Officials at a Nebraska Catholic charity secretly hired an Omaha man to conduct an active-shooter drill, complete with a gun, blank rounds, and fake blood-smeared victims. A report on Wednesday revealed officials did not tell anyone about the drill, which took place in May, leaving charity workers traumatized and angering local police.
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According to the Omaha World-Herald, Catholic Charities of Omaha hired John Channels, 27, to play the pretend gunman as part of an active shooter drill, paying him $2,500 for the service. Executive Director Denise Bartels authorized the drill, and approved Channel’s request that it remain a secret unknown to the charity’s employees or local police.
Channels has since been arrested on five charges of terroristic threats and one charge of weapon use.
In a statement published on Tuesday, Bartels said Catholic Charities “has cooperated fully with the Omaha Police Department and continues to do so. This is an ongoing criminal matter and we have no further comment at this time.”
“Bad, bad idea,” Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said. “Bad enough what happened — somebody could have gotten killed. Just think of the potential things that could have happened with this — it’s frightful. Thankfully, nobody else got hurt more serious than the mental damage these individuals suffered.”
Omaha Police Detective Derek Mois explained in an affidavit that Catholic Charities’ compliance coordinator, Carrie Walter, and Security Director Mike Welna hired Channels.
Channels claimed to have experience conducting such drills and assured the charity that police “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 said she and other employees were “somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of not fully notifying the staff but trusted Channels’ expertise and counted on his statements that (authorities) would be involved.”
In an interview with police, Catholic Charities employee Sandra Lopez recalled the traumatizing ordeal. She said she was sitting at her desk on the morning of the secret drill when she heard some commotion and saw charity director Dave Vakat appearing “scared.”
Lopez said Vakat screamed, “Run, run get out!” Lopez said she and others asked what was going on, but “no one responded to her,” including Bartels.
Lopez recalled seeing what she believed was a dead woman covered in blood lying on the ground as three gunshots rang out behind her. Terrified, Lopez sprinted away and tried to jump into a dumpster several feet below her. She landed behind the dumpster where she curled up into the fetal position in an effort to hide from what she believed was an active shooter, according to the World-Herald.
Scared that she would be discovered and killed, Lopez started running again, eventually hiding at a nearby restaurant. Lopez later called her boss to let her know that she was ok, at which point she was informed that the active shooter was “part of a scheduled training.”
Other charity employees had similarly terrifying experiences during the secret active shooter drill, including Gloria Kern, who said she saw the gunman “banging on the windows with a gun.”
“Kern said she saw the individual ‘holding the gun then shoot at the window,’” Mois wrote.
Kern, as well as her colleague Sheila Garland, said they saw a bloody woman on the ground, whom they believed to be a victim of the shooting. Garland said she was “absolutely in shock” and “stated specifically that she did not believe that any training that would be put on would involve someone firing a gun.”
Meanwhile, authorities — who were also unaware of the drill — started receiving calls about an active shooter. Believing that the active shooter was real, one Omaha officer had his hand on his gun when he arrived at the scene, Mois said.
In the wake of the drill, Omaha police requested that all businesses, churches and organizations notify law enforcement about live training exercises.
In a separate case, Channels was also charged with first-degree sexual assault of a child and producing child pornography.