By Kieran Nicholson, Staff Writer
Jefferson County, Colo.- From a first-row seat next to his wife, John Michael Keyes turned his back to the D'Evelyn High School stage and looked directly at SWAT team and bomb-squad members who filed in behind him.
He nodded, smiled and shook some hands.
Ellen and John Michael Keyes lost their daughter, Emily, on Sept. 27 when a gunman killed her in a standoff at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey.
On Monday in the auditorium of the Jefferson County high school, they publicly thanked the men and women who fought so desperately to save her.
"It's been great to put faces with uniforms, the real people who are behind the uniforms," Ellen Keyes said after the ceremony.
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office honored dozens of investigators, school resource officers, victims' advocates and others who took part in the intense rescue effort.
The 26 responders who went into the school, risking their lives to save teenage girls who were held hostage, received a Medal of Valor or a Medal for Distinguished Service for their heroic efforts.
As Arvada Police Chief Ron Sloan jumped to hang a medal on a tall officer, Emily's parents chuckled at the spontaneous, unorthodox presentation.
When rescuers received their honors, family members, fellow officers and citizens in the auditorium stood and cheered. As they left the stage and went back to their seats, the Keyeses hugged each one of them, whispering encouragement.
Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink, who presided over the ceremony, told the audience he didn't know Emily personally, but he feels he knows her spirit.
Mink quoted John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, in memorializing Emily and capturing the spirit of her rescuers.
"Do all the good you can by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can," Mink said.
Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener did know Emily personally.
"Emily will be with me forever," he told the audience.
Wegener, who was re-elected sheriff earlier this month, thanked the Keyeses and the Park County community for the support he's received since the shooting.
"It's made my job a lot easier," Wegener said.
He also thanked the "brave men and women" who rushed to the high school and risked their lives. "You are in my thoughts every night."
Sgt. A.J. DeAndrea of the Arvada Police Department was among those recognized with a valor medal.
"It's a bittersweet day," DeAndrea said. "The real hero in this event isn't with us today."
Parents of slain student thank rescuing officers