Inside The Classroom At Platte Canyon High School

SWAT Team Faced Difficult Decision

It's one of the toughest decisions for SWAT team leaders to make.

Do you make an aggressive breach of the room, weapons drawn, or try to keep the suspect talking and wait it out?

On Sept. 27 of last year, the gunman inside room 206 at Platte Canyon High School made the SWAT team's decision for them.

How? He wouldn't talk and at one point gave police a deadline.

"For the first time all afternoon, we are given a time... it will all be over at 4," said Officer Stacy Jarvis, recounting the situation. She is a negotiator with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department.

"We (tried) everything we could to get a rise out of him ... and there was nothing," Jarvis told Call 7 Investigator John Ferrugia.

Sgt. A.J. DeAndrea is one of the team leaders of the Jefferson County Regional SWAT team.

He said the gunman was on the far side of room 206, shielding himself with two teenage girls.

"You could hear the anxiety in the girls' voices and I honestly believed we were looking at a double-homicide suicide. I believed it was imminent," said DeAndrea.

Jarvis told 7NEWS, "I wasn't asking for five more minutes, because I knew we needed to do something, and right then."

Sgt. Grant Whitus is also a team leader with the Jefferson County Regional SWAT team. When he heard the 4 p.m. deadline he feared the worst.

The gunman had previously indicated that he had "enough explosives to blow up the building."

Whitus was afraid the gunman would either set off the explosives or execute the hostages.

"Everyone agreed this was going to happen, so before 4 o'clock we knew (the entry) had to happen," said Whitus.

The SWAT team was stacked in position along the wall and next to the door to room 206. They had already attached explosive charges to the door when the radio call went out.

"Grant, you got the go-ahead when you are ready. Whenever you are ready you have got the go-ahead," said Lt. Scott Pocsik, commander of the Jefferson County Regional SWAT team.

"He knew that law enforcement was going to come through those doors eventually and he chose to hide, as a coward, behind those two little girls," said DeAndrea.

Officer Mike Touchton was closest to the door to room 206. He was holding a large Kevlar blanket to protect the rest of his team from the explosion.

Whitus gave the signal and the door exploded open.

"When the blast went off, I looked around the blanket. The door was wide open. I don't even think I had to say open and I had Mike DeNuzzi coming off my shoulder and the train was going in," said Touchton.

Officer Mike DeNuzzi told 7NEWS, "The normal person would have done something to either protect themselves. Duck, move, something. [The gunman] didn't do any of that. He didn't move."

DeNuzzi, behind a shield, was the first person in the room.

"When I first went in, it was smoky. Then I saw the other female out of the corner of my eye run and then him and Emily, DeNuzzi told 7NEWS.

DeNuzzi and another SWAT member recognized the situation and shot the gunman, but not before the gunman had a chance to shoot 16-year-old Emily Keyes.

Emily was falling.

"Was there an instant when you thought, she's OK?" Ferrugia asked DeNuzzi.

After a long pause DeNuzzi said, "No. I knew."

The official report says the gunman died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

DeNuzzi doesn't see it that way.

"I killed him because he was still a threat inside that room. Still moving with a gun between his hands and I killed him," he told 7NEWS.

The SWAT team holds hope that Emily -- even though mortally wounded -- may have known that she was free.

Said Touchton, "I am proud that we were holding Emily and that she was away from her captor."

All involved in the operation that day will tell you that it was because of Emily's composure and courage that her classmate was saved.

The SWAT team would be the first to tell you, Emily was the true hero in room 206.

A half-hour special on the Platte Canyon Shooting will re-air on Saturday, Sept. 29, at 10:37 p.m.

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