A teacher is being hailed as a hero after she took down a student gunman who opened fire in a high school cafeteria Wednesday morning in Illinois, wounding another student.
Angela McQueen, 40, a physical education teacher, tackled the student as he was shooting at Mattoon High School about 11:30 a.m. She was identified as the heroic teacher by WCIA-TV, the Nokomis Free Press-Progress newspaper and several members of the community.
The shooter, who has not been identified, was taken into custody at the scene and the victim was hospitalized, but is expected to survive, authorities said. He was “smiling, in stable condition, in good spirits and joked about catching some slack on his grades,” Larry Lilly, the superintendent of Mattoon schools said at a press conference.
“Lives were saved by the quick response of a teacher,” Police Chief Jeff Branson told reporters at a press conference. Branson said the teacher was trained, but “You just don’t know what’s going to happen until it’s happened.” He said if it weren’t for the teacher, “I think the situation would have been a lot different.”
The student remains in custody and an investigation is ongoing, but he cannot be identified at this time because of his age, authorities said. The victim’s father “also asked that I pass along his prayers for the shooter’s family,” Lilly said.
A second student suffered a minor injury after he was grazed by a bullet while running out of the school, police said. He suffered a wound to his knuckles, but was not hospitalized.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. McQueen ‘Overwhelmed’ the Shooter in the Cafeteria While the Shooter’s ‘Finger Was Still on the Trigger’
As the gunman opened fire inside the Mattoon High School cafeteria, teacher Angela McQueen sprang into action, authorities and witnesses said. The teacher “overwhelmed” the shooter after he was able to fire multiple shots into a crowd of students, wounding at least one classmate as the panicked teens fled from the gunfire, Police Chief Jeff Branson said at a press conference Wednesday night. McQueen, 40, then held down the student while a school resource officer who was in the building and heard the shots raced to help. The officer disarmed the student and took him into custody until other officers arrived.
A student who was in the cafeteria told WCIA-TV that the shooter’s finger was still on the trigger when McQueen took him down. Her tackle caused the gunman to fire shots into the ceiling, the witness told the news station.
Alexis Perry told WCIA-TV that McQueen saw “the gun come and she was going to tackle him and she did, and he still had his finger on the trigger and it was flying up and hitting the ceiling.”
The victim’s mother posted on Facebook what he said happened. “My son … was shot today in a school shooting. He was the only one injured and we are very blessed it’s not worse. As the shooter was raising his gun a PE teacher lunged for his arm as he got the first round off, hitting (the victim). She held his arm straight up and he fired 5-6 more rounds into the ceiling as she took him down. (The victim) was not specifically targeted. The bullet apparently grazed his left index finger then entered his left chest and exited out his back missing all organs.”
Another student who witnessed the shooting, Anna Morton, told CBS News that McQueen started checking on other students after the shooting, “She was walking around and making sure everything was OK. And I went up and gave her a hug and thanked her because she could have– that could have been a lot worse and she made it to where it wasn’t.”
“The School Resource Officers and school officials headed to the cafeteria where they heard shots fired. The suspect fired shots in the school cafeteria, before he was subdued and disarmed,” the school district said in a statement. “Emergency procedures were activated and students and staff exited the high school. As a result of shots being fired, one student was injured. First-responders arrived, secured the facility, and transported the student to the hospital. The injured student’s parents were notified.”
Branson told reporters, “The school resource officer was nearby, he also helped subdue the individual, but I’ve got to tell you, but it was the school employee who took this on. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with her.”
Brian Bower, the state’s attorney for Coles County, told reporters, “I would also like to echo the commendations that Chief Branson said, the dedication, the action of the school employees, in particular the teacher, and the reaction by all law enforcement took this tragedy and contained it.”
Officers who arrived at the scene found students running from the school and a chaotic scene, with at least one injured person in a parking lot area. Police were searching for other victims, but according to officials, no other victims were believed to be found. Police have not released other details about the victim, including his or her age.
“We believe this is the only suspect and he is in custody,” Mattoon Police Chief Jeff Branson told reporters, the Decatur Herald & Review reports. “I’m very confident about that.”
The shooter was initially described as a white male with a white T-shirt and a shotgun, according to 911 callers.
According to police scanner transmissions, several officers rushed to the school to respond to a call reporting shots fired at 11:33 a.m. “I have a 911 call, shots fired at the high school,” the dispatcher told the Mattoon officers. You can listen to the scanner audio below, courtesy of Broadcastify.com. It has been edited by Heavy to remove identifying information about possible suspects and witnesses:
The dispatcher told responding officers that a caller in a woman’s bathroom at the school reported hearing what she believed to be “shots fired in the area.” The dispatcher said the caller said the shots seemed to be coming from the main hallway inside the school. At least one ambulance was also dispatched to the school for a “gunshot wound.”
