One of the toughest jobs out there is perhaps that of a 911 dispatcher. With the constant looming pressure of being there to help others while maintaining their calm (and that of the victim) until the police of paramedics can reach the scene. Sometimes the dispatchers get to hear crimes and atrocities occurring in real time. Needless to say these experiences are horrifying.
Some 911 dispatchers took to Reddit to share some of their most unforgettable and terrifying phone calls.
Haunting Mother-Son Story
“Had to help a maybe 12-year-old boy start CPR on his mother who attempted suicide on July 4th some years back. She died. That’s never left me.”
The Vanishing Man
“A year into the job in a pretty large town with woods all around. Got a call from a young man, identified himself as 21. Said he went on a hike with his best friend, this is where it got weird. I asked for his location and it was ~50 miles from the nearest trailhead, but not in the direction the trails move. I asked him to tell me what the problem was and what services he needed when he burst into tears, saying one moment his friend was in front of him, and the next he was gone. Dispatched sheriff and was told neither man was ever found. Still freaks me out.”
The Calm, Suicidal Man
“Got a call from a guy saying he was sitting in his car with a shotgun and was going to kill himself. He seemed very calm and I could tell in his voice that he had made up his mind and this wasn’t a cry for help like most of the other suicide calls I receive. He told me he was at one of our train stations but wouldn’t tell me which one so while I had officers out looking for him I made small talk with him about his family and sports, I even had him laugh a few times. After about 10 minutes of talking and me thinking I’d made progress, he finally says, ‘Well, it’s been nice talking to you but I gotta get going.’ He then proceeded to put the gun in his mouth and pull the trigger. I heard his death gurgles.”
Three Nightmare Stories
“I’ve had a lot of messed up calls as a 911 operator. The one I had, this lady was screaming. Just horrific screaming. Then the phone went dead. I called back only to hear that horrific screaming again. Then I heard someone in the background screaming ‘He’s stabbing her! He’s stabbing her!” She died. He did get caught by an officer I had dispatched – she literally jumped off a car roof and landed on top of the guy. Not sure what his sentence was.
“I had another guy who drowned his two-year-old son. That fucked me up for a while because I was pregnant with my son at the time. I kept thinking how unfair that some child could be so terrified as the one person he trusted and loved was harming him. Not only that, but when you drown you’re conscious to the end. I still cry for that little boy some days.
“I had another man who was changing the oil in his SUV. Long story short, the SUV fell on him and he died before help got there. There were a lot of calls like that – where you’re the last person to ever talk to someone. I knew as soon as I heard his breaths go agonal, he was done.”
Man Shoots His Wife, Himself
“Guy shot his wife after he found her cheating. He was hysterical and scared shitless about what he had just done. He put the phone down and there was another gunshot. He killed himself and I heard it. His wife was still alive and she was screaming that she forgave him over and over and that they were gonna get through it. It was fucked.
“…she survived, so there’s a little bright side to the story.”
Attack with Baseball Bats
“I had one person call in screaming about a guy getting beat to death in her front yard, with the sounds of aluminum bats ringing in the background.”
It Never Stops
“I was honestly debating whether or not to even post this because it upsets me.
“I’m not allowed to give exact details, but one of my worst calls was from a little boy, I think he was five. He was hiding in his closet because his dad was drunk and beating the ever-loving sh*t out of his mom. He lived in a very rural area, and it was about an hour drive from the nearest police detachment. I stayed on the phone with him for almost 45 minutes (the guys drive FAST when there are kids involved) trying to keep him calm. You literally talk about anything that pops into your head. The weather. Favorite TV shows. What his favorite toys are. All the while you can plainly hear a woman screaming and crying in the background, and as the call goes on, you can still hear the guy beating her, but her screams turn into grunts and moans. You can’t tune it out, because you are constantly typing what your hear. Any details you can get from background noise are valuable to the officers attending. Anyway, the members arrived, arrested the piece of s***, and I hung up once they had the kid safe. And then the phone rang again. Because there is no stopping. There’s no time to process what just happened and honestly, it’s probably for the best. A lot of the time you don’t find out the outcome of the call because as I said, there are always more phones ringing.”
“She was depressed and suicidal. She called from a disconnected cell phone and refused to give me her location. I never stopped trying to to get a ping on her but it was an apartment complex and there wasn’t much I could do for that.
“She refused to let me send anyone to her, refused to talk to EMS, suicide hotlines or supervisors. I answered the phone so I was the only one she would talk to.
“We talked for a really long time, not just relative to my normal calls of a couple minutes, I mean around two hours of my life was spent trying to talk Diana out of it.
