Officer Ed McClanahan has spent 29 years working in law enforcement. About nine of those years have been spent working in Lacey schools.
But Monday was the first time he’s ever had to point a gun at a student and decide whether to pull the trigger.
“I could see the gun in his hand and it was pointed at the ceiling, but who knows what he was going to do next,” McClanahan said. “For me, I would have been justified at firing at him. But there were too many people behind him.”
The decision to hold fire, and the quick thinking of North Thurston High School teacher Brady Olson, are what saved a 16-year-old boy’s life after he brought his father’s gun to school. The boy fired two rounds: one into the floor of a second-floor stairwell, and one into the ceiling of the school’s cafeteria.
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McClanahan, a Lacey police officer who serves as the school’s student resource officer, was standing inside the school when he heard the first shot.
“It was a little bit surreal, to be standing in a school and hear a sound you immediately recognize as gunfire,” McClanahan said. “Our training tells us that that we’ve got to run to the noise. Then I heard a second round go off in the cafeteria.”
He said he ran toward the cafeteria, gun drawn, and saw the suspect standing with his gun pointed in the air. McClanahan pointed his own gun at the boy and opted not to shoot because there were other students behind the suspect.
He moved around the room so that if he missed, he’d only hit a trophy case. In those types of situations, McClanahan said, officers are trained to stop the suspect from firing his weapon or hurting anyone. That means aiming for “center mass” — the suspect’s chest.
But McClanahan never had to make the decision to shoot. Seemingly out of nowhere, Olson dove onto the boy and disarmed him. McClanahan’s strategy changed.
“We all kind of piled on him — Mr. Olson, myself and (Principal Steve Rood),” McClanahan said. “I was able to put the gun in my holster and put him in handcuffs.”
Then he called for backup. The boy was taken to the Thurston County Juvenile Detention Facility, where he is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail. He appeared in court Tuesday.
Before Monday’s incident, McClanahan had only met the boy once before: when he enrolled at North Thurston High School.
Cmdr. Jim Mack said the Lacey Police Department stations officers in schools in part for situations like these. McClanahan is one of the department’s three student resource officers. Officer Ken Westphal works at River Ridge High School, and Officer Stephanie Rangel works at Timberline High School.
Like the rest of the department’s officers, the student resource officers have spent hours in active shooter trainings and drills — the most recent of which took place April 1 at South Puget Sound Community College.
McClanahan said he didn’t participate in that particular drill, but he’s taken part in similar ones.
“We definitely get a lot of training on how to handle these situations,” McClanahan said.
For the most part, North Thurston High School is a safe place for students, he said. He started working there in 2013, and he doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon.
“I like the school, I like the staff, and I like the kids,” McClanahan said. “This incident doesn’t change that.”