Former employees, parent of patient speak out about unannounced Hawthorn Center active shooter drill

2 class-action lawsuits filed against state of Michigan

NORTHVILLE TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Two class action lawsuits have been filed against the Hawthorn Center over an unannounced “active shooter” drill that terrified staff and patients and led to a massive police response.

The center held the drill at 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 21, 2022. The Hawthorn Center is a state-run children’s psychiatric hospital managed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

People inside the center called 911. They were terrified, and employees working at the center said it was chaos inside the building. They truly believed there was an armed intruder among them. Police hadn’t been notified that the center was running a drill.

Now, attorneys for some of those people claim that the facility terrorized both its staff and its vulnerable patients during the drill. They want the state held accountable for what the staff and patients went through.

We spoke to two former Hawthorn Center employees, who spoke anonymously due to fear of retaliation -- they were present at the time of the drill and described the aftermath.

“I couldn’t stop crying, tears rolling down my eyes, I couldn’t stop shaking, I was trembling uncontrollably,” one of the employees said. “It’s created anxiety, trouble sleeping. Every time this is mentioned, it’s like reliving the event.”

Sharing her personal experience, the same former employee added, “So every little sound you hear, that I particularly heard, I felt like, okay, are they out in the hallway, you know, I really have nowhere to hide that’s going to protect me. So I just felt like, you know, this is probably going to be, you know, my last day here.”

During the drill, employees barricaded themselves in TV rooms and behind mattresses, armed with anything they could find.

David Horeine, whose son was a patient at Hawthorn during the drill, explained that the adults positioned themselves between the door and the children, hoping to protect them. He added, “But the kids were informed if the adults were to go down, the kids would have to fight for their lives.”

Expressing his concern about the lack of communication from the hospital, Horeine said, “We find out over Facebook. We were never notified by the hospital about what happened at all on that day.”

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the drill was its aftermath. As another former employee disclosed, “After the drill was over, a lot of the children actually had to be sedated, so they had to call emergency for outside hospitals.”

In response to the incident, Horeine stated, “I don’t mince words. So I will say that I think that people who orchestrated this event need to be terminated. I think that it was gross negligence.”

Attorneys representing families and employees of the Hawthorn Center filed two class-action lawsuits. One lawsuit targets the state, as the Department of Health and Human Services operates the Hawthorn Center, while the other lawsuit focuses on specific members of the hospital staff who initiated the unannounced active shooter drill.

The lawsuits seek a comprehensive investigation by the state attorney general, full accountability for what the plaintiffs consider a grossly irresponsible decision, and damages. It is important to note that many of the children at Hawthorn had already experienced severe trauma prior to the active shooter drill.

View the two lawsuits below:

About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter.