About a week before Christmas, Olearcek said the couple's 10-year-old son, who has flight simulation software and is keenly interested in learning to fly like his parents, commented that he'd have to wait until his dad retired to learn to fly by instruments. She went to Staples soon after and took her son to the office supply store, where he looked through the available software.
"He was disappointed because there was military stuff, but it was all fighting stuff, so I asked the clerk, and he was alarmed by us asking how to fly airplanes and said that was against the law," Olearcek said. "I said I couldn't imagine that, but, because (the clerk) was a little on edge ... I left." But "what saves us, is people are paying attention," she said.
Olearcek said she and her husband both were well aware that the Office of Homeland Security had raised the threat level during the holiday and of the generally increased terrorism alert following the Sept. 11 plane attacks.
"And rightly so, this puts people on edge," she said.
But she was taken aback by what happened next.
"By 8 p.m., a state trooper was at my house," she said. "At first, it was a little unnerving because it was pouring rain and my husband had just left ... My son said he heard someone walking around outside and it startled him. We had put our Christmas tree in front of a sliding glass door and the trooper ended up tapping on the glass of that door and putting a flashlight in and it scared us."
But Olearcek said she doesn't believe the trooper was intentionally trying to frighten her family. Nor does she blame the clerk for erring on the side of caution.
"We all have to be aware," she said, not really even wanting to speak of the incident on the record, but wanting to keep the record straight. "It's not just the people in uniform who have to be looking after this country. So when people see something out the ordinary, they pay attention. Maybe by the way we worded the question - who knows? - it triggered the individual. Still, if they had done their homework (at Staples) they would see I home school my children and am a frequent customer and have a teacher's ID on file."
Olearcek said the trooper asked her if she had inquired about the software, and she said she had and showed him her military identification.
"He was totally understanding, but protocol means he has to follow through," Olearcek said. "I immediately gave him my military ID and I had no problem giving it to him. At first I felt like, 'Wait a minute, this is America.' But we also have to understand it takes everybody to pay attention. At first I was a little frazzled with someone knocking on my window at 8:30 at night, but the bottom line is this is a civilian who has tried to do his best."
Sgt. Donald Charpentier of the Shelburne Falls State Police barracks said police received a telephone call from the Staples manager "that a person had been looking for instructional videos regarding flying planes."
"Those programs are quite common for entertainment and training, but he felt it was suspicious enough to warrant a call," Charpentier said. "We responded, and it turned out to be innocent enough; a person looking to buy a Christmas gift."
Staples' spokesperson Sharyn Frankel said the employees were doing what they have been told to do.
"After 9/11, our store associates were instructed that if they see something suspicious or out of the ordinary, they're to contact their managers and local authorities," Frankel said. "It's all about keeping our associates and customers safe and this was out of the ordinary and kind of raised a red flag and they did what they thought was right."
"Bottom line is we've all got to look out for each other, and I wasn't harmed," summed up Olearcek. "And what if it were the other way around? It's going to take everyone in each town to look after one another."
You can reach Virginia Ray at: firstname.lastname@example.org.