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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Allegheny County 911 operators were left shaken after taking the emergency calls from worshipers inside the Tree of Life Synagogue during last weekend’s shooting.
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers called 911 when a gunman entered the synagogue on Saturday and opened fire.
Bruce Carlton answered Myers’ call. He is being credited with saving the rabbi’s life by keeping him on the phone and away from the gunman.
“It all seemed so surreal like it wasn’t happening. Time seemed to speed up, time seemed to slow down. Maybe after I disconnected with the rabbi and I was able to fully digest what I was reading because I was trying to keep the rabbi on the phone. One, for his safety and two, for officers’ safety. I tried to give as many updates as I could without compromising the police’s position. I tried to keep him on the phone without revealing his position. I didn’t want him to speak. I tried not to speak. I didn’t want the gunman to hear him. I didn’t want the gunman to hear me,” Carlton said.
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Carlton said he was physically shaking for a few minutes after he hung up with Myers.
“It was the first time I was shaken. I hung up the phone with the rabbi whenever I confirmed he was safe and I was shaking physically for a few minutes,” Carlton said.
Other operators described hearing gunshots and screams over the phone as the tragic events unfolded, but there was not time for panic. Instead, their emergency training took over.
“You can never get use to something like this, but you can get used to dealing with your emotions when you need to deal with your emotions,” said Shift Commander Garett Wagner.
“It was a call that you never hope to get,” added Michael Steinmiller, a telecommunications officer. “But you’re trained to handle it in the event that it does come in.”
Telecommunications officer, Michele Kalinsky, who has only been on the job since August, kept three worshipers safe in a basement closet for nearly 45 minutes. When it was over, she was rewarded with an amazing sound.
“At the end of the call, they were able to find them, and I could hear them on my right ear, while he was in my left ear talking to them, so it kind of finished the story,” she said.