911 dispatcher describes horror and trauma as calls come from massacre marching in Highland Park
GLENVIEW, Ill. (CBS) – 911 dispatchers deal with trauma every day – and they’re used to hearing about emergencies that define the worst days of people’s lives.
On July 4 – two weeks ago, Monday – 911 dispatchers answered the first calls – and were the tragic hearers, in real time, of what was happening on the line. parade street in highland park. They told CBS 2’s Marissa Perlman that it was much different and more traumatic than what they are used to dealing with now.
Coordinators from across the North Shore answered those first calls on July 4th – from Highland Park to Glenview. Dispatchers told us there was no way to mentally prepare for those calls, and share what they heard on the other end of the line.
From the Highland Park dispatch office, Tammy – who has nearly 30 years of 911 telecommuting – received the first calls from the parade just after 10:14 a.m. on Monday, July 4.
“I don’t want to live it again,” she said.
Tammy describes the first call she picked up.
“This guy called to say his girlfriend was shot,” she said.
Her team of three 911 dispatchers, all working in one room, immediately called in additional resources. Police officers and fire crews were dispatched to the scene, while dispatchers provided medical advice by phone themselves.
They told those present at the parade to find a safe space to shelter in place.
“I took two deep breaths and just did what I had to,” Tammy said.
She said that the next few hours were a dark period. With a flurry of incoming calls, overflow calls have arrived Village of Glenview GPSDC Coordination Center, where telecoms work together as a unit.
That’s where Jack Stopka picked up the phone.
“It was probably one of the worst calls I’ve ever had to make,” Stopka said. “Lots of screaming – telling me people were shot, probably dead. It was a rough call.”
Stopka quickly grasped what was happening. The most difficult moment, he said, was having to deliver the news to his team.
“I turned to them and said, ‘There’s an active shooter at the Highland Park parade,'” Stopka said.
For the next 16 hours, Stopka said he was running on pure adrenaline. He doesn’t know exactly how many people were injured, but is focused on supporting those responding – and handling each call carefully.
“You feel helpless sometimes – especially in these situations,” he says. “But we’ve got people on the way, and there’s a lot of people coming.”
Both dispatchers said they tried to appear calm on the line with neighbors during some of the worst times of their lives. But they say nothing can prepare them for this.
“I’ve been working on this for quite some time and I’ve never had an issue like this – hopefully never again,” Tammy said.
“How do you recover from it?” add Stopka. “You really don’t.”
That day, dispatchers who said they were grateful to have the EMT on the scene – along with additional police resources – got everyone’s help immediately. Btu, dispatchers worry what will happen if that additional presence is not present at the scene.