“She ingested a large quantity of narcotics and alcohol. I remember her telling me her husband’s name was David and they were recently divorced. She had the narcotics for pain because she was involved in an auto accident not too long before all of this. She was unable to work, in extreme pain, and considering the recent divorce it’s easy to see why she felt the way she did. Her youngest son had just moved away from home as well. I felt really bad for her.”
“My worst call was a child that died in a hot car. This was not a case where a parent went shopping and left a baby in the car for some time on a summer day. It was not someone who admitted they forgot their child in the back seat. This was a child that was old enough to walk, talk, turn the car on and off if air was needed, hang out and read a book or go inside and cool off. The parent had restrained the child in an SUV so none of these things could be done and did not check on the child for several hours. It was a few more hours before the parent told anyone the child had died.”
“I took a public safety dispatcher class (for POST cert). The class is taught by a current dispatcher. The teacher played one for us I won’t forget.
“It was an old woman on the phone that was calling to report someone creeping around in the backyard. She asks them to hurry. The dispatcher says police are on their way but won’t be there for 5 minutes. The dispatcher asks for an address but hears it wrong. As the lady is saying the address she gets attacked and lets out this scream that sounds like a dying animal combined with the worst fear you’ve ever heard in your life. Then, it’s silent–gone. The phone’s on–you can hear someone moving s*** around. Police spent four hours looking for that woman’s house. The dispatcher got the address wrong.
“It was an example of how important it is to ask for a clear address/address first. I will never forget that dead woman’s scream.”
Very Bad Timing
“I was dispatching an alarm for an unresponsive/not breathing elderly male. I get the paramedic first responder there and then the ambulance shortly after. They confirmed that the guy was dead. Literally a minute after that, I heard the voice of the paramedic come over demanding a second ambulance, after that I couldn’t get a hold of him. I assumed that one of the family members of this man who died either had a heart attack or fainted at the news of the death. I got a second ambulance there very shortly and I heard from someone else at the FD HQ I worked out of that it was the paramedic who went down. Turns out he had a heart attack and died in the ambulance. It was very sad and very eerie for me to hear. Especially after someone also told me that his last words were spoken to me on the radio.”
A Truly Taxing Job
“I had two children trapped in a house fire. Mom and the family ran out of the house, leaving the kids inside. The fire had engulfed the home and was blowing out the windows and through the entire first floor. The mother called 911 and I fielded her call. The panic and despair in her voice. The screams. Pounding on the door, the door that locked behind them when they ran out of the house. The screams of pain as someone is being burned while trying to get back into a fire-filled house.
“The urgency in the voice of those firefighters and police as they finally found the bodies and rushed them to the hospital. Knowing that there was nothing more that could be done while on the phone with the screaming hysterical mother was hard to do. I wanted to drive there and help, too. I wanted to cry right with her. I wanted to yell and scream and ask whatever God why.
“But I had to be ready for the next call…”
One Letter Mistake
“Hysterical elderly female. She had just woken up and found her 78-year-old husband unresponsive. I get the priority information, I ask if he is cool to the touch, and she panics even more, yelling uncontrollably. I bring her back and start providing her CPR instructions.
“Keep in mind that as soon as I have a general assessment of what kind emergency I’m dealing with and confirm the callers location, the appropriate units get dispatched. Our workstations consisted of two PCs, the PBX phone system, and a dispatch terminal. The county maintained a database of all of the valid residential addresses that would pre-populate on the dispatch terminal. The local phone companies maintained their customer caller records that would display on the PBX PC. Because time is of the essence during emergencies, whatever can be made more efficient and quicker, is. There is a key you could hit and transfer the address information from the Caller ID/PBX PC to the dispatch terminal. Shaving seconds off of the call start-to-dispatch times. If someone called and the address was not yet available on the county database, the system would attempt to find the closest match.
“We are approaching the nine-minute mark and I start to get the ‘uh-oh’ feeling. I look at the map and they are not that far away from the fire station, first responders should have already been there. By this point, she has given up on the CPR, exhausted. I turn the secondary speaker to the fire radio frequency just in time to catch the paramedic on the ambulance request from her dispatcher, ‘Radio, can you have the caller confirm the address? We are out at the address you provided and there is no emergency here.’
“My heart sank.
“I interrupt my caller’s devastating sob by asking her, ‘Ma’am, I just want to confirm that you are at…’ It’s at this point when I realized what I had done. The Caller ID information matched exactly what was transferred to the dispatch terminal with one exception – Rd., not Dr.
