When his family home was filled with the sounds of rapid-fire gunshots during a fatal officer-involved shooting in late January, 9-year-old Sean Matthies didn’t panic.
Sean knew just what to do to keep his family safe, turning to his parents and sharing lessons he learned during threats to his elementary school and past lockdowns.
Now a third-grade student at Marshall Magnet Elementary School, Sean was in kindergarten in 2015 when his school became the repeated target of “swatting.”
The process includes someone calling law enforcement, threatening to be a “live shooter," claiming to be either in the school or on the roof and preparing to “kill hundreds of children,” according to police recordings of the calls.
“We were terrified, we were confused, we endured it four times on April 15, April 20, May 13 and then again on Aug. 31 by which time Marshall became the number one swatted school in the country,” Janelle Reasor, Marshall's principal, said.
“I was reading in my bed, it was about 8:29 p.m. when my dad pulled me out of my room," Sean said of January's shooting. "I knew that we had to stay away from the windows, so we went to my living room at the back of the house and I read Dylan, my brother, a book to keep him calm and not let him know there was a big problem.”
When asked how he knew what to do, Sean talked about more recent drills at school.
“Kinda every month we do one or two fire drills or maybe a robber drill where we hide under our desks until the principal says the end of the drill," Sean said. "Actually, there was one time when some people outside of the school next to us did a bomb threat.”
However, this time the threat was real as a desperately violent confrontation was unfolding on the street near Sean’s home.
Following a Jan. 23 traffic stop at the Maverik gas station on West Route 66, two suspects fled the scene in an SUV at 7:42 p.m. and drove into the nearby Railroad Springs neighborhood where they abandoned the vehicle and attempted to hide among the closely packed homes.
Officers from the Flagstaff Police Department and the Arizona Department of Public Safety, as well as a DPS helicopter, searched for the suspects for an hour before a resident called to report the suspects' location at 8:44 p.m.
Marcus Gishal, 20, was killed after allegedly initiating an officer-involved shooting on West Topeka Avenue. A second man, Preston Oszust, 20, was also shot in the exchange of gunfire and was transported to Flagstaff Medical Center where he later died. The officer involved in the shooting was shot in the left hand, and was treated and released at Flagstaff Medical Center.
“I heard one or two shots and then a whole flurry of shots. The whole thing was over in less than five seconds,” Michelle Matthies, Sean's mother, said.
“Isn’t that just the most heartbreaking, yet endearing, response to the chaos?” Reasor said of Sean’s reactions. “We live in a world when we never know when or where this is going to happen. We are not just preparing them for school safety, we are clearly preparing our students for an unpredictable world. We are teaching them situational awareness, and I’m so proud of Sean for immediately applying what he has learned in an awful situation.”
“I was kinda nervous, like really nervous, so I asked my dad if I could sleep on the floor and he could sleep in my bed. I realized at that point that it wasn’t a drill,” Sean said. “I slept really well that night with daddy.”
The following morning when Michelle Matthies took Sean back to school, she passed along a message to his teacher and principal.
“Thank you for taking safety so seriously at Marshall. We stared in amazement as our son grabbed his little brother and a book. He told us all to stay calm and that we are safest in a lockdown. He read to his little brother in the corner, adding calm to the chaos,” Michelle said.
After dropping Sean off at school, Michelle went to Starbucks to get coffee for all of the people who were investigating the incident in the neighborhood.
“Jason, the owner of the Starbucks on Milton, is just a wonderfully kind-hearted entrepreneur. When he found out who I was getting it for, he filled a five-gallon carafe with coffee and gave me cups and strudel cake. I threw in a thank you note to the officers for protecting our families,” Michelle said. “It was an act of humanity that we needed to have back in our neighborhood.”
Sitting at the family dining table with her husband Jon and two sons, Michelle added, “Wasn’t it Mr. Rogers who said, 'Look for the helpers?'"
“If I was there, I would have really, really helped because I’m thankful for what they did protecting us,” Sean said of the law enforcement officers.