Police officer arrested for staging mass shooting at Catholic Charities

A police officer simulated a mass shooting in Omaha Catholic Charities without telling employees it was a drill.

This past spring, a man fired blanks through a window at a Catholic Charity in Omaha, Nebraska. The situation devolved from an ordinary day into utter chaos, with one woman jumping off a retaining wall and bloodied bodies scattered across the hallway. An elderly employee feared the shock and fear would induce a heart attack.

Imagine being in this kind of situation, one that we see all too often in headlines and on our television screens. What would you do? Would you even be able to think coherently? How would you feel knowing you might never return home? Then, think how you would react when you found out it was all a drill.

The man who fired the blanks at Omaha Catholic Charities was John Channels, a police officer for the Offutt Air Force Base and CEO of his own security company, Exousia Protection Agency. The director of the charity, Denise Bartels, hired Channels to stage the shooting, which was complete with actors strewn about the floors and smeared with fake blood.

No one knew that the shooting was a simulation but Bartels, Channels and his team. Even when employees frantically asked what was going on, the director remained silent. She claims Channels said he would make police aware of the planned drill, which he did not, as law enforcement arrived fully expecting to try and avert a crisis. Channels was arrested and is now being tried for five counts of making terroristic threats. Bartels claims she hired him “based upon recommendations from respected sources, and he clearly misrepresented himself and his qualifications.”

While I’m not entirely sure what qualifications would be deemed adequate in order for someone to stage a mass shooting, other than sadism, that’s beyond the point. The idea that an executive director of any establishment could even think of simulating such a horrific and tragically relevant event at the expense of their employees is sickening. I hesitate to even call the incident a drill, because a drill is when a group of people practice a pre-established contingency plan to avert a crisis. Did Bartels simply want to gauge how her employees would react to an armed invader? There certainly was no predetermined plan that gave the employees any kind of recourse in the face of danger.

Bartels claims that her “intention in holding the training on May 19 was for the safety and security of [her] staff and to prepare for the sad reality that organizations face today.” How does staging a shooting without making your colleagues aware contribute to their safety and security? What if an employee had been armed and shot Channels? While shootings have become a tragically routine element of our lives, instilling paranoia and generating trauma in people would not at all help them to better face a crisis. Instead of building her employees’ confidence and capability to act with a clear head, Bartels threw them into the deep end and just stood by to see if they would swim, even after their desperate pleas for information. Now, employees are being offered mental and emotional support services when they could have been offered training to keep themselves safe.

While the issue of gun violence continues to become more dire, it’s important to realize that keeping a clear head and having a contingency plan could save your life. Even though it’s unfortunate that we now live in a world where security systems are a must and identification is required to open a door, it’s important to see the benefits of these tools and understand that even though they can’t prevent someone from having malicious intent, they can certainly save lives. It’s deeply saddening that the people of Omaha Catholic Charities had nothing to protect them, were offered no counsel as to how they could best protect themselves and now have to live with the trauma of what was and what could have been.

Post Author: Abby Fakhoury