A 911 operator answered the first of many distressing calls at 10:08 a.m. on Sept. 13, 2017.
“911, what are you reporting?” she asked, calmly.
“Uh, someone is shooting at Freeman High School,” blurted the caller, a teenage boy who was hiding in a classroom with some peers.
On Thursday, nearly six months after the shooting at Freeman High that killed one student and injured three others, authorities released about two hours’ worth of 911 recordings related to the incident.
They include dozens of calls from frightened students and teachers, from far-flung news reporters seeking information, and from anxious parents and relatives pleading to know if their kids were alright.
One father called 911 after receiving texts from his daughter at Sacajawea Middle School, which went into lockdown as a precaution after the Freeman shooting. He thought something terrible had happened there, too.
Later, the Canadian consulate called to ask if any of the shooting victims were Canadian citizens.
The recordings reveal not only tense moments during the initial response to the shooting, but also some of the unusual challenges that emergency personnel face during crises that garner national attention.
Spokane County’s 911 center quickly became inundated with calls, and some employees phoned their supervisor to ask if they should come in on their day off.
As calls rolled in from BuzzFeed, CBS, Fox News and other outlets, 911 operators repeatedly stated they’re not the ones responsible for disseminating information. Yes, there was a shooting, they said. No, we can’t say if the suspect was arrested or how many people were hurt, they said.
At one point, 911 employees realized they didn’t know which sheriff’s office phone number they should give to reporters from out of town. Some callers, meanwhile, were worried about loved ones at Freeman and wanted to know when more information would appear on their TV screens.
The shooting happened on a “late start” Wednesday, and classes had been scheduled to begin at 10:15 a.m.
In one early call, a 911 operator instructed a math teacher to keep pressure on the wound of a 14-year-old girl who had darted into his classroom after the shooting.
In another call, almost 20 minutes after the shooting, Freeman’s track coach frantically asked what she should do with more than a dozen young students she had rounded up in a field behind the school.
“Do we take them to the fire station?” she asked. “We can’t take them back to the school. … We just don’t know where it’s safe to take them.”
Less than a minute after the first call from the teenage boy, Freeman’s Spanish teacher was on the phone with another 911 operator, saying she had heard five or six gunshots somewhere outside her first-floor classroom, where she was hunkered down with eight students. She didn’t know that in the hallway above them, four students had just been shot.
The operator informed her that sheriff’s deputies were on their way, and then he asked: “Are you hearing anything else after the gunfire?”
“It’s silent,” the teacher replied.
The morning after the shooting, a nurse practitioner at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center called to pass along some information for detectives, who were building their case against the suspect, Freeman sophomore Caleb Sharpe.
One teenage girl had been shot in the side, and a surgeon was preparing to remove the bullet. Maybe, the nurse practitioner said, detectives would want it for evidence.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.