and yet they had to do their job."
THE STATE TROOPER
Martin Kenney was the first state trooper to
run with sirens and lights to Platte Canyon High.
But his role would remain a humble one, outside
the thick of things at both Park County and Jefferson County command
centers. Kenney was stationed along with another officer at a perimeter
of the middle school, a southern doorway where he monitored the few
who came and went. Details of the siege, which filtered in on multiple
radio channels, remained sketchy.
At one point, a hostage ran toward his location.
"Understandably she was emotional, but
I never got to learn her name," Kenney said. "To be on the
perimeter, on the end, and not be afforded the chance to make a direct
impact can be frustrating."
His duties would continue after the muffled
explosions inside the schoolinto
the night, and with troopers from other counties.
Long after the tragedy, when the Colorado Bureau
of Investigation processed the crime scene, state troopers continued
their vigil at the school to relieve Park County deputies.
Since then, Kenney, who has a law degree, has
taken a new post as deputy district attorney for Park County. But memories
of that day remain.
"I have no doubt that every
officer there wouldn't have thought a moment before entering that room."
Gore, Bonnelycke, Stanley, Mount and Kenneyeach
has his own story to tell of the September day that changed Bailey.
And each was honored, along with Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener and
137 other officers and agents, on Dec. 10.
(Jefferson County SWAT Team members were
honored two weeks earlier at another ceremony in Littleton.)