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911 calls highlight service by Van Buren County 911 dispatchers during South Haven pier shooting

911 calls highlight service by Van Buren County 911 dispatchers during South Haven pier shooting
Posted at 7:08 PM, Oct 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-28 22:02:37-04

In the basement of the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office, 911 dispatchers on duty hunker down and are ready to serve and protect the community.

“I get the satisfaction of knowing that I helped people and also that I’m keeping our responders safe,” said Christine Mortimer, who has been a dispatcher in Van Buren County for 23 years.

Each month, the small center handles a large volume of calls, upwards of 11,000 at times, and directs emergency crews across the region.

“It can tend to get busy,” said Tom Bush, who joined in 2015. “Then, at the same time, you have to make sure that you’re sending the right unit to the right call.”

The work often goes unnoticed, but in late August, the city of South Haven understood its importance.

New 911 calls obtained exclusively by FOX 17 gave a glimpse into the chaos that unfolded on Aug. 20 when a gunman walked onto the South Beach pier and opened fire.

The bullets hit strangers and killed a 73-year-old man while seriously injuring his wife of 50 years. Hundreds of beach goers ran for safety.

“There’s a man shooting people on the pier,” said one caller, who sounded panicked.

Another caller, who was more relaxed but unsure what to do, said, “Bullets hit the ground right by us.”

Mortimer, Bush, Brooke Smith and Mike Hostetler were the four Van Buren County dispatchers on duty that afternoon.

This week, the Van Buren County 911 Advisory Board awarded them for “exemplary performance” during the active shooter incident.

In the calls, the dispatchers are heard reassuring beach goers while managing to get critical information that would help first responders, like what the suspected shooter was wearing.

“You gotta understand how we answered the calls,” said Bush. “‘Is this in reference to the active shooter on the beach?' 'Yes.' 'Are you injured? Can you get away?' 'Yes?' 'Can you see the shooter?' 'I don’t see him; I just ran.' 'OK, I have to let you go and answer another call. Get out of there.’ You go forth, go forth, to the next call, next call.”

The shooting happened around 2:15 p.m.

Bush added, “It was a fairly... like calm day. We really hadn’t had too much going on, and that first call came in and it was just so real.”

READ MORE: South Haven Pier shooter made hit list with names of classmates, teachers and celebrities

Within moments, the center’s phones began ringing nonstop. The advisory board says dispatchers received 78 calls over several minutes and 50 more went to neighboring Cass County.

It’s a scenario practiced multiple times each year.

“Every new dispatcher has training for that, and every continuing class and seminar that we go to for training,” said Mike Hostetler, shift supervisor.

The dispatchers credited the training and trust in one another in handling the worst-case scenario so calmly. One of their off-duty co-workers and Smith’s child’s daycare group was there, although her daughter was not, adding to the stress of the incident.

“It’s our job,” said Smith. “Obviously in the back of my mind, I’m screaming, but that’s our job; you need to keep the community safe.”

“You’re listening to what the other people are doing, and you just respond from there and it all just seemed to roll, flow together really smoothly,” said Mortimer. “Things were responding before you realized that somebody had done it.”

Each of them say they were happy to play their part that day and each one afterwards.

“Whatever we can do to help them in that situation they’re in and possibly turn out by giving them the right help, the right resources, the attitude we have on the call can make a difference for them,” said Hostetler.

911 call from Big Boy

911 Dispatcher: 911, what’s the address of your emergency?

Caller 1: Hi, I'm at 261 73rd Street, Southeast Michigan. We're at the Big Boy, we had an employee that just dropped off a bunch of stuff. I mean this all looks very suicidal, like extremely suicidal. I mean, he’s giving envelopes of money to everyone, there's pictures of him everywhere, there looks to be a suicide note in the back of his bag.

911 Dispatcher: O.K., what is his name?

Caller 1: Uh, his name is Aidan Ingalls.

911 Dispatcher:How do you spell the last name?

Caller 1: Ingalls. I-n-g-a-l-s

911 Dispatcher: What’d he drive, a black what?

Caller 1: A black – is it a Taurus? What does he drive, a black Taurus? Hey, what’s he drive? A black Taurus? Black Taurus, right? I wanna say it’s a Ford, Ford Fusion, black, something along those lines.

911 Dispatcher: And what is his name? What was in the…How old is he? I’m sorry, I got that.

Caller 1: Nineteen. How old is he, 18, 19? Nineteen.

911 Dispatcher: O.K.

Caller 1: He just got off a bunch of legal troubles so I’m really…

911 Dispatcher: O.K. And, so, tell me again. He dropped… Just how long ago?

Caller 1: Just now. I mean, he was supposed to work, and he’s giving out… I mean, yeah, just now.

911 Dispatcher: O.K. And what does it say, any specific?

Caller 1: O.K., so the back of this binder, which is a note to [indistinguishable]… It’s pretty long but [indistinguishable]… That and falling in love, and who knows, hopefully I’ll find love and happiness among the stars. .

911 Dispatcher: O.K. And what was – do you know what he was wearing when he dropped it off?

Caller 1: A white t-shirt, black pants.

911 Dispatcher: Is he a white male, Black male, Hispanic male?

Caller 1: White male.

READ MORE: Investigation documents reveal new details about South Haven shooter

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