SAN BERNARDINO MASS SHOOTING
January 15, 2016
By Audrey Fraizer
Fire and police dispatchers share a floor in the San Bernardino (Calif.) public safety center, and on Dec. 2, despite different agencies they answer to, they were handling the identical intensity of 911 calls coming in from the Inland Regional Center where employees from the city’s health department had gathered for a training event and Christmas party.
Dispatchers from both city agencies took calls and maintained radio contact from the time the shooting started at 10:59 a.m. and again, four hours later, during the gun battle less than a mile away between police and shooting suspects Syed Farook, a 28-year-old county health inspector, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 29.
The first call EMD Kathy McRaven answered, at approximately 10:58 a.m. PST, was from an alarm company reporting a sprinkler system going off in a building at the same address as reported over a police radio, 1365 S. Waterman Ave. The second call McRaven answered, forcing her to switch from the first, came from a woman in a restroom inside the building frantic to help another woman who had been shot.
McRaven, San Bernardino Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor, launched into Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) Pre-Arrival Instructions (PAIs) to help control bleeding when a third call came in, this time involving a victim shot in the abdomen.
“I was doing everything at that moment,” McRaven said. “I was answering calls, talking on the radio, and within moments I had dispatched every fire department medical vehicle available, plus two battalion chiefs.”
The callers were still on the line with McRaven; she asked the woman on the second call if she could barricade the room, and she responded that she couldn’t.
“Even though I was the only fire dispatcher at that moment, I didn’t want to get off the phone,” she said.
Seconds later, McRaven’s partner, Stormy Medley, who had gone on break prior to when the shooting started, was back at the console. She jumped on the radio to handle tactical and command frequencies. There were now two dispatchers handling the situation from the fire department.
“We wiped out everything we have to cover the city,” McRaven said. “We called AMR [American Medical Response] to send over 15 ambulances after we heard multiple victims had been shot. Then we had to worry about covering our own city for any other calls that came in not related to the shooting.”
On the other side of the center, police dispatchers were answering 911 calls and directing the police arriving on scene.
“Units, just now shots fired,” said San Bernardino Dispatch Supervisor Annie Teall, who has been in dispatch for 27 years. “1-Ida-10 with 1-Sam-8 can start down that way, Inland Regional Center, 1365 South Waterman. Call number 6127.”1
Multiple calls to 911 followed, and within minutes, dispatchers knew it was an active shooter incident.
The first two officers on scene included San Bernardino Police Department Lt. Mike Madden, who manages the 911 center. He was on lunch break and less than a mile away from the center when he heard Teall’s voice come across the radio.
Instantly, Madden, who has been with the department since 1993, knew something was wrong by the intensive tone of Teall’s voice. He jumped in his squad car and rushed to the scene.
A third officer arrived, and they entered the building, without cover and armed with only their sidearms. They pushed through the smoke from the discharged weapons to the conference room where the first shots fired had been reported. The room was loud. Shooting victims were pleading for help. Fire alarms going off and blaring, and water spraying from fire sprinklers added to the chaos.
“We’ve got multiple victims, multiple victims. We have at least 20 victims. I need all available personnel,”2 Madden said over the radio.
Teall and Marisa Havins were two of four police dispatchers on duty in the communication center at the start of the incident, but within a “very short time,” three more had arrived to assist, Madden said.
Early information coming over the radio was sketchy. People at the scene could only relay what they had witnessed during an attack that took less than four minutes: Unknown race; subject male; all-black clothing with black mask.
“Shooter in parking lot. No better description on that location,”3 reported Havins, who had been through “Active Shooter Training” in Arkansas before moving to California.4
Minutes after the shooting had stopped, multiple police squads were arriving on scene. With revolvers drawn, a line of police ran along a road at the perimeter of the parking lot, as shown in a 32-second video taken by a bystander inside the building. The woman capturing the police with the camera on her phone suggested to co-workers that police were participating in a training drill, as in fact they had been. The San Bernardino SWAT team, conducting a training exercise a few miles from the scene, arrived quickly, already dressed in protective gear.
“See if the SWAT team are on the air and if they copied the circs,” one officer said.5
“Lincoln 6, we copied. What are the circs?” SWAT Commander Lieutenant Travis Walker responded. “Six, we’ll be in route.”6
“We do have victims down. Fire is staging.”7
On the dedicated fire dispatch side, Judy Croteau, a fire prevention officer and part-time dispatcher, soon joined McRaven and Medley. No more than 15 minutes later, Brian Acosta, manager of the nearby County Communication Center, along with County Fire Division Chief John Chamberlain, came in to offer assistance.
