MATTOON — Teacher Angela McQueen said she was focused on saving students’ lives when she subdued a student shooter inside the Mattoon High School cafeteria on Sept. 20.
In her first interview since the incident, McQueen told the Illinois Education Association (IEA) it was her strong faith in God and natural instincts that compelled her to take action when she saw a student raise a gun in the middle of the crowded cafeteria.
The IEA honored her at school reception on Thursday, the same day the IEA video interview was released.
Because of her response, only one student was injured. The student was hospitalized, but has since been released and is now back at school. The student who fired the shots has been charged with one count of aggravated battery with a firearm.
"I sprang into action because I looked over and I saw a student pulling a gun out and he was aiming it at students to his right," McQueen said during the interview. "I thought, 'Oh crap, he is going to start shooting,' so I immediately lunged at the gun and got the gun up in the air as quickly as I could, as fast as I could because I didn't want him to hit the students."
McQueen said the youth fired a couple of rounds before she was able to force him to point the gun toward the ceiling.
“In that moment, you don’t really think. You just react. To me it’s almost like the mama bear instinct. I don’t have kids of my own right now, but it’s the instinct of you’re not going to do this to my kids,” said McQueen, an IEA member and math/physical education teacher at the school.
“These are still my kids — even though I don’t know every single kid in there. You’re not going to do this to my kids. You’re not going to do this at my school.”
Officials with the Mattoon Police Department and the school district have said that school resource officer Kasey Alexander arrived in the cafeteria and took the shooter into custody shortly after McQueen’s actions.
“We are forever grateful to Angela for her courageous actions that saved the lives of our kids. She was a ray of light in our darkest hour,” Mattoon district Superintendent Larry Lilly said in a statement.
McQueen said she always has taken the active shooter training at the high school seriously, but thought a school shooting would never happen in Mattoon because it is such a nice, quiet small town.
Still, McQueen said she always has been mindful of the message in one of her favorite Bible verses, John 15:13: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."
"It was always in the back of my mind, 'Would I do this for just anybody?'" McQueen said, adding, "Everybody, I think, would like to think they would do that for just anybody, and now I know I would."
She also was honored by the Illinois State Police, the Illinois branch of the FBI, Society of Former Special Agents, City of Mattoon, Mattoon Police Department, Senator Dale Righter and the school district.