A Real Ghost Story

Did an urban legend inspire a true tragedy?

Bryan Bonner is the last of the original founders of the Rocky Mountain Paranorma Research Society, started in 1999 "to study and help people with paranormal phenomena." Up to thirty times a year, the group is asked to chase down ghost stories or other spooky sightings. Last year, one of those calls came from a teacher at Platte Canyon High School, who said his class was doing a project involving an urban legend and wanted to work with some paranormal investigators but didn't have any money. No problem, says Bonner, who "works for the government" to earn his keep. "We don't charge anything. That's one of our core rules."

Another rule: The group does as much research as possible, although it didn't take much to find this particular urban legend. It's all over the web, including this posting on "Haunted Places in Colorado"(theshadowlands.net): "In the storage room above the gym, a faculty member that hanged himself was found by students. It was later determined that he had assaulted a 14-year-old freshman girl just before committing suicide. Ever since then, students and faculty members have reported hearing strange footsteps, lights flickering and weird moaning sounds."

So last fall, Bonner set up a meeting with the teacher at the high school -- and when the person who was supposed to let them in didn't show up, they retreated to a nearby restaurant in Bailey, where they chatted with some high-schoolers about the legend. "Every student that I talked to there either knew the story or had had something happen," Bonner says. A few days later, on October 29, 2005, he and his crew returned to Platte Canyon. This time the teacher was a no-show -- but they still managed to get into the school, where they set up their scientific equipment and prepared to spend the night. Mostly they hung out in the gym, but people kept making forays into the storage area, where everyone heard sounds like someone walking around. Everyone but Bonner, that is. "Every time I would go up there, it would stop," he says. "Whatever it was up there didn't seem to like me."

The group posted the results of its investigation at www.rockymountainparanormal.com, and after that, Bonner didn't think much more of this particular investigation. There were so many more cases in the meantime, and ghost-hunting in general isn't all that exciting. "It's a really, really dull field to be in," he says. "Imagine being at a stakeout where you're not seeing anything. It's not really glamorous."

But then he caught the news on September 27 that students were being held hostage at Platte Canyon High School. And then he read in the papers that Duane Morrison, the man who shot Emily Keyes and then was killed by SWAT team members, had been obsessed with haunted houses and had even designed some. There were still stories about it cobwebbed through the web. "Everybody who knows me was calling," Bonner says.

Except for the media, which is always quick to contact the group at this time of year for a good gruesome tale. And Bonner always obliges, because it's often "the only way we can let people know we're here to help them," he says. "We don't do the traditionally haunted spots; we like to do the private residences where people are having problems, having activity." But no one wanted to do a Platte Canyon feature for their happy Halloween story.

He did talk about the investigation at the high school on Peter Boyles's radio show, and the group posted a sympathy note to the victims at the top of its Platte Canyon page. But it didn't change this footnote in its conclusion: "One interesting note is that the activity increased while teenage girls were in the area, this would follow the story of the employee that killed himself in the attic because of his attraction to the young female student."

So far, though, no one's seriously explored the theory that an urban legend and a spooky obsession with teenage girls might have inspired Morrison's rampage. "Was it ghost-involved?" Bonner asks, then answers. "No. I think we had someone off-center who got obsessed."

And that's the scariest thought of all.

Night of the living dead: Not all horror stories are horrifying. Last Saturday night, zombies walked among us -- and it was a rollicking good time as a mob of nearly a hundred undead souls made their way down the 16th Street Mall from the Denver Pavilions toward Mario's Double Daughter's Salotto in LoDo. The trek took nearly an hour, as bleeding, rotting corpses concentrated on paying calls on well-peopled areas in general and the Cheesecake Factory in particular.

"The zombies clawed on the front window, and the 300 or so people inside all stood up to see what was going on," says Daniel Newman, who organized the zombies' night out. "The diners all loved it and started to smile and take phone-cam pictures."

Newman had decided to collect his zombie friends -- and wannabe zombie friends -- after seeing a similar dawn-of-the-dead event in San Francisco. It was a way to "make Denver a more fun/hip place to live," he says. And even the suburban masses caught the joke.

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