Callers told the 911 dispatcher that at least four shots were fired in the area of the school’s cafeteria. One victim was taken from the scene by ambulance, and officers followed another blood trail to look for a second victim, but police do not believe any one else was injured. The suspect was reported to be in custody about 10 minutes after officers responded.
A police Crisis Response Team was at the scene, along with officers from multiple departments, including the Charleston Police Department, Eastern Illinois University Police and Illinois State Police. A medical helicopter was also called to the scene on standby, but it is not clear if any patients were transported in it. More than 100 police officers responded to the scene, WCIA-TV reports.
A post from a student claiming that the shooter was motivated by bullying has gone viral within the school community. Police have not commented about the possible motive for the attack:
As I scroll through my Facebook I see all kinds of posts, the comment sections filled with rumors and even jokes about what has taken place. It makes me sick that some my fellow classmates can’t take 2 seconds to realize how serious this situation is. Please understand that today a student decided that the only way to end the bullying that he’s been going through was to shoot his two bullies. I feel like I’m living in a nightmare. I never imagined something like this taking place at MHS. I was just arriving back from lunch when the shooting happened. Sadly I saw things today that I’ll never be able to unsee. I don’t want to return to school ever again. I feel scared of the classmates I’ve grown up with the past 12 years. I really don’t understand anything, but I am thankful that we have facility members like Ms.McQueen who are willing to put their life at risk to keep students safe. My heart goes to the victims and their families. I also hope that the shooter(s) understand what they’ve done today. I pray that people will take today’s event and learn from it. Please teach your children that bullying of any form is unacceptable.
2. A Parent Called McQueen a ‘Rock Star’ Saying She Stopped the Shooter as He Was Aiming at the Man’s Daughter
Parents posted on social media Wednesday afternoon, praising McQueen’s actions.
“I’m being told the PE teacher McQueen stopped the shooter. If this is true, that woman should never pay for another drink or meal in this town again. Ever. That’s just the beginning. She’s a true bright light in this dark day. Treat her with due honor and gratitude,” parent Lonnie Scott wrote on Facebook. “That gun was pointing at my daughter and her friends when the teacher stopped the shooter. So McQueen is nothing short of honored rock star status in my home.”
Scott also praised others at the school and in the community for their response.
“The rest of the school staff, police, and emergency responders have kicked ass making this chaos go as good as possible. A huge shout out of love and gratitude to all of you as well!” he wrote. “To the people who saw students running away from the school. You who opened your doors to provide safety to those kids. I can’t tell you how much I love you right now. You rock, and all of you are unsung heroes too!”
WCIA-TV reports that residents left signs at McQueen’s home, thanking her and calling her a hero.
“Superwoman and hero, thank God for giving her courage and strength,” Tami Aumann Clymer, a teacher in a nearby school district, wrote on the Nokomis Free-Press Progress Facebook page.
“First and foremost. Ms McQueen you, young lady, are a hero. In every aspect of the word. To do what you did takes bravery that can’t be described and instinct that can’t be taught. Situations like this are fight or flight. You are amazing. Every person in this community owes you a drink or dinner. Your choice,” wrote Michelle Dellorso, who runs the Tuscola Citizens Against Bullying group.
“Just McQueen being the badass that she is,” Bri Nicole Lee wrote on Facebook.
“Angela McQueen saved many lives today #GirlPower,” wrote Shelby Thomas.
“If it wasn’t for that teacher, who knows how many more kids would have been shot! So thankful,” Jeremy Baker wrote on Facebook.
3. McQueen, Who Has Been a Teacher for More Than a Decade, Acted on Her ‘Strong Christian Beliefs,’ Her Mother Says
McQueen has worked at Mattoon High School for more than a decade, as both a math and PE teacher, according to her bio on the school website. The website says she has worked there for 10 years, but that appears to be outdated, as an article in the local newspaper listed her as a teacher in 2001.
McQueen was part of a group of school staff members who started the B.I.O.N.I.C. (Believe it or not I Care) program at the school in 2014. Sponsored by the local rotary club, she helped create a service-learning program aimed at “creating strong communities,” according to the school website. McQueen has also been part of the grief team at the high school.
Before she began working at Mattoon High School, she worked for one year at Danville High School. She is an Illinois native and attended graduated from Marshall High School in Marshall, Illinois, about 40 miles west of Mattoon, near the Indiana border.
“We in Marshall Illinois have always been proud of the sweet, kind, athletic, Christian girl named Angie McQueen and are not surprised at all to hear of her heroic action…she has always been a precious soul. Thanking God for her quick action,” Daralea Smith wrote on Facebook.
She was a high school basketball star in her hometown, scoring more than 1,000 points during her career before graduating in 1995, the Terre Haute Tribune Star reports.
