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Student describes Colorado gunman’s takeover of classroom in deadly high school standoff

BAILEY, Colo. (AP) — The gunman who took six girls hostage in a high school classroom, killing one of his captives and himself, began the takeover by ordering students to line up at the chalk board as he tapped each with his gun and told them to stay or go, a student in the classroom said Thursday.

Cassidy Grigg, 16, said the man walked in, fired a warning shot at the floor and ordered the students to line up. He told some to leave and others — all girls — to stay.

‘‘You could tell that he wanted the females,’’ Cassidy said on NBC’s ‘‘Today’’ Thursday. ‘‘He tapped me on the shoulder and he told me to leave the room. I told him, ’I don’t want to leave.’’’

‘‘He told me that if I didn’t go then he would pretty much kill me,’’ Cassidy told ABC’s ‘‘Good Morning America.’’ ‘‘I noticed that he wanted to keep the females in the class. That’s the main reason why I didn’t want to go because I’m sure the girls would have felt more support if there would have been some males in the class with them.’’

No one recognized the man, who seemed to be dressed as a student, Cassidy said.

‘‘He was just an old guy who came on a mission, and I think he got what he wanted,’’ he told ‘‘Today.’’

The high school in this tiny mountain town was closed Thursday, a day after the mysterious gunman held the girls for hours before fatally wounding one and then killing himself as authorities stormed in.

‘‘We are a community in mourning,’’ schools superintendent Jim Walpole said. ‘‘Our thoughts, our prayers are with our students, staff and their families. Especially the family of the student we lost.’’

The victim was identified by acquaintances and a co-worker as 16-year-old Emily Keyes, shown in a yearbook photo as a smiling blonde who played volleyball and was on the debate team at Platte Canyon High School. She was pronounced dead at a Denver hospital after Wednesday’s standoff, which reminded many people of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High, less than an hour’s drive away.

Grigg described Emily as one of his first friends when he moved to the area in 6th grade.

‘‘She was always sweet,’’ he told ‘‘Today.’’ ‘‘She was just friendly. She was just a good person in general.’’

There was no known link between Keyes and the gunman, who was not identified by authorities. Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener, who had a son in the school as the drama unfolded, was at a loss to explain a motive.

‘‘I don’t know why he wanted to do this,’’ Wegener said, his voice breaking.

The gunman claimed he had explosives in a backpack and was wielding a handgun, authorities said. He released four hostages one by one, then abruptly cut off communication with authorities and set a deadline that forced authorities to act.

Wegener wouldn’t say what the man threatened to do.

He said authorities used explosives as they entered the classroom, only to have the suspect fire at officers, shoot one of the girls and then himself.

Authorities were investigating whether any of the girls were sexually assaulted, said Lance Clem, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.

School was canceled for the rest of the week at the high school and the adjoining middle school.

The sheriff, a 36-year resident of Bailey, said he knew the slain girl’s family and was ‘‘scared to death’’ as he handled the hostage situation. He said the gunman threatened the girls almost throughout the four-hour ordeal and at one point fired a shot inside the classroom.

‘‘I have to go and eventually I have to face a family about the fact that their daughter is dead,’’ Wegener quietly told reporters. ‘‘So, what would you do?’’

The lines of students fleeing the high school and middle school, the bomb squads and the frantic parents scrambling to find their loved ones evoked memories of the Columbine attack, where two students killed 13 people before taking their own lives.

Michael Owens, who has one son at the middle school and another in the high school, said the anxiety was worse because the memory of Columbine was still fresh.

‘‘Things that are out of your control, you just do what you can do,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s like an earthquake.’’

The situation unfolded in a narrow, winding canyon carved by the South Platte River about 35 miles southwest of Denver. Ambulances were parked in the end zone of the football field and a tank-like SWAT team vehicle was parked nearby on a closed-down highway swamped with gun-toting sheriff’s officers and police.

Bill Twyford said he received a text message from his 15-year-old son Billy, a student at the high school, at about 11:30 a.m. It said: ‘‘Hey there, there’s a gun hijacking in school right now. I’m fine, bad situation though.’’

Jessica Montgomery, 15, said she saw the suspect in a second-floor hallway shortly before noon. She described him as ‘‘creepy,’’ with acne and stubble on his face. He motioned her to come over.

‘‘I was like, ’the bell just rang,’’’ she said. ‘‘I was like, ’Why isn’t he going to class?’ And then I was like, ’He’s kind of old.’’’

Sophomore Zack Barnes, 16, said his class moved to a room that turned out to be next to the one where the hostages were being held. They turned out the lights and sat in silence in the dark for about 20 minutes before police guided them out.

‘‘I was just praying it wasn’t a mass killing,’’ Barnes said.

The two schools have an enrollment of about 770 students, with 460 in the high school. Students from both were taken by bus to another school for a head count, and there were cheers from parents as their loved ones arrived.

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On the Net:

High school site: http://plattechs.tripod.com/index.htm

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