Child Killed in a School Shooting Prompts Father to Action
SAN ANGELO, TX -- John-Michael Keyes recounted the day, September 27, 2006, when a gunman entered Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colorado and took six females hostage in classroom 206.
Sixteen year-old Emily Keyes, his daughter, was one of the hostages.
I promised to honor Mr. Keyes request that the name of the gunman, or anything about him would not be written here.
The gunman entered a classroom on the second floor, room 206, where teacher Sandra Smith taught Honors English. When Smith asked him what he was doing in the classroom, he pulled out his handgun and ordered her, all of the male students, and several female students to leave.
After Smith and the male students left the classroom, he instructed the seven remaining students to stand facing the chalkboard.
Subsequently he released all but two hostages, one being Emily Keyes.
By that time a bomb squad, SWAT team from Jefferson County, and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were at the scene.
Ambulances were parked in the end zone of the high school's football field. A four-mile stretch of U.S. Route 285 was closed.
Agents from four Colorado Bureau of Investigation offices (CBI) also arrived on scene, as did Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officers.
The Colorado State Patrol, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, and the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office arrived and secured a perimeter around the school.
The one entry and exit to the classroom was immediately secured.
Law enforcement response was about three minutes from the time the 911 call was placed, and when they arrived on scene.
Looking back, Keyes praised the first responders for the fast and overwhelming show of force.
“It was a good response, especially considering that we’re in such a rural area.”
“The best people did the best of things. The outcome could have been far more grave. We as a family know this and appreciate this.”
“There is no fault to be found in the command decisions made given the information and behavior presented.”
Keyes first heard of the hostage situation from his wife, Emily’s mother.
“Ellen was heading to Denver and stopped at the gas station. We live in wildland fire country so many businesses have police/fire scanners.”
“While she was at the gas station, she heard on the scanner that there was a man with a gun at the school. She called me and I headed to the school.”
“No emergency alert system was in use at the time.
Having arrived at the scene, Keyes was among scores of parents anxiously awaiting word from their children inside the school during the standoff.
“While the hostage situation was occurring, there was some uncertainty that Emily was still in the room, and I had every expectation that she would be fine.”
He had just purchased Emily and her twin brother cell phones for their 16th birthdays.
Not sure about how to send texts, Keyes handed over his phone to a person in the crowd who messaged Emily for him.
"R u Ok?”
At 1:52 p.m., she messaged back, "I love you guys."
“Where are you?” Keyes messaged back. There would be no response.
By mid-afternoon, negotiations began to stall, and the gunman explicitly stated that he would stop negotiating at 4:00 p.m.
According to Park County Sheriff, Fred Wegener, “it was then decided that a tactical solution needed to be done in an effort to save the two hostages that were in the room," Wegener said.
"We had to go try and save them."
When the SWAT team breached the classroom door with explosives, the gunman opened fire on them with a semi-automatic pistol, and shot Emily in the head.
The other remaining hostages escaped unharmed, but the gunman had terrorized and sexually assaulted the girls for more than two hours.
I asked Keyes about the moment of realization.
“It’s inconceivable” said Keyes. “It doesn’t fit in your brain.”
From this nightmare was born the “I love U Guys” Foundation, named for the last text message Keyes received from his daughter.
The impact of the products created by the Foundation—The Standard Response Protocol (SRP), and the Standard Reunification Protocol (SRP)—have become the golden rule of safety for school districts across the country.
The Texas School Safety Center includes the SRP as the recommended toolkit, and the Texas Association of School Boards utilize these modules.
In a press release dated Feb. 15, San Angelo Independent School District Superintendent, Dr. Carl Dethloff reported that “SAISD follows guidelines from the Texas State School Safety Center in determining safety procedures and protocols.”
In Hays County, the Standard Response Protocol Task Force received an award from the State Office for Child Safety Initiative.
The SRP is the uniform classroom response to any incident—weather events, fires, accidents, intruders and other threats to student safety.
It is based not on individual scenarios but on the response to any given situation.
By standardizing the vocabulary, all stakeholders can understand the response and status of the event.
Keyes outlined how common language and standardized procedures provide a safer environment and better outcomes during an event.
“For students, the SRP provides continuity of expectations and actions throughout their educational career.”
“For teachers, the SRP is a simpler process to train and drill.”
“For first responders, the common vocabulary and protocols establish a greater predictability that persists through the duration of an incident.”
The website also contains an SRP, K-12, a Parent/Student SRP, and classroom posters.
Keyes has presented these SRP and SRP school safety training at hundreds of events around the country.
In 2012, the Foundation introduced the Standard Reunification Method (SRM), a practice that helps schools reunite students and parents after an event with greater accountability and less uncertainty.
The degree to which protocol is followed is the responsibility of the school district.
With regard to arming teachers, or the use of metal detectors, Keyes responded that, “Those are community sensibility decisions.”
John –Michael Keyes, Emily’s father, Ellen Keyes, Emily’s mother, and Casey Keyes, Emily’s twin brother, in another interview had this to say:
“When we remember September 27th, it's the text message Emily sent: "I love u guys." It is our hope that's the message you remember as well.”
The website address is www.iloveuguys.org.