Colorado Theater Shooting: Dispatchers Recount Night of Horror

Dispatcher Kathie Stauffer was unruffled on the outside; inside she was roiling as responders pleaded for more ambulances and care


 
 

Chuck Murphy, Denver Post | | Tuesday, July 24, 2012


AURORA, Colo. -- Listening to the recordings from Friday morning's massacre, you would think dispatcher Kathie Stauffer felt no emotion as she calmly directed resources to the Aurora movie theater where scores were injured and a dozen killed.

Her voice betrayed nothing. Her demeanor was calm. She was unruffled.

On the outside.

Inside, she was roiling as officers pleaded for additional resources -- gas masks, more help, ambulances and care for dying 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan.

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"Every call with a kid, I'm thinking of my own," Stauffer, mother of a 9-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy, said Sunday night in an interview with The Denver Post. "That's really what I'm struggling with now -- to not think about my own daughter every time."

Thursday night had been even less than routine. Stauffer, working channel 2 of three Aurora dispatch channels, had seen little emergency traffic in the part of the city for which she was responsible.

"My screen was very empty," she said.

All at once, around 12:40 a.m. Friday, it blew up. From across the room, Stauffer could hear call takers responding to wave upon wave of 911 calls for help from the Century Aurora 16 multiplex.

"They're saying somebody is shooting in the auditorium," Stauffer calmly relayed over the radio to officers 315 and 314.

Five feet away, fellow dispatcher Cheri Brungardt had a feeling.

"Something in me said I should start some of mine (officers) that way," said Brungardt, 32. "So I did."

Only a couple minutes passed before the call was out for every officer in Aurora to head to the theater near Aurora Town Center mall. For the next five hours, Stauffer would be responsible for getting assets where they were needed, and Brungardt would be her constant voice of reassurance and support -- and backup in dealing with the fire and rescue dispatchers across an aisle from them in the communications center at Tallyn's Reach.

But getting officers what they wanted was not as easy as it normally is for Stauffer and Brungardt. The scene was so vast, and so devastated, that Aurora did not have enough gear to answer all the calls and other agencies just couldn't get there fast enough.

"Our job is to send help, and the guys we sent to help were calling for help and we couldn't help them," Stauffer, 39, said. "Normally, they get on the radio and the magic dispatcher gets them what they need. This time, they kept calling. They needed help and they couldn't get it."

Stauffer, Brungardt and others in the center are now struggling with a form of survivor's guilt. They wonder if they did all they could. The city brought counselors in Friday night for a debriefing. Both dispatchers now say they feel better, but know it will take time to get over the awful night. Stauffer hasn't yet been back on dispatch duty for the police department, drawing fire duty instead, but she knows the time will come. Soon.

"It's just like anything you're scared of," she said. "You just have to face it and get through it."



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