"We will never forget."
There is a banner that says that on the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. It is dirty and part of it is caught and rolled up so that you can't really read it. But you know what it says. You see it on bumper stickers and signs around New York. Some of the pictures of the towers and the edges of the stickers are faded and frayed now. But you know what they say.
This morning on my way to work, I listened to the haunting words of 32-year-old Melissa Doi. She was calling 911 from the 83rd floor of the World Trade Center on September 11. Her voice is clear as she tells the dispatcher that she can't see any light — that all she sees now is smoke. "I'm going to die, aren't I?" she says. "I'm going to die." The dispatcher tries to comfort her. She tells her someone is on the way. Melissa says it is getting so hot. The dispatcher says, "Say your prayers." She was a beautiful girl. Somebody's daughter, somebody's sister. We say that we will never forget, but sometimes we do.
Melissa's family wanted the jury in the Moussaoui case to hear her last words — the fear in her voice. The prosecution believes he could have saved Melissa and all the others by telling investigators what he knew. The jury will decide if he should die for that.
We are more than four and a half years removed from that day. But as we fight to win the War on Terror, we can never forget. The enemy is patient and has a long memory — that may be the only thing that we should have in common.
This 911 operator in Detroit was as cruel as Melissa's was compassionate.
Lorraine Hayes called for help after her husband shot her twice. She tells the operator that she's been shot in the head and the chest. The operator incredulously asks her how she could possibly be calling if she had been shot as she described. The woman pleads with the operator who goes on for a good minute taunting her and telling her that she doubts her story. Lorraine says her "body is numb" and "she's getting ready to die."
She did not die. She had the good sense to call her son who called the police. But her body was numb because the gunshot left her paralyzed.
I asked you today to send your thoughts about whether 911 dispatchers should be making judgments about whether someone really is in need of help. This story follows the story about the 5-year-old boy in Detroit who called for help, as his mother lay collapsed on the floor. The operator told him he was in trouble for making a prank call. His mother died before any help could get to her.
We received lots of e-mails from people who've worked in rescue services for fire and police departments across the country. They tell stories very different from these. They talk about a policy of "When in doubt, send 'em out." Surely, that is what we've all come to expect. One retired police officer says he was always glad to respond to a call and find that all that was needed was a reprimand to a child who had dialed 911.
The majority of 911 calls are taken seriously and followed up with help. Sadly, that was not the case for Lorraine Hayes or Robert Turner's mom. Hopefully, shedding light on their stories will prevent others from suffering as they did.
See you tomorrow,
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