The assistant manager of the Tops Friendly Markets store office in Buffalo, New York, had previously survived a mass shooting.
Nearly 12 years ago, Latisha Rogers and her brother, Danyell Mackin, were at the City Grill restaurant in Buffalo when a man opened fire, killing Mackin and three others. Four people were injured, including one who died years later of these injuries.
Then on Saturday, a gunman whom rampage authorities say was fueled by racial hatred walked into Rogers’ grocery store – and began shooting.
“It’s just consistent, just shooting. He won’t stop. It’s going consistently,” she told CNN’s Don Lemon on Thursday.
Hiding behind the helpline counter, Rogers dialed 911. But the dispatcher treated her plea with such disdain that local authorities now intend to fire her at a May 30 hearing, a said a senior county official.
The way it happened made Rogers’ trauma worse.
“I just came back from another massacre and I’m 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 injured; 11 of the 13 were black. The 18-year-old white defendant in the shooting has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder. He is being held without bond at least until his next court appearance on June 9.
Rogers was at the supermarket’s service counter with two co-workers, on the phone with a customer, when she heard “big booms” in quick succession, she told CNN.
“I looked up through the window and saw this customer, this lady with her shopping cart – she just stopped – and she just got this really funny look on her face and then she just walked over. back to run,” Rogers said.
“Next thing you know, you keep hearing boom, boom, boom,” she said. “All we could do was drop to the ground.”
Rogers hid behind the counter, “praying 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 started whispering because I didn’t know how many people there were in the store or whatever, I didn’t want to be overheard. .”
Softly, Rogers implored, “‘Please send help, there’s someone in the store shooting.'”
“‘What? I can’t hear you,’ the dispatcher replied, 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 talking, but Rogers couldn’t make out the words.
“She said something and then hung up,” said Rogers, who then put her phone on silent in case someone rang.
Then Rogers called her boyfriend and, in the same tone she used with the dispatcher, asked him to call 911 to report that there was “someone in the store shooting.” Then a co-worker called Rogers on a video call to ask her where she was, and in the same silence she relayed her location and asked him to call 911.
When that call ended, Rogers noticed the store had gone “quiet,” she said. Even the music had sort of disconnected.
“It’s just complete, eerie, creepy silence in the store and you can hear him walking around,” she said. “He looked like he was walking on glass, you could hear him crunch under his feet.”
Rogers remained hidden, waiting, until she heard the police and saw an officer escorting an employee. When she came out from behind the counter, all she saw were “bodies,” she said.
“It wasn’t pretty to see at all,” she said, shaking and fighting back tears. “The first person I saw was the security guard, Aaron Salter. And I knew it was him, thanks to his uniform.
“To see what I saw, I would never want anyone to experience this, ever.”
The 911 dispatcher who spoke with Rogers was placed on administrative leave Monday, Erie County officials said.
It’s unclear who ended the call, but “the 911 operator was inappropriate,” County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at a news conference Wednesday.
“We teach our 911 operators that if someone is whispering, it probably means they’re in trouble” and that the caller may be in “an area of concern, not just with regard to active shooters, but potentially when it comes to domestic violence anyone can call it,” he said.
A hearing will be held on May 30 “in which our intent is to terminate the 911 call which acted in a totally improper manner, not following protocol,” he said, reiterating that the dispatcher’s tone was a “totally inappropriate response” in a “terrible situation”.
The dispatcher’s name would not be released, due to department standards for anyone on administrative suspension or furlough, Poloncarz said.
Law enforcement’s response time to the shooting was not affected by the handling of Rogers’ call, Erie County spokesman Peter Anderson said Wednesday.
Central Police Departments reviewed all calls associated with the shooting on Sunday, Poloncarz said. “They identified this call, the issue associated with it, it was completely unacceptable.”
Rogers is “not a cold person at all,” she told CNN, but thinks the 911 dispatcher should lose his job.
“Good is good and bad is bad,” she said. “It was like I was bothering her, and I feel like when she hung up on me, she never called back.”
“I feel like she let me die, and I legitimately thought I was going to die that day.”