VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – For a dispatcher, every day comes with a new set of challenges.
“No two days are the same,” said Virginia Beach dispatcher Severt Dahl.
“There’s never two days that are alike,” added dispatcher Lindsey Pierce. “It is like a snowflake.”
But there is one day they will never forget.
“We never want that to happen again,” said Virginia Beach dispatch supervisor Becky Hooker.
“It was horrific,” added dispatcher Tanya King. “It was something you never, at least I never, thought could happen.”
May 31, 2019. Day shift was just ending. That’s when the first call was received.
“It was a normal, routine day and all the sudden we went from zero to 60,” Hooker said. “It was all hands on deck.”
“I took one of the first calls before we knew the incident was happening,” added dispatcher Nathan Emilio. “Then more calls started coming in and they just did not stop.”
“The board was just lit up: 20, 30, 40 calls,” Pierce said. “At that point you knew there was something terrible going on.”
“We are just trying to get as much information from each caller and get the units that information as we could,” added dispatcher Jesse Burdin.
“It’s chaos, because you have everybody on the phone, everybody talking, plus some of the radio traffic that you are hearing,” King said.
“Initially I thought somebody had fallen in the parking lot and it ended up significantly different,” Emilio added.
It quickly became very apparent this day would be like no other.
“I know for one specific call that I did have, as I was finishing up the call I did hear gun shots in the background and then the line clicked,” Burdin said.
“There was a guy saying somebody had told him somebody had been shot,” Dahl recalled. “He didn’t have a whole lot of details. He had already barricaded himself and coworkers in one of their offices. At that point it was just getting as much information as I could. I told him to barricade the door, turn the lights off, stay as quiet as he could and hide.”
Every trained employee in the building jumped onto a phone line. They knew something wasn’t right, but for many it wasn’t until hours later they learned how bad it really was; that a city worker killed 12 people.
“I think it would have been later that night when we got off of work and got home and had time to slow down and ask ourselves ‘did this really just happen?’” Dahl asked.
“It was middle of the night and I woke up and something about a shooting (came to me),” King said. “What is it about a shooting? Then it hit me.”
“It was sole crushing,” Pierce added. “It was devastating just to know that one of your peers can do something like that out of nowhere.”
Dispatchers relied on their training as much as possible. Many of them even a year later still relive those awful moments.
“There are certain things that you will never forget; mostly the sounds of what you heard,” Hooker said.
“I go back and reread the case ’til this day,” Pierce added. “I read the comments, read who called and go over it my head every day.”
“People don’t call because it is a happy occasion,” Emilio said. “They call and it’s the worst day of their life. I want to be there to help them get to the next day of their life.”
Hear more about what it was like working that day, in their own words:
Virginia Beach Dispatcher Nathan Emilio
Virginia Beach Dispatcher Tanya King
Virginia Beach Dispatcher Lindsey Pierce
Virginia Beach Dispatcher Severt Dahl
Virginia Beach Dispatcher Jesse Burdin
Virginia Beach Dispatcher Becky Hooker
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