Mattoon residents, students sing praises of teacher who subdued shooter

Mattoon residents, students sing praises of teacher who subdued shooter

MATTOON — Growing up in Casey, Amy Hines knew of Angela McQueen. She starred in basketball at nearby rival Marshall High while Hines' dad was coaching girls' basketball at Casey-Westfield.

"I knew her back then, and she was aggressive on the court," Hines said of McQueen.

These days, Hines and McQueen are colleagues at Mattoon High School. Hines teaches health and McQueen, physical education.

Knowing McQueen from her playing days, it came as no surprise to Hines that she was the one who sprang into action Wednesday in the school's cafeteria when a student opened fire, wounding one student as hundreds of others rushed to the exits in a chaotic scene, just after 11:30 a.m.

"Some people may be surprised because she's a little timid and quiet," Hines said. "But overall most people know if someone was going to do it, she's the person people figured would jump in there and get things taken care of like she did."

McQueen, 40, is being credited with saving multiple lives as a result of her quick action in taking down the shooter.

Around town, she's being celebrated as a hero.

At Crave Coffee & Cafe on Dewitt Avenue, McQueen has a free lunch waiting for her whenever she chooses to accept. Owner Gretchen Elliott made the offer, as well as giving Mattoon students with their IDs $2 off any frappuccino in the wake of Wednesday's events.

"We have a couple of kids who work here who go to the high school," said Crave employee Mika Dutton, a 2017 Mattoon graduate. McQueen "is actually a really awesome teacher. She just has that ambition to keep people safe."

On social media, Mattoon residents and students have made multiple posts about McQueen, hailing her as a hero. Others have bombarded the social-media pages of talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres in an effort to get the comedian to recognize McQueen for her actions.

A private person who colleagues say keeps to herself, McQueen isn't one to seek any sort of spotlight.

"She's very humble," Hines said. "With the situation that happened and what she did, she would never brag about it or want others to know about it because she is so humble."

Students say they think any staffer would have intervened the way McQueen did, but not all are convinced that's the case.

"We'd all like to think we would have reacted that way, but I don't know that a lot of people would have," Hines said. "She went in there and saved so many lives with what she did. People in the community, all us teachers, administration could not be more proud of the way she handled it and took care of it."

According to Hines, McQueen was in the building Thursday, where about 250 of the 1,000 students were in classes on a shortened schedule for a day of school that was optional for them.

"She had some things going on and some interviews she was doing, but she was in the building," Hines said.

Students who attended classes Thursday said it was a strange, quiet day after the events of Wednesday. In a second-hour class, someone's book fell to the floor with a loud bang, startling the students in the classroom.

"Some people dropped to the ground and I flinched, it scared me so much," sophomore Brenten Douglas said.

Douglas and friend London Feager were in the cafeteria when Wednesday's shooting occurred, not far away from the shooter. The shooter, they said, was a male freshman who had just returned to school from a suspension after recently fighting with another student. They say he had been bullied in the past.

"His face was just so blank," Feager said. "It was so scary. He had no expression on his face at all."

The male victim of the shooting, a junior at the school, was not the intended target. Witnesses say the bullet grazed his hand, then struck him in the chest and exited through his back without striking any organs. He's said to be doing fine.

"He's been in some of my classes; he's a very nice guy," junior Matthew Ashby said of the victim.

Most of the students who attended classes on Thursday did so wearing green, Mattoon's primary school color. Other nearby schools followed suit, wearing green in a show of solidarity.

At Taylorville, the student body filled the bleachers at the football field while the band played Mattoon's fight song. Up the road on U.S. 45, students at Arcola also wore green and posed for pictures on social media making a "W" with the hands to shout out the Green Wave.

At Mount Zion, students wore green ribbons on their wrists while students at Tuscola and Sullivan also wore green.

Inside the halls at Mattoon, counselors were on hand to talk with any student or staff member who needed it.

"It feels like everybody is more connected and coming together," junior Ethan Budde said.

Mattoon will once again operate on an early dismissal schedule today, and parents wishing to keep their students at home may do so without penalty.

Ethan Budde said he'll be there again.

"It sends a message that we're not going to be scared in our own school," the junior said. "We're going to be here."

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