Back in 1917 there was a supreme court case that revolved around the concept of Freedom of Speech – Schenck v. United States. The defendant was opposed to the draft during WWI and had been distributing leaflets to that end. When prosecuted, he took a “Freedom of Speech” stance. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. took this now famous stance that gave us a rather famous phrase …
The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic… The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.
Would anybody actually falsely shout fire in a packed theatre and cause unwarranted panic?
Somebody has recently done the equivalent of that.
Catholic Charities in Omaha staged an “Active Shooter Drill”
The jaw-dropping catch here is that those running the drill did not tell anybody.
There were bodies, they were actors.
There was blood … faked.
On the day of the drill workers were scattering in raw panic believing it was real.
The Omaha World Herald has the details. Here is what the staff experienced …
Tresor Kolimedje, 28, was at work in a state government office across the street from Catholic Charities’ location at 93rd Street and Bedford Avenue in Omaha.
From her desk, she heard gunshots, peered out the window and saw people running from the building, past other people who were lying on the ground. “She believed (they) had been shot,” according to a detective’s affidavit.
She wasn’t the only one. Multiple Catholic Charities employees rushed out of the building — some believing they had seconds to live.
What they knew: A man with a semiautomatic handgun had opened fire. Victims were on the ground, streaked in blood.
What they did not know is that it was all just a drill and not real.
The guy who dreamed up this, John Channels, and also played the role of shooter. The Catholic Charity leaders had agreed to it all and even paid him $2,500 to conduct this drill.
Pro Tip: “Training” consists of a subject matter expert giving a talk in a classroom via Powerpoint or similar. This however was not that, but instead played out like this …
Then she heard gunshots. “Driver stated she heard Denise Bartels yell her name, which startled her, and she began running toward the north (exit) door,” Mois wrote. There, “she observed a female down on the ground and believed it was a dead coworker.
“Driver stated she ran away from the building harder than she has ever run before because she believed she was about to be shot.”…
… Gloria Kern heard a noise she thought was gunshots — and saw her colleague, Sheila Garland, jump and run out of the room. As they fled, Kern said she saw a gunman “banging on the windows with the gun.”
“Kern said she saw the individual ‘holding the gun then shoot at the window,’” Mois wrote….
… When they made it outside, they saw a female on the ground with blood on her. Kern believed it was a co-worker. Garland was overcome at the sight.
Not only did they keep employees in the dark by not telling them it was just a drill, but they also did not advise the local police department.
911 dispatchers received multiple calls regarding an active shooter.
Police, with guns drawn and ready, rapidly arrived with no knowledge of what was going on.
What could have possibly gone wrong here?
You really don’t need much of an imagination.
An employee, the potential “good guy or gal with a gun, might have drawn a weapon and shot Channels. It would have been wholly justified for doing so because Channels presented a credible threat.
The police, might also have seen the acting, soon the faked bodies and faked blood, and shot him.
Staff members could have been injured in a raw panic of the moment, or even suffered a heart attack due to the panic it all induced.
Channels was of course arrested and now faces five charges of terroristic threats and one charge of weapon use.
As for the managers of Catholic Charities who approved this drill, apparently their decision on that is a civil and not a criminal matter. Employees subjected to this have a credible case and could sue their employees. I honestly do hope that they do.
They did offer this statement …
“We deeply regret following his recommendations and selecting him for the training,” Bartels wrote. “He clearly 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.”
Meanwhile, Mr Channels not only remains in police custody, but they dug into him a bit and so this happened …
Ten days after the drill, Channels was charged with sexual assault and possession of child pornography in a separate case involving an underage student who was taking taekwondo lessons from him.
Falsely shouting “Fire” or similar and causing a wholly unwarranted panic really does have consequences. Famous instances of this literally happening include …
- The Shiloh Baptist Church stampede, Birmingham, Alabama back in 1902. Somebody shouted “There’s a fight!”. The word “fight” was mis-interpreted by most as “fire”, so there was a huge panic and over 100 people died in the stampede.
- Then there was also the Italian Hall disaster, Calumet, Michigan in 1913. At a Christmas party somebody shouted “fire”. 73 people died in the panic this caused.
At the Catholic Charity fake drill nobody was injured or killed. It could have so easily panned out rather differently, but thankfully did not.
For this last thought I include both Mr Channels and also all those directors at Catholic Charities who considered running a fake shooting as “training” for staff and not telling them it was just practise.
In many areas of life you may often grasp for a thought that goes along these lines “nobody could be possibly that stupid“. Then inevitably up pop some who are quite determined to demonstrate by their actions that this thought is ever so wrong.