A friendly hello just didn't feel right. "Not again, August." That is how a close friend began our phone conversation Wednesday evening. Disbelief is the only way to describe how people have responded to the Platte Canyon High School shooting, in and out of Colorado. Another friend covering the story says, "he was going to kill all of them." That gunman Duane Morrison didn't is something of a miracle.
That is little consolation to the family of Emily Keyes. She's the 16-year-old killed when SWAT teams stormed the classroom where Morrison was holding her. After firing a shot at the advancing team, Morrison turned and leveled his gun at Keyes who was trying to flee.
The impact of Wednesday's shooting will be broad. For SWAT teams, it presents new procedural questions. In 1999, as National Guard troops enveloped Littleton neighborhoods around Columbine, SWAT teams were criticized for entering the school too slowly. The question being asked now is: did they move in too fast? Was their decision predicated in part on criticism from Columbine. That siege added a chapter to SWAT team manuals on hostage situations known as active shooter situations. The concept requires law enforcement to enter a school before a SWAT team is fully readied; if the shooter or shooters is killing hostages. Before the raid into the Platte Canyon classroom, Morrison had not killed any hostages. He had released four of them. Officers and deputies were presented with a new dilemma, however, when it became apparent to them he was sexually assaulting the remaining girls.
Until now, the most high-profile case Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener had dealt with was a triple homocide carried out by two teenage gunman. A forthcoming book, "Simon Says," by Colorado Springs journalist Kathryn Eastburn chronicles that bizarre story. Wegener will now have to justify his decision for SWAT teams to enter the classroom. Wegener knew his decision would weigh heavily -- his own son is a student at Platte Canyon High School.
Wegener did have control of his decision and whether it was justified will be the target of numerous post-operational reviews. What he had no control over, however, is an epidemic of school violence over the past decade.
This week, Colorado saw it's second school shooting. Today, the nation saw it's second school shooting of the week in Wisconsin. If you include the shooting at Dawson College in Montreal, there have been three in two weeks.
In the days following April 20th, 1999, in between my radio live shots, I would walk through the makeshift memorial that took up a corner of Clement Park adjacent to Columbine. In one direction, it stretched a quarter-mile. People from around the nation sent flowers, cards and placards they had signed. They pleaded for peace and an awakening to come from the darkness of that Tuesday morning. That was seven years ago. Why does it seem we are so quick to forget?