More than four years later, memories of Maggie Long linger for friends, family

Listen Now
7min 19sec
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Lynna Long, left, listens on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022 at The Venue Theatre Company in Conifer as her sister Connie talks about the murder of their youngest sister, Maggie, in 2017.

When her former high school principal talks about 17-year-old Maggie Long, killed during an apparent burglary of her home four years ago in rural Bailey, he breaks down. So do her theater company director, her two older sisters, and her best friend. 

“I definitely do feel her still,” said Katy Monahan, who lives two miles away in this rural town of nearly 9,000 about 40 miles outside Denver. “I just see her, like randomly. . .  and sometimes, like, songs will come on that I remember listening to with her and stuff like that.”

Seventeen-year-old Maggie Long was a high school senior who drove home from school just before a concert on December 1, 2017. She parked her car, went inside, and never came out.

It could have been because she stumbled upon a burglary in progress. It could have been because she was Asian – the Longs, Chinese-Vietnamese immigrants who came to the US 40 years before, were one of few Asian families in the area. It could have been motivated by their economic success, because Maggie's parents were doing well financially. They were running several Chinese restaurants and investing in real estate. 

But exactly what happened to Maggie, and why, remains an unsolved mystery four years later.

Though some in town question the initial response of the Park County Sheriff’s Office, the agency eventually requested help with the investigation. The effort to solve the crime also received a boost when it was reclassified eight months ago as a possible hate crime, and the investigation spruced up with a new five-person task force.

But these changes haven’t yielded new leads, at least none that have been disclosed,  and the case remains a triggering topic for family and community alike. 

Maggie’s parents have since relocated from Bailey to the Denver suburbs, where they devoted a room to their daughter that contains items salvaged after the fire.

“Every year on the anniversary of her death, I would kind of go through her personal stuff,” recalled her sister Connie. She said that not long ago, “I opened up her computer and I found a note that she wrote to herself for when she turns 18 . . . The main message that she was giving herself was: ‘No matter what you decide to do with your life, just be a good person.’” 

That was just what she’d been doing, say those who knew her. Shannon Monahan, Katy’s mother, remembered her as almost a bonus daughter.

 “She would show up with food or just to hang out, watch Netflix … Maggie had such a huge heart and a wonderful spirit, a wonderful smile. She loved everyone,” Monahan said.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Platte Canyon High School Principal Mike Schmidt pauses for a moment while recalling Maggie Long, whose framed softball team jersey and photo await permanent placement on a school wall. He says it’s important to keep the story of Maggie Long’s murder alive, in the hope that eventually there will be closure in the case.

 At her high school, which had about 300 students, Maggie’s memory remains alive. Her softball jersey with #30 sits in a frame in the office of Principal Mike Schmidt, who is in the process of deciding where to place it permanently. 

Sitting in his office flipping through a yearbook containing a picture of Maggie in a costume for one of the plays she took part in, he was easily drawn back to memories of the horrible night Maggie died. He remembered a concert at the school that night, with several bands from Denver playing. Maggie was part of the crew that set it up.

“She had just gone home to pick up some snacks for the concert, and then she was gone,” he recalled.

What happened next remains unclear. At about 7:00 pm, Park County deputies went to the Long’s 6,000-square foot ranch-style home, located at the top of a quarter-mile long driveway on County Road 43 in Bailey, near streets with names like Hangman’s Road, Gunsmoke Drive and Vigilante Avenue, about three miles from any main road.

“It was reported in a 9-1-1 call that people were inside the residence causing damage,” according to an FBI press release. “At least one male was on the property.”

Connie found out about what had happened after she went to one of the four Chinese restaurants her parents ran, before the concert began. 

“My mom was working and she was stressed out. She was like, ‘Where's Maggie? I thought Maggie’s gonna come and work tonight,’ “ she remembered. “At the time, I was actually getting text messages from our tenant who lived in the upstairs unit of the house. And he was telling me that there were a lot of loud noises that he was hearing downstairs.” 