Barbara McQueen, her mother, told the newspaper that her daughter acted on her “strong Christian beliefs,” saying, ““I’m sure she didn’t think about it; it was just a gut reaction.”
Both of McQueen’s parents are retired teachers. “We’re just glad that nobody was seriously hurt. She did the right thing and it worked out fine,” Tom McQueen, Angela’s father, told the newspaper. They had been out of state on a trip and she called them to say that there had been a shooting at her school.
Barbara McQueen said her daughter is a “very quiet person and does not like the limelight. … We are here to tell everybody about her character and that she was born on the altar. My mother said, and I’ve passed it on, that Satan makes a mess and God cleans it up. Angela was there to clean up Satan’s mess. We couldn’t be any more proud of her and her three sisters.”
4. She Says She Became a Teacher ‘To Make the World a Better Place’
McQueen says on the high school’s website that she wanted to become a teacher because she, “wanted to make the world a better place. There are so many negative influences in the world. I wanted to provide a positive role model as well as try to make math fun and engaging for students.”
She went to Eastern Illinois University, graduating with degrees in mathematics and physical education. She then got her master’s degree in education administration, also at Eastern Illinois.
McQueen now lives in Mattoon. She wrote on the school website that her favorite vacation spot is “Any place warm with a pool/lake/ocean.”
A local resident, Jeremy Andy Eggers, shared a meme on Facebook comparing McQueen to Chuck Norris and wrote a tribute to her:
As a Mattoon High School graduate, I sat listening to the radio, and following the shooting unfold on Facebook. I held my breath with every parent whose child was in danger. I prayed with every child as they hid in corn fields, behind homes, and ran from the school. I wanted to find out more about Mrs. McQueen. I am far too old to have been under her tutelage. I began searching out any info I could find with the help of Google.
She is a local if we consider Danville local. She went to Eastern eventually getting her Master’s. She has taught at Mattoon for at least 10 years. I have gathered little info that defines her character. Nothing of her life, and family. I wanted to know the person everyone will be talking about for weeks. It occurred to me that none of that mattered. She just made our world, our tangible world, so much better. She stopped what could have been so much worse than what transpired.
There will be no flowers at the doors of MHS because of her. No parent tonight will have watched their entire life dry up in an ugly bang. Every victim will be able to get the care they deserve, and need. Intelligent conversations may be started discussing bullying, mental health, and gun safety.
Eventually we will stop talking about Mrs. Mcqueen. Before we do, I wanted everyone to see this hero. I want her to be elevated to at least local celebrity status. So many times we focus on the horrible events surrounding us. Rarely do we make the time to stop, and commend the people that pull us back up to our mantle of human, that strengthens our faith in “humanity”. She will be a living example of what it means to be American, what all of our children should strive to be.
One of her former students, Brent Michael Brown, commented, “I had her as a teacher when I went there and she was tough as nails. Thankful for people who put themselves second and react for the greater good. Truly puts tears in my eyes that there are people who are still not selfish.”
5. The School District Is Providing Counseling to Students & Staff After the Shooting
Students were bused to another location, Riddle Elementary School, where they were later reunited with parents, according to the Mattoon Journal Gazette & Times-Courier.
“Mattoon High School students will be able to pick up their cars at 5 p.m. today but they will NOT be allowed in the building,” the district said. “Due to the ongoing investigation, the public will not be allowed into the buildings. Students may pick up their belongings tomorrow. (Sept. 21).”
Mattoon Township has a population of about 15,000 people. There are about 1,000 students at the high school. The town is located in east central Illinois, about three hours south of Chicago.
All other schools in the district were put on lockdown after the shooting. “As a precaution, all buildings are on soft lockdown. Release times are as normal schedule,” the district said in a Facebook post.
“We are saddened that this event has happened and we will provide counseling to students in need. We will continue to work with emergency personnel to determine what happened,” the school district said. “We appreciate the quick response of school staff and first-responders. Most importantly, we offer our thoughts and prayers to the injured student and all who are affected by this tragedy.”
The school district said the high school will be open on Thursday, September 21, but will have an early dismissal. Counselors and others will be at the school and parents will be allowed to keep their children home with an excused absence:
Mattoon High School will operate on an early dismissal schedule Sept. 21. The high school will be dismissed at 12:09 pm. Lunch will not be served at the high school. All other Mattoon school buildings will have regularly scheduled hours. Parents of any district student who wish to keep their children at home will be given excused absences. Counselors, clergy, and police officers will be available for students and staff to provide comfort and counseling. Updates will be available on the district website and Facebook page. Please keep everyone involved in your thoughts and prayers.
Mattoon Police Chief Jeff Branson told reporters, “This is a horrific incident for us today.”