MATTOON — Teacher Angela McQueen had just started her day's lunch monitor duty on Sept. 20 when she saw a student pull out a gun and aim it at others in the cafeteria.
McQueen then sprang into action to grapple with the shooter and force his firearm up toward the ceiling. The shooter fired off rounds in close proximity to McQueen, damaging the hearing in her right ear. McQueen also ended up bleeding from one of her hands after the slide on the pistol scratched her skin.
"You just focus on keeping everyone as safe as you can in a situation life that," McQueen said during an interview Wednesday afternoon with the JG-TC. "I would do it again in a heartbeat."
Officials with the Mattoon Police Department and the school district have credited McQueen's actions with saving lives. Only one student was injured. The injured student was initially hospitalized but has since been released and is now back at school.
The accused shooter, student Josiah Lyons, 14, was subdued and arrested by the Mattoon Police Department's onsite school resource officer, Kasey Alexander, shortly after the incident began. Lyons has been charged with aggravated battery with a firearm and is undergoing a mental health evaluation ordered by the court.
McQueen said she appreciates all the "thank-yous" she has received and feels humbled by these honors, adding that she is not accustomed to this level of attention.
The Marshall native has been working for 18 years at Mattoon High School, where she teaches applied mathematics and physical education. She also has served as the assistant coach of the girls' golf team for four years.
"I love interacting with the kids," McQueen said, adding that she loves seeing the "light bulbs go off" when students figure out complex math problems. McQueen said she also loves teaching PE and introducing the students to new types of exercises and sports.
When she teaches PE, McQueen said she continuously moves around the gym floor so she can keep watch on her students and interact with them. McQueen said she also follows this practice on lunch monitor duty by walking laps around the cafeteria floor. McQueen said she had just finished her first lap on Sept. 20 when she saw the student pull out a gun.
"I know it happened very quickly, but it seemed like slow motion," McQueen said of her struggle to force the firearm up toward the ceiling.
Moments later, Alexander relieved McQueen and took custody of the shooter. McQueen said high school Principal Rich Stuart entered the cafeteria at the same time and told her to run.
McQueen said she ended up amid crowds of students near the tennis courts behind the school, where she focused on making sure the students were safe.
"A lot of them were upset and shaken. I think they were also worried about whether anyone had been injured," McQueen said. She added that Stuart called her back to the school a little later that afternoon and had her go to the police station so that she could be interviewed by investigators.
Mattoon High School's campus was closed for a time after the shooting as police officers conducted their investigation there, and the cafeteria was closed for several days.
McQueen said a lot of the students were happy to get back to their normal routine when classes resumed and they were appreciative of having alternative dining spaces, extra counselors and other support services available to them. McQueen said she has never experienced any hesitancy about rejoining her students back at school despite having been involved in a life-threatening incident there.
"I think it's important for the kids to see I am OK. I am good mentally. I am good physically. I am still here for whatever they need," McQueen said.