“Brian coordinated incoming resources, taking that burden off us,” McRaven said. “He covered our fire stations and coordinated with other companies to send ambulances to the scene. It was a real collaborative effort.”
Police dispatchers also spoke to unharmed callers and shooting victims as they waited for EMS to arrive.
“We deal with shootings all the time, so this isn’t my first shooting victim,” Police Dispatcher Joe Goff said. “But this is the first one who I couldn’t get help to, and I didn’t like hanging up on him.” Goff, a 10-year veteran of dispatching, said the man to whom he was talking had been shot in the stomach and leg. “I had hoped he was safe because officers were there,” he said. “But I have no idea what happened to him or who he was. And that’s the rough part.”8
Another police dispatcher, 28-year-old Loreal Davidson, had only been on the job for four months. “I spoke to some victims in different buildings. One had been shot and just wanted to be assured help was on the way,” she said. 9
McRaven went back to the call involving the woman shot in the abdomen.
“That’s when the police entered and calls stopped coming in,” she said. “To this day, I have no idea of what happened to either of the women, and it’s probably better that I don’t.”
Police passed the dead and wounded in a decision not to render help until they were sure the shooters had left the premises. In a back hall, police encountered nearly 50 people huddled for protection, refusing to budge, and raising the concern among law enforcement that a shooter was holding them hostage.
“We said ‘come to us,’ ‘come to us,’” Madden said at a news conference on Dec. 3, the day after the incident. “Eventually they did, and the first motions they made opened the floodgates. Everybody wanted to come forward and get out as quickly as possible.”10
There was eeriness in the smoke and confusion and carnage. A Christmas tree had been set up, and dining tables were decorated in a festive holiday tradition.
“It was surreal,” Madden said. “You train for it and your job is dealing with reality, and we did the job we are supposed to do. We bring some sort of calm to the chaos.”11
McRaven also called the situation “surreal” from the dispatch perspective.
“We had participated in drills, and we’ve certainly talked to people who have been shot,” she said. “But we were not accustomed to an event like this that takes so many city and county resources. You can get nervous, and I admit that I was nervous during the time I was the only one in the room. You tell yourself ‘I know what to do. I do this every day. I do my job very well, so just do it.’”
Madden praised dispatchers.
“Just listen to the YouTube recording,” he said. “That says it all.”
The recording of the first 11 minutes features the voices of Teall and Havins. Madden had put Teall in charge during his brief absence for lunch.
“They were extraordinary,” Madden said. “But they couldn’t have done their job without the support they had. Everyone was cool, calm, and professional. “
He also praised police, firefighter, and EMS responders for keeping their emotions in check while performing the jobs they were trained to do.
The tough part for responders comes later, Madden said.
“There is so much tragedy left behind by a senseless act of violence,” he said. “There are families entering the holidays without loved ones. That’s the stuff making this hard to deal with.”12
Debriefings were open to police and fire dispatchers that same evening, and McRaven elected to go home instead.
“We were there 12 hours, and we were tired,” said McRaven, who has been with San Bernardino Fire Dispatch for 20 years. “I just wanted to go home to talk to my kids. We don’t talk about the details; we just talk.”
1San Bernardino shooting police dispatch 1059am. 2015; Dec. 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKlthzDtKJo (accessed Dec. 14, 2015).
2See note 1.
3See note 1.
4Dillon T. “Dispatcher in San Bernardino Worked for NWA.” 5NEWS. 2015; Dec. 4. http://5newsonline.com/2015/12/04/former-washington-county-dispatcher-ha... (accessed Dec. 14, 2015).
5See note 1.
6See note 1.
7See note 1.
8Sanders D. “SBPD: Police dispatchers recall terrorist attack at Inland Regional Center.” The San Bernardino Sun Newspaper. 2015; Dec. 9. http://www.sbsun.com/general-news/20151209/sbpd-police-dispatchers-recal... (accessed Dec. 14, 2015).
9See note 8.
10“‘It was Unspeakable, the Carnage,’ Officer Describes Being First on Scene of San Bernardino Shooting.” KTLA 5. 2015; Dec. 3. http://ktla.com/2015/12/03/it-was-unspeakable-the-carnage-officer-descri... (accessed Dec. 11, 2015).
11See note 10.
12See note 10.