Catholic Charities ‘deeply’ regrets hiring shooter who shot Omaha employees blanks | Crime News

Omaha charity says it regrets holding active shooter training with gunman firing blanks at panicked employees who weren’t told it was a drill .

Denise Bartels, executive director of Omaha’s Catholic Charities, released a prepared four-paragraph statement on Wednesday – a day after declining to comment to the World-Herald other than to say the charity was cooperating with a police investigation.

“Our intent in holding the training on May 19 was for the safety and security of our staff and to prepare for the sad reality facing organizations today,” she wrote. “The health and safety of our staff, mentally, physically and spiritually, is our primary concern.”

The man who led the training, John Channels, 27, remained in the Douglas County Jail on Wednesday after he was arrested on five counts of threatening terrorism and one count of using weapons. Police allege Channels convinced administrators of Omaha Catholic Charities to allow him to show up on May 19, masked, dressed in black and brandishing a semi-automatic handgun, and to shoot “blanks” in the presence of involuntary employees. He also staged “gunshot victims”, smeared in fake blood, around the organization’s new office at 9223 Bedford Ave.

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Bartels and his directors agreed to Channels’ request not to tell the staff and to make the filming exercise “realistic” — or deadly, so to speak. It worked: several staff members told Omaha police they thought they were going to die.

Employee Sandra Lopez described hearing gunshots and having no idea what was going on. Lopez said she rushed to a northern exit door, following Bartels and a few other employees and asking aloud what was going on. “Nobody answered him,” wrote Detective Derek Mois.

Two women said the ‘shooter’ knocked on the window of a conference room with his handgun and then repeatedly fired at the window. They could see fire and smoke billowing from the weapon.

Four employees told police they saw a woman on the ground with blood running down her body. They all believed she was a deceased colleague.

Amanda Driver, 24, told police “she ran out of the building harder than she ever had before; she believed she was about to be shot.

Another employee, Gloria Kern, 68, said she knew her physical condition would not allow her to outrun the shooter. “I thought, ‘That’s it, I’m done.'”

Bartels said “our staff met to resolve the incident and any concerns” immediately afterwards.

“All staff have been offered compassion and support as well as mental health services,” Bartels said. “We continued to provide mental health care and support to anyone still impacted by exercise.”

Authorities say Channels offered something else. He walked around after the drill, asking how many employees wished they had their own gun. He then offered them firearms training, at a cost.

Bartels said Channels – who later the same month was charged with child molestation and possession of child pornography – was recommended by “respected sources”. The police affidavit says compliance director Carrie Walter and director of security Mike Welna didn’t know who to turn to for the training, so they turned to security guard Mark Rigatuso, who suggested Channels.

Channels said he was a “civilian police officer” from Offutt Air Force Base who owned a private security company. Walter told detectives that Channels pointed out that local police “will be present at the training event and will even participate and ‘play’ with the script”.

“He clearly twisted himself and misrepresented his qualifications,” Bartels wrote. “He failed to follow agreed-upon procedures for training, mishandled its implementation, and failed to complete pre-training communication with Omaha police and 911 dispatchers.

“We deeply regret following his recommendations and selecting him for training.”

The exercise caused outrage beyond the staff. Omaha police were appalled, and Douglas County’s senior law enforcement officer, Douglas County District Attorney Don Kleine, called it a “bad, bad idea.” Thankfully, no one had a heart attack or fired a gun at Channels while fleeing, Kleine said.

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