OHIO COUNTY, W.Va. (WTRF) Wheeling hockey players and their families found themselves hours away from home and running for their lives as the word “active shooter” rang out in a Wisconsin casino and banquet hall Saturday, May 1.
It was Hockey Nationals in Green Bay and the tri-state traveling team, the Pittsburgh Predators, were at the pinnacle of the year. Their season ended Saturday with a win that followed two losses the previous days.
Saturday, they were celebrating an end to a season.
“We figured it would be our last time together, so we decided to celebrate with a dinner. All together, everyone’s family there. Have a good time and see where the night takes us.”Mason Smith, player with the Pittsburgh Predators and Wheeling Central High School Senior
The night took them somewhere, and somewhere fast.
“After we finished singing happy birthday to one of our teammate’s little brother, he just turned thirteen. I swear, right as he blew out his candles is when one of the dads, Mike Belak, came running in screaming ‘Get out, get out now’ and we all kind of froze.”
Mason Smith, player with the Pittsburgh Predators
“Mike yelled, ‘Active shooter, get out’,” said Howard Karnell, a parent at the event.
About 50 people in a room fit for 30 were clamoring out a door, trying to beat time.
“I heard around three or four (shots), and then I heard the glass shatter. I thought it was from the shots, but it ended up being one of the player’s dads breaking a window with a chair.”Gabriel Haworth, player with the Pittsburgh Predators and JMHS graduate
Though he didn’t hear the gunshots, Mason grabbed his one sister by the hand and ran to the right, blocked by a door that needed unlocked. A couple seconds, really… “Just that panicking, a couple seconds, felt like a million years,” said Smith.
Once outside, scattered in the woods, Gabriel called his family, some in a different part of the building.
“I had to call them and tell them that there was a shooter in the building. They had no idea,” said Haworth.
The shooting started at 7:25 Saturday evening, ultimately leaving three dead. There was a wedding in another room and it was a packed casino.
In these terrifying moments, Howard says you grab the arm of someone who can’t make it out of the room fast enough, and you don’t have time to think about yourself.
“You go through the course of a hockey season, and you don’t realize you’re becoming family, not only with your own kids but with other people’s kids and their families as well.”
“A couple of our teammates were telling us that after it happened, they saw it was voted the safest place in America. So, when I heard that I was like wow it can really happen anywhere.”Caleb and Howard Karnell, son and father with the Pittsburgh Predators
Those 7NEWS spoke to say the quick action of Mike Belak, a Pittsburgh dad with a background in police work, is nothing short of heroic.
They also say the police in Green Bay and the community are strong and they don’t think this shooting was a reflection of the city.