Man who held fake shooting drill at Nebraska charity charged

Aug 24, 2022, 1:02 AM | Updated: 3:44 pm

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A man hired last spring to carry out what appeared to be an active shooting at an Omaha charity — complete with actors smeared with fake blood — has been criminally charged with terrorism counts.

John Channels, of Omaha, was arrested and charged Tuesday with five counts of making terroristic threats and one weapons count. The Omaha World-Herald first reported the arrest.

The incident happened May 19, when Channels, 27, showed up at Omaha Catholic Charities firing blanks from a semiautomatic handgun and staging “victims” who appeared to have been wounded or killed, police said. The charity hired him to test its workers’ preparedness for such an attack.

The incident caused panic among the charity’s employees because they had not been informed it was a drill. Police said the charity paid Channels $2,500 to carry out the mock shooting and went along with his request not to inform employees beforehand.

One employee told the World-Herald that in her panic at hearing the gunfire, she fled the building and leapt from a retaining wall intending to land and hide in a dumpster several feet below. But she missed and landed on the ground, where she curled up in pain before she ran several blocks to a restaurant.

Omaha Catholic Charities’ executive director, Denise Bartels said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that the organization hired Channels “based upon recommendations from respected sources, and he clearly misrepresented himself and his qualifications.”

Bartels said Channels didn’t follow agreed upon procedures and didn’t communicate properly with police. “We deeply regret following his recommendations and selecting him for the training,” Bartels said, adding that staff members continue to be offered mental health support.

Channels was arrested and jailed Tuesday and did not have an attorney representing him on the terror charges as of Wednesday. At the time of his arrest, he was already out on bond for charges in a separate case accusing him of sexually assaulting a minor.

According to a police arrest affidavit, Channels told those at Catholic Charities who hired him that he had conducted other active shooter drills and that law enforcement officers would be present during the drill. But police say not only were officers not present for the drill, police were not even told of it ahead of time, leading officers to respond to panicked employees’ calls with guns drawn.

Douglas County prosecutor Don Kleine said the mock drill could have had dire consequences — such as a panicked employee suffering a heart attack or Channels himself being shot by someone else or an officer.

“Somebody could have gotten killed,” Kleine told the World-Herald. “Just think of the potential things that could have happened with this — it’s frightful.”

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Man who held fake shooting drill at Nebraska charity charged