Officers responding to the shooting call in Aurora were met with pandemonium. Some encountered wounded victims at locations half a mile apart on the outer perimeter of the mall where the theater is located. Those arriving at the theater found an even more chaotic scene. As the siren of the fire alarm siren sounded, hundreds of people were running this way and that, some of them bleeding from gunshot wounds. Several different officers radioed in with reports of what they had found at different locations in and around the theater building. Quite understandably, the emotions of some of those officers were running high, as evidenced by their radio broadcasts. The wounded were seemingly everywhere, and none of the officers knew if the shooting had stopped, how many shooters there might be, or what their descriptions were. Given the scale of the carnage, they must have assumed they were dealing with more than one.
As the information flowed from the officers to the dispatcher, as the requests for police and rescue personnel to respond to one location and then another and another accumulated with maddening speed, as the anguished voices of the wounded filtered over the radio, this remarkable woman processed it all as calmly and efficiently as if she dealt with this sort of thing every night of her life. She communicated with her officers, with the fire department, and, as the scale of the incident became apparent, with officers from Denver and the other surrounding cities that sent people to help.
With the capture of the suspect at the back door of the theater, things became only marginally less complicated. Were there others? An officer broadcast information on a possible suspect wearing a white-and-blue plaid shirt. Where was he? Another officer passed along a report of a man running away dressed all in black and carrying a red backpack. Where had he gone? What was in the backpack? Were there explosives in the theater set to kill the first responders? No one knew the answers to these and the many other questions in the minds of those at the scene.
But even as those questions remained unanswered, there remained the task of attending to the dozens of wounded. Police and fire personnel responding to mass-casualty incidents are trained to establish a triage area where the wounded can be evaluated, with the most seriously injured taken to hospitals first. Though this was done eventually, such was the initial confusion at the scene that some officers put wounded victims in their police cars and drove them to hospitals themselves. Some even made repeated trips.
And through it all, one police dispatcher helped guide the massive response that would see hundreds of police and rescue personnel rush to the scene. I’ve been a cop in a big city for more than 30 years. I’ve seen a lot of things but never anything quite like this. From what I’ve seen it looks as though the Aurora Police Department acquitted itself well in handling this most challenging situation. In due season the tales of heroism among the officers will emerge, but when the accolades are bestowed there will be no one more deserving than that one voice on the radio. She could not have handled it better. May we soon know her name, may she get the praise and thanks she very much deserves.