Emergency dispatchers are often the first point of contact when tragedy strikes. Dealing with people in difficult situations such as shootings, home break-ins and fatal accidents are all part of the job.
But for Aurora, Colo., 911 dispatcher Kathie Stauffer, it took all she had to show strength on the outside -- all the while nervous on the inside -- during her five-hour ordeal directing police and other resources to the movie theater where a gunman was shooting at patrons during the midnight premiere of the latest Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises."
After word of the shooting spread through the dispatch center early Friday, Stauffer knew that in order to help those at the scene she had to remain calm and professional.
"You have to mentally break away," she told NBC station KUSA in Denver. " You can't identify too much."
The night started out relatively quiet. "My screen was very empty," she told the Denver Post.
Then around 12:40 a.m., call after call started to come in all from the same place -- the Century Aurora 16 cineplex.
"They're saying somebody is shooting in the auditorium," she said.
Scores had been shot and help was needed quickly. Stauffer calmly radioed to a few officers and directed them to the scene.
A few minutes later, she and the other dispatchers directed every officer in the city to respond to the scene of the shooting that would leave 12 dead and dozens wounded.
Once at the theater, officers pleaded for assistance, gas masks, ambulances and medical care. During the chaos the 39-year-old mother of two kept her composure, even while thinking of her own children.
"Every call with a kid, I'm thinking of my own," she told the Post. "That's really what I'm struggling with now -- not to think about my own daughter every time."
The next few hours were crucial. Stauffer directed resources to police while fellow dispatcher Cheri Brungardt, 32, worked with the fire and rescue dispatchers.
The scene was so big, personnel on the ground didn't have enough gear and other agencies still had not arrived.
"It's hard though because we want to help people. We sent help but sometimes that's not enough." Stauffer told KUSA as she wiped away tears.
"Our job is to send help, and the guys we sent to help were calling for help and we couldn't help them," Stauffer said. "Normally, they get on the radio and the magic dispatcher gets them what they need. This time, they kept calling. They needed help and they couldn't get it."
Both dispatchers told the Post they know it will take time to get over what happened. Stauffer has been off the police dispatch and has been moved to fire duty since the shooting.
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