Wut?: Active Shooter Drill Ends in Staff Trauma and “Instructor’s” Arrest By: Joshua Swanagon

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Following the recent increase in school shootings, school safety has been a hot topic throughout the nation. This has many public schools looking to beef up their safety plans with active shooter and lockdown drills. But what happens when an active shooter drill goes horribly wrong? Staff members are traumatized, and a so-called “instructor” is arrested.

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The Active Shooter Drill That Shouldn’t Have Been

The whole point of any safety drills is to save lives, not create a traumatic environment. However, a May 19, 2022, drill did the latter and has staff so shaken up that some still haven’t returned to work.

Carrie Walter, compliance coordinator for Catholic Charities, and Mike Welna, Director of Security at Catholic Charities, hired John Channels to conduct the drill. The decision came after a security officer for the building suggested they hire Channels to conduct the exercise.

According to court documents, Channels identified himself to Walter and Welna as a “Federal Police Officer working at Offutt Air Force Base.” Likewise, he assured the pair that he had conducted other active shooter drills before. He also informed them that law enforcement officers would be present and an active part of the exercise. As a result, Walter and Welna agreed to the $2,500 fee for the drill.

Walter and Welna complied with Channels’ request not to inform staff of the drill, wanting as much realism as possible. He wanted them to feel that they were in real danger. That was when the shooting started.

Omaha World-Herald reports, “’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.’”

Well, it worked. The staff was terrified, truly believing that they were seeing their co-workers dead on the ground outside.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

In a time of increasing mass shootings and rising gun violence, this isn’t how you check an organization’s lockdown procedures. However, this is a great way to see who in your organization has a weak heart. Not to mention a means to find out who is carrying a concealed firearm.

During the incident, staff reacted exactly how you would expect—they panicked. One staff member made it three blocks to a fast-food restaurant before checking in. But this was only after she attempted to jump down into a garbage can to hide. Unfortunately, she missed the can, landing on the ground next to it, where she curled up in the fetal position. She then got up and started running again.

Other staff members recall running as fast and as hard as they could for fear they would be shot. One staff member in her late 60s was certain she would die because she couldn’t run fast enough.

Staff reaction aside, did Channels even consider a police response at all?

According to Omaha World-Herald, “Employees weren’t the only ones in the dark. Authorities say they weren’t notified of the drill. Dispatchers had no idea that several 911 calls of an active shooter were part of a scheme. And arriving Omaha police officers had no idea what they were encountering. One Omaha police officer had his hand on his gun as he approached co-workers, unsure who the shooter was.”

Afterward, Omaha Catholic Charities Executive Director Denise Bartels, who approved the drill, released a statement regarding the incident.

According to ABC News, “Bartels said Channels didn’t follow agreed upon procedures and didn’t communicate properly with police. ‘We deeply regret following his recommendations and selecting him for the training,’ Bartels said, adding that staff members continue to be offered mental health support.”

The Aftermath

I can only imagine that this was supposed to be his idea of threat assessment. However, no sane person shares this threat assessment plan. Thank God he didn’t try this drill at an elementary school with students and staff present.

Fortunately, it will be a long time before he can try this again, and hopefully, people will remember his name.

KETV 7 Omaha reports, “John Channels, 27, was taken into custody for five counts of terroristic threats and one count of use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony.”

On top of these charges, it turns out that Channels was out on bond at the time. Reports show he faced charges in a separate case of sexually assaulting a minor and possessing child pornography. So, I have a feeling that it will be a very long time before Channels sees the light of day again. At least one can hope.

Two weeks after the incident, Omaha police issued a statement requesting businesses, churches, and other organizations notify them before conducting any type of live training.

I would also like to add, that any time you hire someone for an exercise like an active shooter drill, do your homework. If they say they’ve done this before, get references and call them. If they say they are in law enforcement, call your local authorities and verify that. In fact, feel free to call the local authorities to vet them anyway, it may help you avoid unnecessary trauma.

It’s not a bad thing to trust people, but it is even better to verify.

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