News (USA)

Christian charity terrorized employees with a fake shooter. The lawsuits have started.

Police tape
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An employee of Catholic Charities of Omaha is suing the organization over an active shooter drill staged last May. Sandra Lopez alleges that executives did not tell employees that the drill was fake, causing them to panic.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, on May 19, 2022, employees at the organization’s office — which reportedly also contained a domestic violence shelter —heard gunshots and saw a masked man with a semiautomatic handgun enter the building. In an affidavit, one employee said she saw people fleeing the building while others lay on the ground smeared with what turned out to be fake blood.  

In her lawsuit, Lopez alleges that the organization’s executive director, Denise Bartels, told her directly, “It is a shooting.” According to an Omaha police officer, Catholic Charities executives knew the scenario was a training drill but did not inform local authorities about it.

John Channels, the then 27-year-old man who allegedly posed as the gunman, was arrested and faces five charges of terroristic threats and one charge of weapon use. Channels is also reportedly awaiting trial on separate felony charges of sexual assault and producing child pornography.

According to a nine-page affidavit, Catholic Charities’ compliance coordinator Carrie Walter and security director Mike Welna agreed to pay Channels $2,500 to conduct the drill after a security guard suggested hiring him. Channels claimed to have experience conducting active shooter drills and claimed that law enforcement would be on hand to “play along.”

Walter claimed that Channels specifically advised leadership not to inform employees of the drill because he “wanted [them] to feel as though they were in danger.” Bartels authorized the drill and agreed not to inform employees, according to police.

In a statement, Bartels said that Channels, who claimed to be “a citizen police officer” misrepresented himself and his qualifications. “He did not follow the agreed upon procedures for the training, mishandled its implementation, and did not complete the pre-training communication with Omaha Police and 911 dispatchers. We deeply regret following his recommendations and selecting him for the training.”

Lopez reportedly sustained a back injury while fleeing the fake gunman, for which she still receives treatment, and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Lopez’s attorney, Tom White, alleges that Catholic Charities intentionally assaulted Lopez and intended her to be emotionally distressed.

“Did they intend to create fear in her mind that she could be shot? The answer we would say is absolutely they did,” White said. “We do so allege that they specifically intended to terrorize Ms. Lopez.”

“We continue to take all matters surrounding the training seriously,” Bartels said in a statement. “Nothing is more important to us than our staff, volunteers, and members of the community we serve.”

Catholic Charities of Omaha is one of 167 local agencies operated by Catholic Charities USA providing social services to fight poverty, including adoption and foster care placement. In recent decades, however, several local agencies, including those in Boston, New York, and Illinois, have shut down their adoption and foster care services rather than place children with same-sex parents as required by state laws.

In 2010, Catholic Charities of Washington, D.C., decided to stop providing healthcare benefits to employees’ spouses rather than provide them to same-sex couples.

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