** EXTRA **
[The following messages were posted via e-mail on the Internet by Cindy Cline, a supervisor at the Jefferson County (Colo.) Sheriff's comm center, shortly after the April 20, 1999 incident.]
I want to start off by thanking everyone who has contacted me personally and for all of the great and wonderful things that you have all been saying on these lists. I "thought" I was doing fine until I read these....now the emotions are coming to surface.
Yes, I am a Communications Supervisor at Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, and we are the investigating authority for the incident at the school.
Our first call came in at 1115 hours 4/20/99 of an explosion at one of our major intersections. At the same time another of our call takers was taking information on a female down in the parking lot at the school.
Turns out the explosion was a pipe bomb to divert us from the school while the kids went in and started the shooting.
Things were pretty tense around there until close to midnight--13 hours after the incident started. The school had been "booby trapped" with explosive devices throughout the school that we had to find and detonate.
We normally staff with 3 dispatchers, 2 call-takers and a supervisor. To say the least when this all went down, a lot of people were called in-me included!!! We had all 7 positions covered, with 2 people at each position---one handling the radio traffic, one handling the phone traffic.
Our command staff was present, as was the County Administrator and two of our County Commissioners. We had Victim Advocates in the Communications Center, and before the night was over we had a Massage Therapist in giving us all massages!!!
One of our dispatchers was on the phone for over two hours with a group of students and a teacher who had been shot at least two times. We kept them on the phone, talking to them as they were barricaded in a class room. (The dispatcher) did an excellent job in maintaining the calm in the room in the midst of chaos. We eventually got the SWAT team to the room where the people were and got medical attention to the party who was shot. I don't have a status on the victim from this specific portion of the call.
President Clinton called our Communications Center to offer his condolences and whatever support was needed. We were hearing rumors late this evening that Mr. Clinton may even pay a visit to the School and survey the situation. This is unconfirmed at this time.
When I left the office at 0130 to come home and try to get a few hours of rest before I head back in for more of the same, the body count was up to 19. There were over 20 others shot and transported to local facilities.
Again, thanks to all for the support. It means more than you'll ever know. I've printed out all the messages and will take them to work and share them with everyone.
Jefferson County Sheriff's Office
April 21, 1999
It has been 1 week--7 days--since we got the phone call from hell. Today at 1121 MDT there was 30 seconds of silence on all the radio and TV stations in memory of the victims of this tragedy. While I sit here and try to gather all my thoughts over this time period, I am trying to piece together this nightmare so I can share it with everyone. I find it very difficult to realize that this happened to "My Communications Center."
How many times have we as Telecommunicators, both line and supervisory personnel, gone to training classes on critical incidents and walked away with good information we didn't know, but said to ourselves "This was good, but it will never happen to us"??? Just last August at the APCO International Conference in Albuquerque I attended a one hour talk on "School and Workplace Violence" by Kevin Willet and Richard Behrns and I walked away from that with the above comment going through my mind. Never in my wildest dreams or worst nightmares did I ever expect to have to put the information I learned into use.
We are trying to recreate the entire sequence of calls by position and that in itself is a full time job. By now most of you have heard the 9-1-1 call with the teacher in the Library and the initial dispatch of units to the scene. I can tell you that we had the SWAT team on scene, along with our command bus within an hour of the first call received. The Command bus is still there, and will be for some time to come. We were told last Saturday that the Lab will be going in on Monday [the 26th] and they will be inside for over 2 weeks. We have already booked in excess of 2,000 pieces of evidence and they "ain't even started yet".
The Memorial service was Sunday [the 25th], the last funeral tomorrow. In attendance at the memorial on Sunday was the Vice President Gore and his wife, Governor Owens and his wife, General Colin Powell, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith...and many, many more dignitaries. The crowd was estimated at 75,000 people. My daughter, who knew two of the girls who died, went to the service. When she came home she commented on the fact that for once, someone was thinking at this one. Along with passing out flowers for everyone to put on the memorial and silver and blue ribbons for everyone to wear, there were people throughout the crowd passing out tissues for the many wet faces that were there.
This afternoon my daughter and I took a trip to the park adjacent to the school. All the memorials are set up there. High on a hill behind the school someone has put a large cross and at the bottom of the cross are all kinds of tributes to the victims. Another citizen has planted 13 Burr Oak trees around the base of the hill--a living monument to the ones slain. We spent 2-1/2 hours walking around the park, reading the tributes from around the world to these people.
The CISM debriefing was tonight.....There were 20 people there. We were together nearly 4 hours. A lot was discussed, feelings bared. There is a lot of emotional scarring that has occurred to the people who were not even on scene. There will be other debriefings for the ones who couldn't attend tonight.
