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Catholic Charities employee sues over realistic, traumatic "active shooter drill"
Sandra Lopez suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and needs treatment for a back injury she got while running away from the fake shooter
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An employee of Catholic Charities in Omaha, Nebraska has filed a lawsuit against the organization due to the trauma she faced after a horrifically stupid decision by the group’s leaders.
Last May, 27-year-old John Channels pulled out a handgun and began shooting inside the Catholic Charities building, leading workers to scream and scatter at the sight of bodies and blood on the ground, doing anything they could to avoid the culprit.
There were no gunshot victims that day, however, because the entire thing was staged. The gun shot blanks. The bodies were actors. The blood was fake. Everyone was in on it… except the workers themselves.
It was all part of an active shooter drill requested by the Catholic group’s leaders and designed by Channels. He’s currently “facing five charges of terroristic threats and one charge of weapon use,” according to the Omaha World-Herald, and is being held on $300,000 bond. (That’s in addition to separate charges of sexual assault and production of child sexual abuse material that he also faces.)
“Bad, bad idea,” Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said [last August]. “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.”
You may wonder: What the hell were the people at Catholic Charities thinking?!
Catholic Charities of Omaha Executive Director Denise Bartels has kept a relatively low profile since the “shooting.” If she responds to newspapers’ requests for comment, it’s usually to offer the bare minimum in condolences. At the time, she merely gave a basic statement about how Catholic Charities is cooperating with law enforcement. She didn’t explain what her group was doing to help staffers deal with their trauma after avoiding the fake shooter.
In several cases, the workers believed they were about to die and even took drastic actions to save their lives:
[Sandra Lopez] 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.
“[Amanda] Driver stated she ran away from the building harder than she has ever run before because she believed she was about to be shot.”
What would have happened if a “good guy with a gun” decided to shoot an actual weapon in self-defense? Or if elderly employees injured themselves (or had heart attacks) while running away? Or if people chose to jump out of a second-story window believing it to be their only hope of survival?
What sort of trauma must these people be in? How could you ever trust your bosses after this?
Channels wasn’t a cheap date either. Catholic Charities’ leadership paid him $2,500 for the “training,” believing it to be necessary because the offices had just opened a domestic violence center. Not knowing who to turn to for such a training, they took a recommendation by a security guard and hired Channels. Then they took his advice and didn’t tell anyone this was only a practice drill.
And after he inflicted trauma upon the staff, he urged them to give him even more money:
Authorities said Channels asked employees after the training whether they had guns for protection; he also shared a business card encouraging them to pay for his firearms training class.
Channels has since said he was doing everything by the book and that the Catholic Charities’ leaders “wanted it done that way.”
Now Sandra Lopez, one of those employees who (still!) works as a loan officer for Catholic Charities, is suing the organization for what they put her through. She says she has been diagnosed with “post-traumatic stress disorder” and continues getting treatment for a back injury she suffered while running away from the scene.
According to the lawsuit, even the higher-ups at the organization who knew this was a fake drill perpetuated the lie on that day:
About 9:30 a.m., Lopez heard three bangs on her door and saw Dave Vankat, the chief community engagement officer for Catholic Charities, knock on her window and yell “Out! Out!”
Lopez saw Bartels, “appearing to be terrified,” run toward an exit. Lopez asked what was happening, but neither Bartels nor Vankat responded.
Lopez, now feeling panicked, followed and reached a vestibule door with Bartels and another employee. Lopez again asked, “What happened?” and Bartels said, “It is a shooting.”
Lopez escaped the building, jumped over a wall (where she was injured), and called her son to pick her up at a nearby coffee shop. When he called the company to let them know his mother was safe, only then was he told this was all for show.
Lopez’s son, incredulous, asked why they didn’t tell his mother that it was staged.
The supervisor replied, “We wanted to see how people reacted,” according to the lawsuit.
“Denise Bartels, (the supervisor) and Dave Vankat all knew this in advance and acted out their parts to terrify Plaintiff Sandra Lopez and other employees not given a warning of the planned ‘drill,’” the lawsuit alleges.
The Catholic group has filed a motion to have the lawsuit tossed out, “saying the matter belongs in workers’ compensation court.” Lopez’s attorney says workers’ comp is better suited for physical injuries than mental and emotional ones, so he wants this to go to a jury trial.
“Did they intend to create fear in her mind that she could be shot? The answer we would say is absolutely they did,” [attorney Tom] White said. “We do so allege that they specifically intended to terrorize Ms. Lopez.”
A hearing is scheduled for March 14.
Ultimately, this was a predictably awful decision that could’ve been avoided had the people in charge used just an ounce of common sense. No one who works for that group deserved what their bosses did to them. When similar shooter drills occur at public schools, everyone understands it’s fake and the goal is to learn (and repeat) the best methods to avoid harm, not run around in panic mode. Even then, those drills can be traumatizing!
Much like so many things with the word “Catholic” attached to it, instead of solving any problems, the institution created brand new ones from scratch and left everyone worse off in the process.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)