Founder of Denise Amber Lee Foundation leads 911 training
Husband of Florida murder victim trains dispatchers to make fewer mistakes in relaying information
In 2008, Denise Amber Lee called 911 when she was kidnapped before being raped and murdered in Florida. But due to the lack of information shared amongst communication centers, no help was dispatched.
Her husband, Nathan Lee, now seeks to help 911 centers avoid similar tragedies and build stronger 911 communications amongst emergency personnel. The training and education will continue to help provide timely emergency ser vice to residents.
On Oct. 6, the Charles County 911 Communications staff hosted an emergency education training for public safety professionals throughout Southern Maryland entitled, “A Victim’s Plea: Denise Amber Lee,” and led by Nathan Lee. After becoming a widower
in June 2008, Lee founded the Denise Amber Lee Foundation in loving memory of his wife.
“What we want them to take away from the training is how important they are,” Lee said. “Dispatchers are often the forgotten link in the chain, so we want them to be re-motivated and re-energized in what they do.”
Lee said his wife’s story has been publicized on “Dateline,” “ABC Primetime,” “The Dr. Phil Show,” “The Today Show” and CNN.
“It made headlines just because of the scale of the failure of how this call came in from a bystander who saw her kidnapped in the back of the car and nobody dispatched it,” Lee said. “The agency was the one that her dad worked at, which made it that much worse.”
He has made it his life’s work to honor his wife by promoting better training, standardized protocols and technological advances for 911 so that it meets the expectations of all citizens. Lee is originally from Carroll County and currently resides in Englewood, Fla., with sons, Noah and Adam, and daughter, Avery.
Lee has traveled to 47 states telling Denise’s story, and his work in the foundation was recently honored by five national public safety organizations and the Congressional E911 Caucus as a testament to his determination to be a positive force for change.
“I think that even though at times we become complacent in our daily job, our skills and the impact of the story stands as reminders that we are here to provide a public service,” said Antonella M. Volpe, support service captain with Charles County Department of Emergency Services. “We need to make sure that we are doing the checks and balances on ourselves. We need to police ourselves.”
The Charles County Department of Emergency Services hopes to improve on the communication between centers and mutual aide. Volpe said any dispatcher knows the Denise Lee story, having seen and heard the story at many of their department’s own training sessions.
Throughout Lee’s eighthour presentation, participants were exposed to riveting but critical 911 failures that occurred the night Denise was murdered. Lee and Ryan Chambers, director of project management for the Denise Amber Lee Foundation, tied together the elements of the tragedy. Trainees learned about the failures that day and the more in-depth concepts such as leadership, hiring, training and encouraging employees in a communications center.
The Department of Emergency Services, Charles County Sheriff’s Office, and regional emergency agencies from Southern Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Maryland State Police were in attendance.
Chris Thompson, emergency services assistant chief, said the purpose of Denise’s story is to show how information that day did not get relayed and the outcome was tragic.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” Thompson said. “Mistakes are made and we learn from those mistakes, but Nathan is the real deal because there is no way that I could be able to stand up to do what he does across the country. He absolutely astonished me and everyone else by how he held his composure throughout the training. The very end of the scenario the day his wife was kidnapped, information was not passed on and the kidnapper could have been apprehended and she still would have been alive today.”
“It made me angry in the sense that those kind of mistakes can happen that causes somebody their life,” said April Thompson, a public safety dispatcher in the county. “It made me want to do my job better and to make sure it doesn’t happen here. Dispatchers need to know that no information is too little and they should treat every call as an emergency.”
Lee’s training class teaches from the victim’s perspective and discusses the case’s timeline: the searches, the calls, the failures. He said he has a huge amount of respect for law enforcement and public safety, but strives to raise communication to a more professional level.
“Nathan’s story is such an impactful story and by us sharing it from the source we are able to make a more impactful statement to our operators and dispatchers,” Volpe said. “The biggest impact of this story is how he took such a tragic, horrific event and made something better. It would have broken me, but he turned a horrible situation into the best possible way that he could.”
Lee’s children Noah and Adam were 2 years old and 6 months old at the time of their mother’s death. He remembers it as one of the worst days of his life.
“That’s the last thing that you expect to have happen,” Lee said. “You go to work and all of a sudden you come home and your wife’s not there. It was tough but other than the 911 mistakes, law enforcement was extremely good, the investigation went well and it was handled professionally.”
Lee said that, in his wife’s case, there were many spectators who said they saw her kidnapping occur — but did not call or report it. He hopes his training classes help improve some of the technology challenges dispatchers are dealing with while helping local residents understand that someone can save a life just by calling 911.
Charles County Sheriff Troy D. Berry, Nathan Lee, founder and president of the Denise Amber Lee Foundation, Ryan Chambers, public safety instructor, Antonella M. Volpe, support service captain with the Charles County Department of Emergency Services, and 911 Communications Chief Tony Rose pose for a photo at a 911 training class at the Charles County Government building in La Plata.
Nathan Lee, founder and president of the Denise Amber Lee Foundation, taught a 911 training class at the Charles County Government building on Oct. 6. Lee’s wife was kidnapped, raped and killed in Florida. He said miscommunication errors with 911 on the day she was killed could have been prevented.