I want to express my sincere thanks to all of you who have called, written, prayed, e-mailed me with thoughts of support and encouragement. I printed all of those and shared them with my co-workers. The Communications Manger is going to have them all copied and bound into books for each of the members of the Communications Section so that at their convienence they can read through them. It is truly a brotherhood that we have with each other.
What have we learned? Well, we have learned that TEAMWORK is what makes this tick. In Communications alone we had volunteers from many other Metro agencies who offered to come in and work our center so we could have a break from the action. Other agencies assisted in and are still assisting with the Operations of our Communications Van.
We have learned that no matter the situation, professionalism reigns. No one, not a soul, in our Communications center became emotional when they were talking with the parents of missing children or the families of the ones who we knew were deceased----even long before they were notified of the death of their loved one. Oh, the tears have flowed---but in a very professional manner.
What can I tell other agencies to do to prepare for this? That is the $64,000 question. Know your job. Know your job to the best of your ability and then some. Study the guides that you have for major incidents. You say "What guides?". Well, sit around and talk about what would be a major incident for you. Would it be something like a train wreck? Would it be something like a flash flood? Would it be something like an Officer Down situation? What about Hostage situations? Barricaded parties? Or a school shooting? Give all of these situations some thought. If you don't have something in place, talk it over with your Manager. Plan.....think things through.......and plan again. You never know what will be on the other end of the telephone when you answer it.
And remember "BUT THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN TO US" happened to us........and we did survive.
Thanks again everyone for letting me express my feelings.
April 27, 1999
In light of what happened here in Jefferson County April 20, I've just gotten around to reading the posts to these newsgroups and feel compeled to answer this.
#1- Were dispatchers included in debriefings? Yes....We have been included in several so far and there are more to come...We had a debriefing with a victim advocate the day of the situation for the day watch people who handled the call.
#2-Were the dispatchers involved in any crisis counseling? Outside of the debriefing, not yet. We do have crisis counselors available to anyone to speak with at their convienience.
#3 What measures did your department take to counter any stress experienced by dispatchers involved in the event? We got the initial receivers of the calls and radio traffic off of their positions as soon as possible. A former department employee who is now a massage therapist came in and provided massages to all employees in the Communications Center.
#4 What are your suggestions for dispatchers involved in any event like this? Talk about it....Talk to your peers or to other dispatchers who can somewhat understand what you went through. Call me at Jefferson County Sheriff's Office if it happens to you---some of us have been through several officer shootings, several officers down (one who died) and the Columbine Shooting. I'd be willing to sit and talk to anyone out there who would like to know how we are coping.
Like I said before, and can't stress enough, if your agency does not have some type of emergency plan in place, start thinking about how you would handle something of this magnitude. Or even start small...how would you handle a tornado or a flood? or a bank robbery with hostages?
May 1, 1999
The Jefferson County Sheriff's dispatchers moved into their new communications center on April 6, 1999 just just two weeks before the shooting. We also note the many other agencies who were involved in handling some part of the incident, including:
|CNN story of tapes, complete radio audio, partial 911 Best!
Denver Post newspaper stories, Associated Press stories and 911 audio
APB Online general stories, police response stories [911 tapes]
Fox News audio of two 911 calls made from school
MSNBC general stories, 911 audio
The Healing Fund for victims & families of shooting
Rocky Mountain News stories, radio and 911 audio
Diagram & chronology of incident from AP
Littleton Fire Department chief's interview & report
Denver officer fielded call from school
Dispatcher Calm During Shots & Grenades
by Gary Allen, Editor
From the tone of voice, pacing and pitch of the dispatcher's voice, no one could possible tell that one of America's most deadly shoot-outs was in progress.
In fact, the logging recorder tapes of radio traffic from the Jefferson County (Colo.) Sheriff's Office are remarkable because they sound so ordinary. In a six-minute segment of the radio tape released by the sheriff, an unidentified dispatcher fielded radio traffic from a deputy at Columbine High School, units responding Code 3 to the assist him, and fed them all information being taken by call-takers, including that shots were being fire and that someone on the roof might be throwing grenades.
The sheriff's office also released tapes of two telephone calls from persons at the school, including from a teacher in the library who screamed at students to "Heads under the table!," even as gunfire is heard in the background. The first call, was from a student apparently on a cellular phone, who reported that a female was down in the south parking lot. The unidentified calltaker referred to other reports of explosion, so apparently it was not the first call received. The caller said she didn't see what happened, but reported that students were running from the school. The dispatcher works through the standard questions and, at one point, the screech of the school's fire alarm is heard in the background.
