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Question about flight simulator brings visit from police

repost from recorder.com

Recorder Staff

COLRAIN - An innocent inquiry to a Staples store clerk about a computer software program that teaches how to fly an airplane by instrumentation brought a surprise visit this holiday season to a local family from the state police.

"At first, I felt a little angry and violated" about someone telling authorities about her inquiry, said Julie Olearcek, a 15-year Air Force Reserve pilot. "But now that time has gone by, I realize it may take someone like that, who's a little nervous, who may save the day." Olearcek's husband, Henry, is also a flier, currently on active duty, and frequently away from home these days.

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: gray@recorder.com.


unacceptable 09.Jan.2004 10:26

Ben Maras

This woman is taking it a little too easy. This is just plain rediculous, and the clerk should have been fired on spot. If I were here, I would nearly be demanding the clerks head on a pike at this point.

"Those programs are quite common for entertainment and training, but he felt it was suspicious enough to warrant a call"

If it's so common, who look into a woman and her 10 year old sun looking for a flight simulator? One could pass this off as being an example of Americans looking out for eachother, but in my opinion it's just another example of how paranoid we have become. No one should have to worry about what they are buying/checking out from a library/saying, for fear of being branded a terrorist. Isn't that what America is about? Freedom?

"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security."
-Benjamin Franklin

What I wanna know is... 09.Jan.2004 11:03

vote with Yer pocketbook

I want to know *how* Staples Inc. knew where to send the f-ing trooper!

Chickens coming home to roost... 09.Jan.2004 12:41


This is a case of chickens coming home to roost. She's no victim. She's a baby-killing jackboot who chose to sign up for the US military. She gets paid to murder babies in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Better for authorities to be sicced on a military jackboot than a civilian, eh? The article says she's 15 years old; will refrain from making any jokes. I would have no sympathy for her or her familiy if she gets called up, shipped to some hellhole halfway across the world, killed by guerrilas, and her dead body dragged through the streets by natives who oppose the USA's "nation building" policies.

Of course this shows what could easily happen to good US civilians who _wouldn't_ deserve to be investigated.

This also shows another reason not to participate in the consumerism economy.

what's OK 09.Jan.2004 12:44


Sissy Nation item # 384

Isn't there some point at which the Americans are embarrassed at being afraid of EVERYTHING? A country this afraid should not be allowed to have anything sharp.

The snow coverage (pun) is the funniest thing I seen on the tube since the last WH press conference. Is this real? Apparently the next terror attack will involve an ice machine.

What fools, what mad silly fools this asshole convention is. Hey Kerr McGee maybe you can nuke the ice, not the big ones, not the bunker jobs, you know I don't think you have an ice melting nuke sounds like a ice melting nuke gap in the defense profile.

Over The Top 09.Jan.2004 15:22

North Portlander

So, let me get this straight . . . if the mother had wanted to purchase a violent video game involving military fighters, the saleman would not have been disturbed in the least. But because she wanted to buy a computer flight simulator that has been sold for years and which is not illegal - for a child who is not even old enough to fly a real plane, suddenly she becomes a potential terrorist? Would this person have similarly fallen apart if the mother had asked where the box cutters were sold?

Every time I see people held up for lengthy searches, interrogations, etc. saying, "I don't mind if it makes us safer," I want to shake them. Then of course it's possible that they DO mind but are not about to say so for fear of being searched and interrogated some more.

We're supposed to put up with this shit and yet when it comes to beef and pollution, we're supposed to consume and go about our business because there is no danger.

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin

civics lesson for the day... 09.Jan.2004 19:07


Gentle Reader, I urge you to compare the events described in the above article, to the clauses of the below passage, taken from paragraph 2 of the Declaration of Independence. Emphasis has been added.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

To my eyes, that reads very clearly. D--d'd if we haven't come full circle!

Peas in a Pod 17.Apr.2004 08:39

W Eats It

Both she and the clerk are nuts.

The clerk thinks it is illegal to learn how to fly and she thinks that's OK? But then she thinks he should have known she home schools her kids, and that this should some how make a difference?

Someone must have made this up.