A 2015 shooting incident at North Thurston High School in Lacey is the subject of a new documentary.
“Shots Fired” features interviews with several Lacey Police officers and North Thurston Public Schools students and employees, including civics teacher turned hero Brady Olson, who tackled the shooter, School Resource Officer Ed McClanahan, and principal Steve Rood.
It was produced by Washington OneNet, a state program working with the First Responder Network Authority to design a nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety.
“I think the final product is very well done,” Rood said. “It really captured the resiliency and strength of our community — we are so proud of them. It’s still hard to watch for me and many who were involved that day, including our first responders.”
The nearly 25-minute film is set to premiere March 23 at the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle, followed by a Q&A session with Olson.
“We soft-released it in a couple of venues for public safety and the reviews have been really, really good,” said executive producer Shelley Westall. “It’s a very thought-provoking piece, and from our perspective it highlights some of the challenges that responders face in the field.”
Westall is a 1981 North Thurston High graduate. Her daughter was a junior two years ago, when another student twice fired a gun into the crowded commons area at the Lacey school.
Nobody was wounded, and the teen who fired the shots pleaded guilty to 14 charges — 12 felonies and two misdemeanors — and is serving 2 ½ to three years in a juvenile rehabilitation facility, which includes mental health treatment.
Westall said she felt the incident demonstrated the importance of strong communication during a crisis.
FirstNet’s mission is to build, operate and maintain a high-speed, nationwide broadband network dedicated to public safety, so that first responders can communicate even if commercial networks become jammed by cellphone users. Westall was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee last summer to serve as the State Point of Contact for FirstNet, and the state’s implementation grant program known as Washington OneNet.
Westall said she remembers hearing that her daughter was OK, but feeling incredibly helpless, not knowing if anyone was injured at the school.
She said she still cries when she thinks about the incident.
“As traumatizing at it was, there were really beautiful stories about how the community really stepped up,” she said.
During the film, interviewees talk about kids who ran away from the school to neighboring businesses, and others who hid and barricaded themselves in classrooms.
“One of the things I could not get over was the idea of realizing that dozens, maybe hundreds, of people were in lockdown for an hour or more without knowing what was happening,” said Marilyn Freeman, the film’s producer and director.
Rood said North Thurston didn’t participate in the film to put a spotlight on itself. In fact, school officials were cautious about being involved, he said.
“They told me the story about the need for a central communication system for first responders during critical incidents,” he said. “Specifically, they talked about firefighters going up one tower during 9/11, but they didn’t get the command to evacuate the collapsing tower as they were on a different frequency. Tragically, 343 firefighters died. This got my attention.”
The film cost about $30,000 to make, Westall said. It can be viewed for free at shotsfired.onenet.wa.gov. Groups can request screening events for the film.
“My hope is it will help others plan for their own critical incident and help improve big picture communications technology for critical incidents across the country,” Rood said.
Because the shooting involved so many Lacey families, Westall said her agency opted to hold its premiere elsewhere.
“Certainly, we’re open to have a local screening of the film,” at a later date, she said.
The film begins with 911 calls from students and staff at the school, and gives first-hand accounts of the day by Olson, Rood, McClanahan, Lacey police detective Sgt. Terence Brimmer, students Tyler Parchem and Madelyn Olson (Brady Olson’s daughter), district spokeswoman Courtney Schrieve and Tumwater School District Superintendent John Bash, who was North Thurston’s assistant superintendent at the time of the shooting.
Brady Olson said he was glad the filmmakers were able to turn the incident into something positive.
“I have talked about the event to large audiences in multiple states and am focused on helping people realize that it doesn’t take a tragedy to get connected in positive ways with those around you,” he said. “This documentary is a huge step in that direction.”
If you go
When: “Shots Fired” premieres at 7:30 p.m. March 23.
Where: Northwest Film Forum at 1515 12th Ave. in Seattle. The event, co-hosted by the Seattle Documentary Association, includes a Q&A with North Thurston High School civics teacher Brady Olson, who tackled the shooter.
Admission: Tickets are $7. For more information, go to nwfilmforum.org.