9-1-1 operator describes praying who killed himself
DELTONA, Fla. (AP) — Noel Flores told Brittany Presley that he was barricaded inside a Deltona apartment, had a body lying next to him and had deputies banging on the door.
Presley, a 9-1-1 operator for six months, maintained a monotone voice and tried to pull as much information out of him as she could, just as she was trained to do.
Thirty seconds later, Flores added more tension to the conversation.
“I just want to talk to somebody before I take my life,” Flores, 60, told Presley. “That’s all I want to do.”
Presley, 33, went above and beyond her training as she tried to keep him alive and convince him to surrender. She cajoled him as best she could. But at the end of a six-hour stand-off, and after a SWAT team forcibly entered the apartment, Flores killed himself.
Presley’s experience the night of Nov. 30 and the recording of her 21-minute conversation with Flores offers a sobering insight into what emergency operators and dispatchers sometimes encounter.
Four telecommunicator classes have graduated in 2018, so dozens of new employees have joined the ranks of what is widely considered one of the most stressful jobs in the United States. Operators are trained to talk down suicidal and homicidal callers. They take calls from people who are injured, scared, hysterical, angry or drugged-out. One of the most harrowing 9-1-1 calls made in recent member was during the night of Nov. 4, when a homeless man stumbled coming out of his tent and accidentally shot and killed his wife.
Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood has said publicly that only 1 percent of the world’s population has the skill set necessary to work inside a 9-1-1 call center.
“Coming in to work, you never know what your day is going to be like,” said Presley, who had been on the job for less than four months when she took Flores’ call.
“This has been, by far, the hardest job I’ve ever had to do,” she said.
The murder-suicide at the Belltower Apartments, 530 Belltower Ave., was unusual, even by the standard of emergency call-takers.
Flores had just killed his deceased wife’s nephew, who was lying a few feet from him, and he was promising to turn the gun on himself. He wanted to talk to the deputies outside and assured the woman on the other line that he had no intention of hurting anyone else other than himself.
Presley was assisted on the Nov. 30 call by her supervisor Caryn Price. An operator typically takes the call and takes notes simultaneously, which are then communicated by dispatchers to the deputies in the field. On this call, Price took over the note-taking and let Presley focus solely on her conversation with Flores.
“This wasn’t a regular call,” Price said.
In spite of Presley’s lack of experience and in spite of the out-of-the-ordinary circumstances, Price had confidence in her. It seemed from the start that Presley instinctively knew what to do, so Price let her remain on the phone.
Presley noticed Flores was calm. What he said shortly after the two-minute mark gave Presley the opening she needed.
“I believe in God. I have faith and everything,” Flores told Presley.
Presley decided to pray with him. Everything was improvised.
“Are you a praying man?” Presley asked him.
“Yes ma’am,” Flores told her.
“Father I come to you in the name of Jesus,” Presley said.
Flores repeated the line.
“Father, I am asking you to forgive me of all my sins,” Presley said.
After the prayer was over, the pair talked for another 15 minutes. Flores explained why he killed the man in his apartment, who was identified by deputies as 44-year-old Arthur Johnson. Flores claimed he did so in self-defense. Chitwood told the media later that Flores was lying and had staged the scene to make it look like a self-defense shooting.
Floris never raised his voice during his conversation with Presley, but he was anxious. He kept telling Presley that he could never go back to jail and that he could never face the mother of the man he had just killed. He said he was ready to die. Presley couldn’t talk him out of his frame of mind.
“I could tell that he was broken,” Presley said.
Flores spoke to more people during the course of the morning, including a crisis negotiator and the sheriff, who had responded to the scene. Presley attempted to forward the call to the on-scene negotiator, but there was a disconnection. When the negotiator got a hold of Flores on his phone, he asked to speak with Presley.
Her shift ended before the crisis was over. She went home, but couldn’t sleep. She was getting text messages from co-workers who were checking on her. She was receiving updates on what was happening in Deltona.
She was saddened by the outcome, but she knew she did all she could. She was offered counseling, but she declined it, she said.
Presley’s goal is to become a police officer. She applied for a job as a 9-1-1 operator because she figured it would be valuable training. It is rare for someone to make the transition from the emergency operations center to the road, but that’s the path the married mother of four chose.
“It’s literally two different worlds,” Price said of the dichotomy between telecommunicator and deputy. “It’s hard for one side to fully understand what the job is like for the other.”
Price is confident that Presley will ease into her next job. After less than four months of experience, she handled one of the toughest calls of her career with ease.
“You would’ve thought she had been doing this for years,” Price said.
Information from: Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal, http://www.news-journalonline.com