This Teacher Saved a Cafeteria of Students from an Active Shooter

Her students now compare her to Chuck Norris.

This Teacher's Quick Thinking Saved a Cafeteria-Full of Student's LivesCourtesy Illinois Education Association

Angela McQueen has a routine when she’s on lunch-monitoring duty. The longtime math and phys ed teacher at Mattoon High School in Mattoon, Illinois, keeps an eye on the hundreds of students in her charge by walking laps around the school cafeteria. In September 2017, ­McQueen, then 40, had finished only one lap when a 14-year-old freshman standing not far from her pulled out a gun.

Oh, crap! she said to herself. He’s going to start shooting.

School employees had been trained on how to handle active shooters: Attack their ability to aim. So with the shooter’s finger on the trigger, McQueen lunged at him. Grabbing at his arm, she forced the gun barrel into the air, but not before he got off a couple of rounds, striking one student in the hand and chest and grazing another. As students ran for the exits, McQueen subdued the shooter with help from the school resource officer, who disarmed the student and took him into custody until police arrived minutes later. Afterward, McQueen went outside to dole out hugs and support to her shaken students.

“It’s the mama-bear instinct,” she told the local paper, the Pantagraph. “I don’t have kids of my own, but these are still ‘my’ kids. You’re not going to do this to my kids.”

And so, thanks to McQueen, a story that has played out tragically at far too many schools across the country had a relatively happy ending. “If it hadn’t been for her, the situation would have been a lot different,” Police Chief Jeff Branson said at a news conference. (The one seriously wounded boy was released from the hospital soon after the incident.)

As one impressed student told CBS News, “Ms. McQueen is Chuck Norris, basically.” According to years of research, school shooters have these things in common. But what the rest of us have in common is hope and resilience.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Andy Simmons
Andy Simmons is a features editor at Reader's Digest.