A masked man in the parking lot of Catholic Charities at 93rd Street and Bedford Avenue began banging on windows and firing what looked like a semi-automatic handgun.
Several employees ran for their lives, past an apparently bloody woman lying on the ground, fearing she was the shooter’s next victim.
Two people, an employee and a passerby, called 911.
Six Omaha police officers and nine Omaha firefighters arrived at the association on May 19. All thought they were responding to a mass shooting.
But investigators later learned it was a pre-planned exercise led by John A. Channels. Channels fired blanks and told Catholic Charities workers when he was hired for the training position that he wanted to elicit a “response of fear,” Omaha Police Detective Derek Mois said Monday. , during Channels’ preliminary hearing in Douglas County Court.
People also read…
“He wanted it to be as realistic as possible,” Mois said. “He wanted (the employees) to be afraid and he wanted them to have to react and run, hide or even fight.”
Channels was arrested in August on five counts of uttering terrorist threats and one count of using a firearm to commit a felony. On Monday, Douglas County Judge John Huber ordered Channels to stand trial.
If convicted on all counts, Channels could face a maximum of 65 years in prison. He remains in the Douglas County Jail on $300,000 bond.
Channels was hired by Catholic Charities workers who wanted to hold an active shooter training session following the recent nationwide mass shootings and because the nonprofit’s new location housed a shelter. for victims of domestic violence.
Channels was introduced on the recommendation of the organization’s head of security, Mark Rigatusso. Rigatusso later told Mois that Channels had also done “additional security work” at another Catholic Charities site.
Rigatusso, compliance coordinator Carrie Walter and director of security Mike Welna met with Channels on April 28 and elected to pay Channels $2,500 to provide the training.
Rigatusso, Walter and Welna all told Mois that Channels was the one who said it was important not to tell the employees, so that his “observers” could study the reaction of the workers and therefore it was a moment of ‘education.
Channels and her attorney, Erin Wetzel, dispute that.
Wetzel said in August that Catholic Charities wanted the training session to go that way and agreed to the script even when workers asked what was going on.
The trio also said Channels told them he had already held active shooter training sessions and would notify law enforcement about the exercise.
He did not, according to Mois. Channels told officers who showed up at the building that he dropped off flyers in precincts, but precinct captains said their public receptions were closed for weeks before May 19. And Mois said there was no evidence Channels went to the downtown headquarters, which has an open reception.
Mois testified that an OPD firearms and active shooter trainer said that while practicing active shooter scenarios, all authorities, employees, and even nearby businesses would be notified.
Wetzel asked Mois if he was aware of a voicemail involving an Omaha front desk police officer who acknowledged that “exercise papers” had been dropped off. Mois said he and his chain of command were unaware of the voicemail, but said it would not change his opinion of the situation.
Mois spoke to Catholic Charities employees who were at work that day, many of whom were unaware that such a stressful and realistic event was about to occur.
Gloria Kern said she was aware of a planned training session, but had no idea it would involve a gunman and actors.
“She thought it would be a training scenario in a classroom,” Mois said. “Nothing exciting.”
Sandra Lopez fled the building with a group of other employees, but then broke away from the pack because she feared her bright pink shirt would draw attention to the group, Mois said.
And Sheila Garland, who thought the ‘bloody’ woman on the court was a colleague, was told she ‘needed to calm down’ because ‘it wasn’t real’, according to an affidavit.
Garland has a medical condition that prevents her from breathing, Mois said. She told Mois in an interview that she was freaked out as she ran because she realized she wasn’t going to be able to run much further.
Channels was not arrested the day of the incident, and officers filed an information report, prompting Mois to investigate. The firearm used was not taken that day and was never found, Mois said. An OPD spokesman said Channels was not arrested that day because at that time officers did not have sufficient probable cause.
Wetzel called the gun he used a “prop gun”, but it didn’t have an orange tip, as fake guns do, and actually fired blanks – 9 blanks casings mm were found by Rigatusso and later given to Mois.
No employee of Catholic Charities has been criminally charged. Douglas County District Attorney Don Kleine said their decision-making was a civil matter.