A Calm Voice During Chaos: A dispatcher’s experience during the MSU shooting

Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 7:51 PM EST
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Ingham County dispatcher Aimee Barajas was among the many heroes who responded to the Feb. 13 mass shooting at Michigan State University.

If you were listening to the police scanner that night, you heard Barajas calmly and quickly relay vital information to first responders on the scene.

For Barajas, it started just like any other night shift at Ingham County’s 911 central dispatch. She was assigned to East Lansing and expected an easy night, until 8:18 p.m., when more than a dozen 911 calls came in at the same time.

“I took one of the original 911 calls, and it was a call of a student,” Barajas said. “That there was a gunman, that they had shot her friend.”

She handed the phone to her partner and got on the radio, triggering the massive emergency response to an active shooter at Michigan State University. It was the beginning of a long night and a lot of coordination.

“A lot of it, I can’t remember. I just remember doing the initial, you know, getting units out there,” Barajas recalled. “My partner is asking if they wanted other departments, and I said, ‘Send everyone we got until we know for sure what’s going on.’”

It would take hours to get a handle on what was going on. During that time, it was Barajas’s calm voice coordinating the response in a race to get help for the victims and catch the shooter.

“For these officers, they don’t know what they’re going to. They don’t know what’s out there,” Barajas said. “They didn’t know where the gunman was, my voice was a lifeline for them. I had to stay calm for them.”

Barajas was part of a team fielding the 911 calls.

“I can’t imagine my co-workers who had to take those 911 calls all night long. I took one of them and I still hear the screaming,” Barajas recalled. “I can’t imagine the ones they took from people begging to stay on the line with them.”

911 Director Barbara Davidson said she never felt so helpless.

“They’re so scared, and they’ve got you on the phone, and it’s somebody they can talk to, that can maybe help them, and you can’t stay on the phone with them. You just can’t,” Davidson said. “There were so many other calls coming in, we had to say goodbye. That was very hard. Very hard to do.”

On a typical night at the Ingham County 911 Dispatch Center, there are about 10 people taking calls and a supervisor on duty. The night of the mass shooting, there were more than 20 people working, fielding some 2,200 phone calls and more than 240 texts to 911.

“You know people were calling, and were like, ‘Oh, we see three people with long guns,’ and what they didn’t realize is that it was all officers who came from home,” Barajas said.

“How do you manage a caller somebody on the east side of campus and then there’s another caller on the west side of campus? Somebody had to be able to do that,” Davidson said. “To be able to manage all of that information and to get it to the police. Aimee did a great job keeping all of that organized.”

“I think just because I was the main dispatcher on it, I’ve gotten so much attention, but I wouldn’t have been able to do that without my co-workers,” Barajas said. “We worked like a well-oiled machine.”

Davidson said everyone at the dispatch center is getting help to process what they experienced that night. The center has a 2-year-old therapy dog named Jessie who spent the entire night at Baraja’s feet.


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