Connie went to the high school, hoping to find Maggie there.

 “So I waited in the auditorium and just kept looking at the door to see if Maggie was gonna come through. And then when the opening band started, I just felt like I couldn’t stay cause it was like just, I just had a gut feeling that something was wrong…. So then I just thought, ‘I just need to drive home.’ ”

When she got home at about 7:20 pm, she could smell smoke and there were firefighters in the driveway, she said. For the next four hours, she and other family members were not allowed to go inside. “It wasn’t until 11 when the Park County Sheriff came out and said they did find a female body,” she said.

Maggie’s death was ruled a homicide, according to the press release.

“Investigative efforts at the scene revealed a physical altercation took place between Long and her assailants before the fire started. The suspects stole a Beretta handgun, an AK-47-style rifle, 2,000 rounds of ammunition, a green safe, and jade figurines.”

It’s something that still causes Connie’s voice to fill with emotion.

 “I think we need to be very clear that Maggie was murdered in a very violent, heinous manner. She was essentially burned alive,” Connie Long said. “And anyone who could do something to our sister who did not deserve it at all is a threat to the community.”

Connie, who had picked up their younger brother Derek from a friend’s house after the concert, said that they stayed at their grandparents’ house that night, with Lynna returning from Minnesota, where she had been working at the time, early the next morning.

It took four days for them to get back inside their home and find out more details about the fire. According to Lynna: “We were not allowed to be anywhere near the home because it was a crime scene….so we actually didn’t even see the house until four days . . . when we got a tour of the house by the sheriff, basically showing us where the damage was. And we saw just the damage in the garage as well. Because the perpetrators were trying to set multiple starting points of the fire around the house.” 

Their parents were forever changed, recalled Connie.

“My parents’ retirement from the restaurant business was kind of in-the-making, but Maggie’s death really catapulted that process. The night that she died, they stopped working and they did not return to the restaurant,” Connie said. “It’s been a huge change in both of my parents. …I don’t think they’ll ever truly heal from the death of our sister.” 

Sheriff's deputies asked everyone close to Maggie not to talk to the media or discuss details in town for a week after the fire. The department didn’t issue a press release until February, almost six weeks later, when the people they had in mind as possible suspects could easily have long since fled, Maggie’s relatives and friends said. 

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Deer Creek Road, County Road 43, north of Bailey in Park County, near the home once owned by the Long family before their daughter Maggie, 17, was killed there, and the house was set on fire in 2017.

The decision to withhold information about the murder remains a sticking point for some in the community, who question whether the Park County sheriff needed to call in additional help sooner.

 “How sloppy this thing was from the very beginning, in terms of the investigation, in terms of the decision-making about what they thought they were doing or trying to achieve,” said Nelson Conway, founder and creative director of The Venue Theater Company, a performing arts space in the neighboring town of Conifer, where Maggie also performed in community theater.

Initially, it seemed the police had some investigative leads to follow. According to Maggie’s sister Lynna, a 31-year-old ICU nurse. 

“From conversations we had with our FBI contact, there were dozens of different people that they were looking into – young white men who had had police called on them for threatening neighbors,” Lynna said. “But then that lead ended up going dead, because they had alibis or whatever.” 

On December 17, 2017, two and a half weeks after her death, on the day that Maggie would have turned 18, a celebration of her life was held at her high school. By then, police had cleared suspects, including a tenant who lived on the property. 

Since then, nothing.

“Over the last four and a half years, it’s from our experience shown that there aren’t any developments and part of us wonders, you know, is that due to the nature of the case, lack of evidence, or is it perhaps due to lack of effort and interest by individuals and department that are located in Bailey?,” Connie wondered.

A new boost occurred when Maggie’s murder was classified as a possible hate crime in May, 2021. The reclassification added financial resources, and the participation of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the FBI. But it hasn't impacted the investigation in ways that are tangible for the Longs. 

