(Excerpted from Oregon Live, April 21, 2015)
Elementary school teacher Linda McLean sat at her desk on a calm blue-sky Friday afternoon nearly two years ago when she heard the clatter of what sounded like a falling ladder, followed by running feet.
A man dressed in a black hoodie and goggles suddenly burst through her classroom door. He leveled a pistol at McLean’s face and pulled the trigger. The terrified teacher heard gunfire, smelled smoke, felt her heart racing, she says.
“You’re dead,” the gunman said, and stalked out of her room.
But McLean was alive. The hooded man’s gun was loaded with blanks, part of a surprise “active shooter” drill at Pine Eagle School District No. 61, a charter school in the tiny eastern Oregon town of Halfway. The gun-toting man was Shawn Thatcher, the school district’s safety officer.
McLean was a casualty of what she now describes in a federal lawsuit as a harebrained drill in the middle of an in-service day – April 26, 2013 – that has left her with post-traumatic stress disorder….
The drill at Pine Eagle School District caught staffers at the school off guard, McLean’s lawsuit alleges.
Members of the district’s Safety Committee notified the Baker County Sheriff’s Office and its 911 dispatch center in advance of the drill so that they wouldn’t respond to an emergency at the school in case any of the school staff called.
The sheriff’s office also reviewed concealed-carry permits ahead of the drill to ensure that no teachers would fire back at Thatcher and school board member John Minarich, who also was armed and similarly attired.
Minarich was described in court papers as the principal and president of Alpine Alarm.
Thatcher and Minarich are accused of storming into several schoolrooms that day pointing their weapons at surprised teachers, firing blanks, and declaring them dead.
“Panic ensued,” according to McLean’s lawsuit. One teacher wet her pants. Another teacher tried to keep Minarich from entering his room and scuffled with the school board member, leaving the teacher’s arm injured. Some teachers fell down trying to hide.
“McLean could not figure out what was going on,” the complaint alleges. “She felt very confused. Her heart was racing. She walked out of the classroom and saw a pistol lying on the ground. … She wondered if she was really shot and was going to die.”
For an instant, McLean alleges, she thought perhaps it was OK to die. Then she thought about her daughter, who was pregnant, and grew angry that she wouldn’t be around to help with the new baby.
“She looked at the pistol and wondered if she was supposed to pick it up and shoot someone,” the lawsuit alleges….
— Bryan Denson