"Is it okay if I keep you on the phone here, to see if there's anything else going on?" the calltaker asked. At that point the taped excerpt ends.
The second call released by the sheriff was a teacher in the school's library. "I'm at Columbine High School. There is a student shooting a gun," the woman told the calltaker. "I'm in a little bit of a panic" the woman said. Before the calltaker can ask any questions, the woman yelled, "Under the table kids! Heads under the table!" The woman is understandably hysterical, explaining that students have been shot, and the calltaker can barely get a question in edgewise. "Do you know where he's at?" the calltaker asked. The woman said, "He's outside" and the calltaker then asked for a clarification. The woman explained, "Outside in the hall."
The woman then said smoke is coming into the room, and the calltaker told the woman, "I just want you to stay on the line with me, 'cause I need to know what's going on." The woman responded, "I am on the floor..." and then she again screams at the students to "Stay on the floor!"
Then the horrible sound of gunshots rings out in the background--the very near background. It sounds as if the suspect is standing very close to the woman caller, but in fact he's outside the library door--six shots in four seconds. "Fire and police are enroute," the calltaker reassures the woman.
[full ranscript of both calls]
"Shots fired at Columbine High School, 6201 S. Pierce," the radio dispatcher told units on the radio channel tape played by the sheriff. "Possibly in the south, lower lot. A deputy was assigned to the school and used his badge number 71 as a radio call sign. "Shots in the building," the deputy radioed. "I need somebody in the south lot." The radio dispatcher told him that "MC-2," a motorcycle unit, was in the area. Officer 140 then says he is responding, and the dispatcher acknowledges and--as is apparently the practice--broadcasted the time of "eleven twenty-six."
Another unit said they're responding, with a siren blaring in the background as the officer heads through traffic. There is one or two seconds of multiple transmissions, which ends with a unit transmitting loud and clear, "Code 33"--emergency traffic only. The dispatcher then repeats, "Attention all units, per 71, several shots fired, Columbine High School. Use caution."
Other units radio they are responding, and the dispatcher then repeated Code 33. "Other units not at Columbine High School, take your traffic to channel 2." A units reports that an alarm proves OK and that he's heading to the high school.
There is then a scratchy transmission that sounds like 71, possibly from inside the school. The dispatcher, perhaps reading from the CAD screen, radios to the officers, "Report of possible grenades in the school." Even at this point, the dispatcher's voice is calm, collected and hasn't changed pace.
The dispatcher repeats information from an officer that automatic weapons might be involved. "Also, we have a report from outside the school that possibly grenades are being thrown from the roof of the school."
Officers are now beginning to arrive, and they're covering off the front and back of the school. An officer radioed, "West side by the ball field, possibly wearing black trench coats." Just three minutes into the incident, the officers had a description--bare as it was--of the suspects. The dispatcher repeats the information and adds, "Suspect has a shotgun."
Unit 71 officer requested an ambulance, and the dispatcher asked him if he wants the EMS unit in the lower lot. "They need to stay away for now. Break." The dispatcher told him the fire department is staging, and then without missing a beat, said, "Go ahead." The officer replied, "I got a couple of shots off at the shooter, at the southeast end--southwest, I'm sorry."
The dispatcher clarified the location, and the officer then added, "It's a big gun." The radio dispatcher's voice has not changed since the incident began.
The dispatcher coordinated the arrival of several other units, then another officer radioed, "Additional shots fired. Large caliber." There is the sound of static, as if a unit is transmitting, but just beyond radio range. Then the static clears slightly and you can hear, "Shots fired inside."
The dispatcher then apparently turned to her CAD screen, to see information telephoned in by those inside the school. "Units, we have information of shots fired, possibly in the library." Then another officer transmitted, "More shots fired." The dispatcher calmly repeats the information with a "Ten four."
Throughout, the radio channel is clear of non-essential traffic, units are not covering one another, and--although the urgency is obvious--not a single officer sounds out of control or even excited.
At 1131, an officer reports "smoke from the building," apparently from the explosive devices being detonated. It's been just four minutes since the incident began.
Officer 71 does not make a broadcast, yet the radio dispatcher radios other units, "Attention all units. 71 is under fire. He advised the suspect just ran into the building." It's not clear where that information came from. Then there are three transmissions on the radio logging tape, all difficult to understand. The radio dispatcher repeated, "71 is still under fire in the south lot."
At that point the excerpt ended.
While giving out copies of the tapes at a press conference, Jefferson County Dep. Steve Davis named Officer 71 as Neil Gardner, and that he was posted at the high school. However, no one asked the name of the calltakers or the radio dispatcher.
[full transcript of radio traffic]