Simulated Mass Murder at a Public School

     PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – School officials organized the “simulated murder” of an elementary school teacher in a tiny Oregon town – without telling her it was only a drill, the teacher claims in court.
     Third- and fourth-grade teacher Linda Mallery McLean sued Pine Eagle School District No. 61, its school board, superintendent, her principal and others on Friday in Federal Court.
     “Defendants’ conduct in arranging for Ms. McLean to be assaulted and terrorized by a man armed with a gun lies well outside the scope of Ms. McLean’s employment with Pine Eagle School District 61,” McLean says in the lawsuit.
     McLean has taught for 32 years at the only school in the Pine Eagle School District. The combined elementary and high school is in Halfway, a town of 288 nestled at the base of the Wallowa Mountains in the northeast corner of the state.
     In 2000, Halfway’s City Council briefly changed the town’s name to Half.com when an online retailer that sold items for half price paid it $73,000.
     McLean claims the school district terrified her on April 26, 2013, as she graded papers at her desk during a teachers in-service day. She heard running in the hallway and banging noises. Here’s what happened next, according to the lawsuit:
     “All of a sudden, a man dressed all in black with a hoodie and goggles burst through the classroom door into the classroom. Ms. McLean was disoriented and her heart started racing. The man walked toward Ms. McLean, pointing a gun at Ms. McLean’s face. Ms. McLean could not move, as she sat terrified in her chair. Ms. McLean recognized the gunman as the school safety officer, [defendant] Shawn Thatcher, an instant before he pulled the trigger. Smoke filled the room. Thatcher told Ms. McLean that she was dead.
     “Thatcher left the room. He and [defendant School Board Chairman] John Minarich, who was also dressed in camouflage, and brandishing a weapon, continued going into and out of rooms, pointing their weapons at other teachers, pulling the trigger of the gun, and stating that the teachers were dead. Panic ensued. A teacher wet her pants. A teacher tried to keep Minarich from entering his room and scuffled with Minarich, injuring the teachers’ arm. Some teachers fell down trying to hide or escape from Minarich or Thatcher.”
     The school was in chaos, McLean says. She says “walked out of the classroom and saw a pistol lying on the ground. She thought about her grandbabies. She wondered if she was really shot and was going to die. At first Ms. McLean felt she was OK if she was going to die. Then she thought about her daughter, who was pregnant, and became angry that she would not be able to help with the new baby. She looked at the pistol and wondered if she was supposed to pick it up and shoot someone.”
     She did not. After the chaos subsided, McLean says, the “angry and confused” teachers were gathered in the school library, “concerned that two teachers were missing.”
     There, she says, Minarich and Thatcher lectured them about the phony mass murder.
     A Baker County Sheriff’s officer was there with a police dog in tow. “Teachers questioned Minarich, [defendant principal Cammie] DeCastro and Thatcher about their disregard for the teachers’ safety,” McLean says.
     She went home distraught at the “terrorizing assault.” Upon returning to school on Monday, she says, she became “extremely emotionally and physically ill.”
     She was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and her doctor suggested she return to the school as desensitization therapy. She says she tried, but when she got there, “she was short of breath, anxious, emotionally distressed, and had to leave.” She hasn’t been back to the school since.
     “Virtually every time she leaves her house, she encounters someone or something that reminds her of the terror of April 26, 2013,” McLean says in the lawsuit.
     She says the district planned the “active shooter drill” without telling McLean or other teachers and employees, but it did inform the Sheriff’s Office, so police would know not to respond to any emergency calls from the school during the “drill.”
     She claims that the district asked the Sheriff’s Office to run checks on school employees to see if any of them had permits to carry concealed handguns and thus could harm the “assailants” by fighting back during the drill.
     “There is nothing about the nature of Ms. McLean’s employment by Pine Eagle School District 61 that either allows or requires Defendants to intentionally terrorize and place school district employees such as Ms. McLean in fear for their lives under the threat of deadly force,” the lawsuit states.
     One week after the incident, the Oregon School Boards Association released a statement encouraging school boards to develop “thoughtful” plans to deal with active shooter scenarios, that should include communicating “often and openly with parents, students, teachers and other staff before conducting simulation drills.”
     McLean demands punitive damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, failure to train and supervise, false imprisonment and violations of the Fourteenth Amendment.
     Minarich did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
     McLean is represented by Ralph Wiser of Lake Oswego, who was not available for comment.

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