Since then, there haven’t been any breaks in the case, and some wonder whether the new designation makes any difference.

“Whatever their motivations were – could have been racial, could have been socioeconomic, could have been anything – I don’t really care about that,” said Platte Canyon High Principal Mike Schmidt. “I care about them solving that crime.” 

Determining whether hate against Maggie because she was Asian was a factor in the crime is tricky. 

“Hate crimes is not something that is new for the Asian community; it has existed well before 2016 and it’s certainly still happening right now,” says Harry Budisidharta, Executive Director of the Asian Pacific Development Center, a non-profit organization in Aurora that helps Asian immigrants with resettlement in Colorado. 

“Hate crimes against Asian people are not uncommon, but it’s vague as to whether it was the case here. It’s difficult to know whether what happened to Maggie was a hate crime, because we do not know the details.” 

He noted that there have been spikes in hate crimes against Asians, one occurring in 2016, around the time of a contentious presidential election, and another occurring in 2020, related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was said to have originated in China, setting off episodes of violence against Asians around the country. Maggie’s death not having been within either period doesn’t point toward – or against – it being hate-related. 

The ongoing case is now being handled by a five-person task force consisting of law enforcement officials from the FBI, Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Park County Sheriff’s Office, according to Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw. 

“We are actively investigating this case,” he said in a phone interview. “There are leads we are following up on. We are pursuing things. We are pursuing leads on it.” 

He said he is not a part of the task force himself, and none of the current task force members were involved when the crime happened in December, 2017. “They’re not the original same group,” he said. “Some have moved on, some have retired.” 

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Lynna Long looks at a seat at The Venue Theatre Company in Conifer named for her sister Maggie, who was murdered in 2017.

The Long sisters said they do not have regular contact with the task force, and aren’t clear on what is happening with the investigation currently. 

“I feel the frustration because it feels like our case is just being handed off from one person to another,” Lynna says.

Schmidt said the investigative team has been in touch with him. 

“The FBi in particular has been good about circling back to say things like, ‘We're still working on this and here's where we are,’ ” Schmidt said. “They’re frustrated by the lack of progress as well. I think they keep trying to come up with ways to create new leads and retill the Earth to see if we can get something else to bubble up to the surface.” 

He sees the change in investigators as a possible good thing

 “Some new people pick up on the investigation and those new people have kind of a new set of eyes and a new way to look at it and are pursuing some other paths,” Schmidt said. “I’m not privy to the details of that.”  

That leaves the family feeling frustrated. 

“Now our communication lines with them are not as strong,” said Lynna. “So who is doing something about this, and where is the motivation here to solve this crime? Because we know now that there are multiple people involved and they're still out there, so why aren't people doing more to catch those people, if they’re available to cause harm to others, still?”

As they all wonder whether her case will ever be solved, Maggie’s loved ones continue to hold onto memories of her.  A few of them got elephant tattoos, since Maggie loved to collect little elephant trinkets. Her sisters continue to hold onto knick knacks that people left for her at her grave, and things recovered from her car that are now in the family home. 

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A plaque honoring Maggie Long at The Venue Theater Company in Conifer, where she took part in performances. In the photo she’s costume for her role in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Police say Long was murdered in 2017 when they believe she surprised burglars at her parents’ home in Bailey. The home was set on fire.

At her high school, there are still pictures of Maggie on the walls. At the community theater, there’s a plaque with Maggie's name on it, which people walk by when they enter the theater space. 

“A lot was taken from us when she was killed,” said Conway, the founder. “And a lot was taken from her friends and our community and people at the restaurant, people that she would interact with just randomly at the store or wherever she went. And I think she brought a light that not many people are brave enough to show. It truly was an example to live your truth in that way and be yourself. Be your original self loudly and proudly and to pursue a life  that…”

As he searched for words, Connie chimed in to finish his sentence: “Bettered the world for others.”