“Hello. Hello, please help. I was kidnapped!”
It was a call unlike anything 911 dispatcher Hailee Babusiak had taken before.
Malaiha Wheatley, 8, and her 3-year-old brother, of San Diego, California, were taken by a stranger after their father parked at a strip mall, leaving the children alone in the car.
“This lady came up to the door, just got in the car and kidnapped us and drove away. My dad came and he started yelling and she just drove away,” the girl can be heard saying in the 911 call.
With the information the little girl was able to share with Babusiak, a Schererville native, police were able to track down the vehicle and make an arrest at the US-Mexico border, according to the Tribune Media Wire.
The children were unharmed and reunited with their family.
Wheatley and Babusiak were recently awarded at a 911 Heroes Ceremony in California. The two were presented with medals of honor for their bravery and quick-thinking.
“I’m happy I could be there for her and be that person on the other end,” said 26-year-old Babusiak who moved to California two years ago.
She was a call taker when Wheatley was kidnapped. Now, a year later, she has moved up in training and works on the radio side of emergency dispatching, corresponding directly with deputies.
“We have an automatic answering so I didn’t have to pick up the phone. They hear a recording that says ‘911 emergency’ and they can keep talking. But when that call came in, I could already sense that something was really wrong,” Babusiak said, recalling the incident. “You could hear the panic in her voice. We get calls from kids a lot and then you have to check with the parents to make sure it was a mistake and everything is OK. This was different. She was so scared.”
Using her training, Babusiak tried to provide comfort while still getting what she could to track where the children were being taken.
Considering the stressful situation Wheatley was in, Babusiak said she was amazed by young girl’s ability to stay calm and provide clear details.
“She is the real hero in all of this,” Babusiak said. “She was the one that made the call.”
Babusiak, a 2015 Purdue University graduate, said she was grateful to be presented with the award, but even more so for the chance to meet Wheatley at the ceremony last month.
“To be able to put a face to a name, it was really cool,” Babusiak said. “She was shy at first, of course, this was a lot of attention being put on her. But afterward, she opened up and we were joking around and it was nice to see that she is still a kid.”
In light of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, which was observed April 14-20 and celebrates and thanks 911 dispatchers everywhere, Babusiak shared some advice with The Times for those who find themselves needing to make the call.
First, make sure it’s an emergency. If it is and you call, try to remain calm and remember there is a real person answering the phone.
“I can’t even count the amount of times I have been cussed out or called names,” Babusiak said. “(Dispatchers) know that people in threatening emergencies won’t always be the nicest people in the world. We understand that and are trained for that. But just remember when you are calling, we are here to help.
“It’s not what people make it out to be on TV. There are days that are really hard, but then there are days when I got to help that little girl that make it all worth it.”