An Omaha man hired by a non-profit in the Nebraska city is now facing charges of terroristic threats and illegal use of a weapon after conducting an active shooter drill where neither police nor the non-profit’s employees were aware of what was going on.
The “drill” at Catholic Charities took place just five days after the shooting at the Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York in which ten people were murdered. According to authorities, officials at the charity had decided earlier in the year to put on an active shooter drill, but were at a loss as to how to go about it. I don’t recommend the strategy they ultimately adopted.
Catholic Charities’ compliance coordinator, Carrie Walter, and Security Director Mike Welna agreed on April 28 to pay [John] Channels $2,500 to conduct the training. Walter stated the idea of conducting an “active shooter” training “had been discussed for some time … due to having the new facility open … which contained a domestic violence shelter.”
Walter said she and Welna had little idea how to go about organizing such training, so they yielded to a security guard’s suggestion of hiring Channels. Channels had claimed to have conducted other active-shooter drills and claimed that law enforcement “would be present during the training event and would even participate and ‘play along’ with the scenario.”
“Walter stated that Channels planned to start by shooting victims outside of the office windows and doors to be viewed by employees, then make his way through the building (with keys provided by staff) hoping to cause employees to flee from the building or hide,” Mois wrote. “Walter stated Channels specifically stated he did not want the Catholic Charities staff to be informed that the scenario was only a drill and wanted to feel as though they were in danger.”
Walter got her wish. Some employees were so rattled by the experience (and perhaps the thinking of Catholic Charities executives) that they have yet to return to work.
About 9:30 a.m., Sandra Lopez was sitting at her desk, talking with a friend on her cellphone. She had just started working at the Bedford location after working at a South Omaha location for two years. She heard a noise outside her window and saw a Catholic Charities director, Dave Vankat, looking “scared” and screaming, “Run, run, get out,” Lopez told police.
Lopez followed Bartels and others and began asking “what was going on numerous times,” Mois wrote. “No one responded to her.”
Once outside the north entrance of the building, Lopez told Mois that she saw what she thought was a dead woman on the ground. The woman’s eyes were closed and she had blood smeared on her.
She then heard three gunshots behind her. She ran as fast as she could toward a retaining wall, with a dumpster several feet below. Lopez tried to jump into the dumpster to hide. She landed outside the dumpster and curled into the fetal position. Fearing she would be found and killed, Lopez then ran about three blocks to a fast-food restaurant to hide inside.
When she later called her bosses to tell her she was OK, they informed her the events were “part of a scheduled training.”
Did Catholic Charities ever talk with employees about what they should do if there was an active shooter in the building, or was this “training” meant to see how they’d respond? It sure doesn’t sound like employees had been instructed on how to respond, but were simply thrown into this situation without any warning or even advice on what to do beforehand.
If Channel had promised that local law enforcement would not only be aware of the event but present and participating, did anyone with Catholic Charities follow up and confirm with the Omaha PD? Apparently not, because the first officers to arrive on scene after several frantic 911 calls were placed had no clue that they were walking in to a training exercise and not a genuine active shooter situation.
[Douglas County Attorney Don] Kleine said it’s hard to conjure all the things that could have gone wrong. One of the employees could have had a heart attack while fleeing. Someone could have taken out a gun and fired at Channels. An officer could have done the same, killing Channels or someone else. Channels himself could have inflicted damage; just a year ago, actor Alec Baldwin fired a gun he thought had blanks in it on the set of a Hollywood movie. A live round instead killed a cinematographer.
Kleine said it’s also hard to imagine what was going through Channels’ mind: Was this some kind of video game cosplay he found exciting? Channels operates the Exousia Protection Agency that, according to its social media posts, specializes in home security and firearms training.
Well, I’m guessing that career is over, even if all of the criminal charges he’s facing are dropped. As for Catholic Charities, the Douglas County prosecutor says he won’t be filing any criminal charges against anyone at the non-profit, calling it a civil matter instead.
I’m agnostic about the utility of active shooter drills in general, but if a company or school is going to conduct them then the point should be to give employees/staff/students actual training on how to respond, not simply throwing them into a situation that they believe is real. This was a bad idea from the get-go, and ended up doing far more harm than help to virtually everyone involved; willingly or not.