Founder of Denise Am­ber Lee Foun­da­tion leads 911 training

Hus­band of Florida mur­der vic­tim trains dis­patch­ers to make fewer mis­takes in re­lay­ing in­for­ma­tion

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com

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.

STAFF PHOTO BY TIF­FANY WAT­SON

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.

STAFF PHOTO BY TIF­FANY WAT­SON

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.

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