911 dispatcher who asked ‘Why are you whispering?’ during Buffalo shooting, to be fired

May 20, 2022, 9:00 AM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 3:15 pm

(CNN) — The assistant office manager at the Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo, New York, had already survived one mass shooting.

Nearly 12 years ago, Latisha Rogers and her brother, Danyell Mackin, were at City Grill restaurant in Buffalo when a man opened fire, killing Mackin and three others. Four people were wounded, including one who succumbed years later to those injuries.

Then Saturday, a gunman whose rampage authorities say was fueled by racist hate entered Rogers’ grocery — and began firing.

“It’s just constant, just shooting. He won’t stop. It’s constantly going,” she recounted Thursday to CNN’s Don Lemon.

Hiding behind the service desk counter, Rogers dialed 911. But the dispatcher handled her plea so dismissively local officials now intend to fire her at a May 30 hearing, a top county official said.

How it went down has compounded Rogers’ trauma.

“I’m just back at another massacre and going through this again, trying to find a healing process,” Rogers said.

Ten people at the Tops store, including an armed security guard, were killed and three wounded; 11 of the 13 were Black. The White 18-year-old accused in the shooting has pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge. He is being held without bail at least until his next court appearance June 9.

‘Why are you whispering?’

Rogers was at the supermarket’s service desk with two coworkers, on the phone with a customer, when she heard “large booms” in quick succession, she told CNN.

“I look up out the window and I saw this customer, this lady with her shopping cart — she just stopped — and she just had this really funny look on her face and then she just turned to run,” Rogers said.

“Next thing you know, you just keep hearing boom, boom, boom,” she said. “All we could do was just drop to the ground.”

Rogers hid behind the counter, “praying that he didn’t see me,” she said of the shooter.

“I was trying to think fast,” she said. She reached into her back pocket, grabbed her own phone and dialed 911. “I proceeded to whisper because I didn’t know how many people there were in the store or anything, I didn’t want to be heard.”

Softly, Rogers implored: “‘Please send help, there’s a person in the store shooting.'”

“‘What? I can’t hear you,'” the dispatcher responded, she said. “‘Why are you whispering? You don’t have to whisper, they can’t hear you.'”

Nervous, Rogers dropped her phone, she said. The dispatcher kept speaking, but Rogers couldn’t make out the words.

“She said something and then she hung up the phone,” said Rogers, who then switched her phone to silent in case anyone rang.

Next, Rogers dialed her boyfriend and, in the same tone she used with the dispatcher, asked him to call 911 to report there was “a person in the store shooting.” Then, a coworker rang Rogers on a video call to ask where she was, and in that same hush, she relayed her location and asked her to call 911.

When that call ended, Rogers noticed the store had gone “dead silent,” she said. Even the music somehow had gone offline.

“It’s just a complete, eerie, creepy, silence in the store and you can hear him walking around,” she said. “It just sounded like he was walking like on glass, you could hear it crunching under his feet.”

Rogers stayed hidden, waiting, until she heard police and saw an officer escorting an employee away. When she came out from behind the counter, all she saw were “bodies,” she said.

“It wasn’t a good sight at all,” she said, shaking and fighting tears. “The first person that I saw was the security guard, Aaron Salter. And I knew it was him, by his uniform.”

“To see what I saw, I would never want nobody to ever experience that, ever.”

911 call under investigation

The 911 dispatcher who spoke with Rogers was put on administrative leave Monday, Erie County officials said.

It wasn’t clear who ended the call, but “the 911 operator was inappropriate,” County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Wednesday at a news conference.

“We teach our 911 call takers that if someone is whispering, it probably means they are in trouble” and the caller may be in “an area of concern, not just with regards to active shooters but potentially with regards to domestic violence that someone may be calling,” he said.

A May 30 hearing will be held “in which our intention is to terminate the 911 call taker who acted totally inappropriately, not following protocol,” he said, reiterating the dispatcher’s tone was a “completely inappropriate response” in a “terrible situation.”

The dispatcher’s name would not be released, due to department standards regarding anyone under administrative suspension or leave, Poloncarz said.

Law enforcement response time to the shooting was not affected by the handling of Rogers’ call, Erie County spokesman Peter Anderson said Wednesday.

Central Police Services on Sunday went through all calls associated with the shooting, Poloncarz explained. “They identified this one call, the issue associated with it, it was completely unacceptable.”

Rogers is “not a cold-hearted person at all,” she told CNN, but thinks the 911 dispatcher should lose her job.

“Right is right and wrong is wrong,” she said. “It was just like, I was just bothering her, and I feel like when she hung up on me, she never called back.”

“I feel like she left me to die, and I legit thought I was going to die that day.”

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911 dispatcher who asked ‘Why are you whispering?’ during Buffalo shooting, to be fired