“I ended up sending an ambulance to the wrong address because of my lapse in judgment. The caller’s address was not in the county database but the closest match was, and it was located on the opposite side of the county. I could have sworn they matched before I sent the call over to be dispatched. I swear, 100%.
“As soon as I realized the error, I corrected the address and dispatched the correct units. I hang up the phone at 7:02am when EMS arrives on scene. 17 minutes after she woke up and called me for help. I still feel like that slight lapse in judgment on my part was the reason someone died. As soon as I made it into the car, I lost it. I killed him, me.
“The next shift, everyone saw how much of a toll it took on me. Everyone offered words of encouragement, saying how there wasn’t anything you could of done, he was 78, blah blah blah. That day I got my first official corrective action (written up) for failing to confirm the caller’s location, my first official f*ck-up in over six years. I became afraid of the phone, and would drag myself and be the last one to answer.
“I quit two days later.”
“Woman locked herself in her bathroom, husband on the other side of the door with a gun.
“He had barricaded himself inside the house, all my guys were in a stand-off outside that house.
“That poor woman was terrified.
“Every time he started banging on that door I just knew he was going to break through and get her.
“Lasted at least an hour. They got him, alive.”
Four Unforgettable Calls
“The suicides stick with me the most, here are a few:
“First one was less than a year on, get a call from a female who sounded numb, said she came home from work and found her fiance hanging from the rafters. She kept asking me ‘What do I do now?’ I had no answer for her, just kept repeating that I would stay on the line with her until units showed up.
“Another one, I got a call from a female who said she just found her friend’s boyfriend hanging from the tree out back, and that her friend’s kids were sleeping inside and could we please hurry so they don’t have to see him in the backyard.
“Another one, I get a call from a hysterical man (found that out a little bit into the call) who was yelling that his adult sister (in her 40s, I think) just shot herself in the head in front of their extended family. The reason I bring up his s** is that he sounded like a female and I kept telling calling him ma’am when asking for him to take a breath so that I could get the needed info. Yes, I know some dispatchers won’t say sir/ma’am but that is how I was brought up. When he yelled that he was a man, I just switched to sir and kept trying to calm him down to get the info I needed.
“One that was not a suicide but an OD that always sticks with me as well. Get a call, no one is answering me, hear an older female voice close by crying and saying ‘please don’t leave me, please don’t leave me’ and sounds of the phone brushing up against fabric. Then the line disconnects. First thought, was this was some sort of DV call. I call back and immediately get the female on the line who said she found her son (adult) dead from a heroin OD.”
“A frantic father calls 911 yelling his 14-month-old son wasn’t breathing. The boy somehow got outside and fell in the pool. At minimum he was underwater for a few minutes. I start giving CPR instructions over the phone. I try my best to calm the father enough to listen to me to start compressions.
“One of our officers gets there and takes over CPR. Fire department gets there shortly after. I’ve done CPR over a dozen times as a former EMT. I’ve done a few over the phone. But never for a child as young as this kid. I couldn’t hang up. The father left the line open and I kept listening. I heard the compressions. I heard the Lifepack charging up. I heard the shock. And I heard silence still. After a few minutes they load and go. I could hear the parents crying. Blaming themselves for killing their own baby.
“The medics were able to get a pulse just before calling it. The NICU tried their best but the child passed 24 hours later. I did three years behind the phone. And never had a call hit me so hard. I took my break early that night and went back to work.”
Last Words and Hysterical Father
“Two jump immediately to mind. One was an old guy whose wife called because he was having a very hard time breathing. I was asking her questions when she insisted on giving him the phone for some reason. He wheezed a few answers to me before the paramedics got there. They pronounced him about five minutes later. I still think about how I was the last one he ever spoke to on the phone and maybe the last one he spoke to, period.
“Second one was when I was still in training. Sent firefighters to a house fire that was out in the county. It was in the boonies so it took them a few minutes to get there. They found a man there who had got out of the house but his kids were still inside and he was trying to get back in the burning house. They spent time fighting him and then police officers showed up and he fought them as well. Both of the kids (who had been playing with a lighter) died in the fire.”
“Back when I first started, there was only one dispatcher on duty for a 12-hour shift. I took a call from a woman that had just been raped and beaten just down the street from the police department. She worked at a convenience store, and he smashed a monitor over her head before leaving. I had to put her on hold to answer the other phone line. It was her manager. After he walked in on the aftermath, he left, went next door to a gas station, and then called the police. Felt horrible that I had to put her on hold, then rage at the manager for leaving her (and thereby making me put her on hold, too).”
It does not matter how much experience you have on the job; this is one of the things that you can never get used to. Hearing murders occur in real time or hearing your caller dying can easily take a mental and psychological toll on someone.