John-Michael Keyes using the loss of his daughter to help other parents reunite with their children after an evacuation or crisis

Seven Eagle Grove Area School District members, along with staff from the Eagle Grove Police Department, the Wright County Sheriff’s Department, and the other Wright County schools and law enforcement, gathered last week for a school safety workshop. Photo by Kim Demory

Four simple words that Emily Keyes texted to her parents on September 27, 2006, have become the platform John-Michael and Ellen Keyes are now using to promote school safety workshops nationwide. Last week, Wright County school officials, along with all three local police departments and the Sheriff’s office were honored to listen and learn from what John-Michael had to say about that fateful day when his daughter was shot and killed inside the Platte Canyon High School, and how schools and law enforcement can prepare for the worst - be it an intruder, weather, or any other crisis.

That day in 2006 began like any other, John-Michael told the Wright County officials. He and Ellen dropped the kids off at school first thing in the morning. At 9:25 a.m. - a stranger parked in the middle of the lot and sat in his car. At 10:05 a.m., the school’s resource officer was called away. At 10:53 a.m. the stranger entered the school. He remained there for over 30 minutes unchallenged. At 11:30, the suspect entered Room 206 - the classroom where his daughter, Emily was. He demands the male students leave the room, telling them he has brought with him enough explosives to level the building. At 11:30 a.m., he fires a shot into the wall. Seven girls, including Emily were taken hostage. At 11:41 a.m., dispatch receives a call about the situation. At 11:43 a.m., Ellen hears the call on a scanner at the gas station that something was happening at the school.

The Keyes try to get to their daughter, but the roads were blocked. They hear news that hostages are being periodically released without reason. They wait for word that one of them is Emily.

At 1 p.m., SWAT arrives on scene. At 1:30 p.m. there is an emergency assault plan set in place to retrieve the two girls left in the room - one of them being Emily. At this time, another negotiator tries to talk to the suspect. He won’t answer. Only communication comes from Emily.

At 1:50 p.m., Emily texts her parents a message that says, “I love u guys.” When they receive it, they are relieved to know she is still alive, but they have no idea that she is still one of the two hostages.

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