NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Metro Nashville dispatchers and call takers who answered nearly 70 calls in the 13 minutes and 37 seconds it took police to take down the Covenant School shooter were honored for their work six months after the tragedy.
Operations and Technology Divisions of the Metro Nashville Department of Emergency Communications were recognized Tuesday by the Tennessee Emergency Number Association, receiving the Dispatch Incident of the Year for an Extra Large Center regarding their handling of the Covenant School shooting.
In addition, law enforcement radio dispatcher Jeff Bolin was recognized as the Dispatcher of the Year for his role in coordinating more than 130 officers to the scene to stop the shooter and rescue dozens hiding in the building.
On the six-month anniversary of the tragedy, dispatchers and call takers listened to some of the 911 calls they took from March 27, 2023.
“Hearing some of the calls today still brings back some of the emotions,” call taker Amber Doss said. “The main thing that stood out were the sirens in the background. Hearing that was daunting, kind of like a horror movie you hear in the background.”
Call takers said while they always take all calls seriously, they didn’t realize the severity of the situation until calls from inside the school started flooding in.
Training officer George Allen told News 2 he remembers taking a call from a teacher who was sheltering in place with more than a dozen third grade students when he heard gunshots in the distance.
“Just the fear when I heard those shots [thinking], ‘Please don’t come in this room. Don’t come in this room,’ so that’s still difficult to hear that,” Allen said. “The shooter happened to be just right outside her door. She was whispering so it was really hard to understand what she was saying, and I had to ask her to spell things because I couldn’t hear what she was saying.”
Stephen Martini, director of the Department of Emergency Communications, noted that was one of the many challenges dispatchers faced while taking calls that day.
“The people that had the best information were the people closest to the shooter and were speaking very quietly so as to not give up their location, so the best information came from the people who did not feel safe to speak,” Martini said.
Dispatchers drew from their training and experience to stay focused and push their emotions aside. They quickly arranged police response, dispatched buses for survivors, alerted hospitals, and kept callers inside the school calm while taking 46 other calls regarding unrelated incidents across the county during the 14 minute ordeal.
“Not all of our call takers all at one time were all engaged in this incident,” Martini said. “The rest in the room continued to handle business as usual around the county. It’s something we sometimes forget.”
Six months separated from the event, call taker Katie Minor said there are some things about that day she will never forget.
“I remember my caller’s full name, and I think that’ll probably stick with me for the rest of my time on this earth. I wonder about her, and I wonder how she is, so it’s definitely a different kind of connection you build over the phone talking to these people,” Minor said.
The Covenant families issued News 2 the following statement regarding the six month anniversary:
Today is the six month anniversary of the tragic shooting at our beloved Covenant School. It’s a day that brings our community a great deal of grief and one dedicated to six precious lives: Hallie, Will, Evelyn, Mike, Cindy, and Katherine. For many in our community, there is only before March 27th and after. So much has changed for us.
Covenant Families for Brighter Tomorrows Action Fund wants to remind Tennesseans that there is still much to be done to keep our children safe. The past several weeks have seen several shootings related to schools. We can and must do better.
Today, we take time to grieve. In that grief, we find strength from a God who is not distant but who draws near and encourages us to do more to make the world safe for every child in TN.