I’ll admit it: I’m biased. I count amongst my family and friends several individuals who are or were police officers and first responders. I have an idea of the trials of their jobs and the training they receive in their efforts to keep us safe. So when I think about the Aurora shooting, I think of the emotional and physical strain the responders to this event must have gone through, and are still going through.
Many media organizations will talk of the victims, the suspect, the trial, the events. They will also go on to talk about gun laws and mental health and the workings of our justice system. I want to take a minute to talk about those who responded to the largest mass shooting in our nation’s history. These men and women—from the dispatchers to the EMTS, from the apprehending officer to the chief of police—were heroes in the early hours of Friday morning. We cannot forget what they did for their community—and what they do each and every day. What follows below cannot be attributed to a single source, as I (like we all) have heard most of the snippets of these things over the television and radio.
From the tidbits the news has reported, it appears that the first call to 911 received outlined that at least one person had been shot and hundreds were running out of the theater where the shooting took place. The female dispatcher who puts out the call details what they know over the responders’’ channel, calling units to the scene. As hundreds of calls flood the dispatch office, we hear her relay tidbits of information to the responding units—quickly all available units are told to respond. As police arrive on the scene, she alerts them to reports of ‘gas’ in theater 9. The dispatcher unit calls all available police officers, and then all available EMT units to the scene as police begin flooding the responders channel with reports of victims. The dispatchers then alert all of the local hospitals to initiate the code for a mass shooting. All available personnel in the hospitals rush to the ER, assembling in gunshot wound teams and triage teams. They are ready and waiting when the first EMTS pull in with victims. The dispatchers’ quick and effective channeling of information and units likely saved countless lives, and we should not forget this.
The Responding Officers:
They were on the scene in 90 seconds. We could stop right there. A 90 second response time—even for what is called a Priority 1 call—is phenomenal. The average response time in our nation for a decent sized city is seven minutes. They responded in one-fifth of that time. That’s not all they did, however. They quickly secured the building, moved the witnesses to a safe location to be interviewed, triaged the injured and identified and apprehended the suspect—all in a matter of minutes. Granted, they’d been trained for this—Aurora being situated less than twenty miles from where the Columbine High School shootings took place. Still, when I think of what five and a half more minutes could have meant to the victims and others in the theater, I get chills. We can never forget that they responded in 90 seconds.
The Apprehending Officer(s):
Over the radio on Friday night, I heard the dispatchers’ recordings of the apprehension of the suspect. An officer reported a man in tactical gear, with a gas mask and long guns in the back of theater 9, approaching a white sedan. He asks for confirmation of the suspect. The dispatcher tells him to hold, and then tells everyone to clear the line. He asks for confirmation of the suspect again, and then again. In seconds that must have passed like hours, he finally receives confirmation that the man, is, in fact, their suspect, and apprehends him. Later, he requests a marked vehicle at the back of the theater. Speculation abounds right now, but the prevailing theme is that the suspect’s assault rifle had jammed, and he may have been heading back to his car to clear the jam and reload. It would have been easy to mistake the suspect for a member of some SWOT team, but whoever was posted at the back of the theater to secure the exits noticed something about this man, and was able to detain and arrest him without incident. He/They deserve a commendation.
Those Who Disarmed the Apartment:
We don’t know much about the suspect’s booby-trapped apartment, other than the fact that it took more than a full day for the officers to begin the controlled detonations within. Finally, on Saturday, they were able to enter the apartment and begin collecting evidence. It’s hard to comment on the job they’ve done because their work is so important to the case and is not being released to the press, but what we do know is this: they prevented the loss of life and major property damage in a situation where multiple incendiary devices existed. I cannot imagine the stress of their job—but I do know my older son has so much respect for these squads right now, he told me yesterday he is strongly considering this as a potential career.
The Police Chief:
Awoken in the middle of the night to what must be any police chief’s nightmare, the chief hit the ground running and has done everything right; according to media and citizens in the Denver area. It really comes as no surprise. Media reports state he spent two decades working with the NYPD, and then moved to Michigan to be a police chief. Finally, he moved to Aurora, and became the chief there. The man also holds a law degree and is licensed to practice law in New York, New Jersey, and Colorado. The most surprising tidbit about the chief, however, is something I viewed on The Today Show this morning: he responded to the shooting and carried out his duties knowing that his daughter was attending a late night premiere of the new Batman movie. Thankfully, she was out of harm’s way at another theater, but I wonder if the chief knew which theater she was at as he responded to the tragedy. I cannot imagine trying to work while wondering if my child was there, or was hurt.
So, to these brave men and women who prevented a terrible situation from becoming any worse, I give my thanks. Soon the media will forget what you have done, but I will not. My hope is that each individual who reads this today will also continue to remember what you did. I cannot say that I would have been able to respond as quickly and as effectively as you did in this situation.