WASHINGTON — Under a Freedom of Information Act request, D.C.'s 911 call center released chilling and disturbing audio Thursday of a teenager's desperate plea for help.
Maria Shepperd, 13, was struggling to resuscitate her dying mom. She thought help was on its way, but a call center worker sent help to the wrong address. The young teen did everything right, even performing CPR for nearly 14 minutes after her mother, Sheila Shepperd, stopped breathing.
It took firefighters nearly 21 minutes after Maria's first call to finally arrive. By then it was too late.
Audio of the call on June 5, first obtained by Communications Daily, makes clear that someone in the D.C. 911 call center made a mistake that may have cost Shepperd her life.
"What's the location of your emergency?" a call taker said on the tape.
"414 Oglethorpe St. Northeast," Maria said very clearly.
There was desperation in the young girl's voice, but Maria was absolutely clear on the phone that she was in Northeast.
"Can you repeat?" the call taker said.
"414 Oglethorpe NE," Maria said again, her voice breaking.
Instead of sending medics to Northeast, someone at the Office of Unified Communications entered the address as 414 Oglethorpe Northwest, the wrong quadrant of the city, and about a mile and a half away.
One dispatcher even had a third quadrant.
"414 Oglethorpes SE," she said on the tape.
After arriving at 414 Oglethorpe NW, firefighters quickly realized there was a mistake. "
"Caller says this is not the address," a male firefighter said on another audio clip released by the city, referring to someone inside the house in Northwest.
In the meantime, Sheila Shepperd's condition had gotten worse in Northeast.
"I think she stopped breathing," Maria told the 911 operator. "Ok, we're going to start chest compressions.... 1.2,3,4. 1,2,3,4"
Maria started CPR on her mom, a 59-year-old D.C. lawyer.
Six minutes after calling 911, Maria asked the operator, "Do you know how long it will take for them to arrive?"
The operator can only say, "soon."
Thirteen minutes into the call, the call taker checked the address again. "So I have the right place?" she said.
"414 Oglethorpe, Northeast," Maria repeated for at least the third time.
Finally, after more than 20 minutes, you hear, "Fire department!" from the medics at the door.
"We're upstairs," Maria yelled back.
DC Fire & EMS took her mother to a hospital, but she did not survive.
"They failed her," Maria's grandmother, Billie Shepperd, said. "They failed this family. And in a sense, they failed everyone in this city."
This story was first reported by Dave Statter, a former WUSA9 employee and operator of the website Statter911.
The city has just chosen an outside contractor to audit the 911 Call Center. But the Office of Unified Communications insists these kind of mistakes are rare, with just .004% of 3.5 million calls last year resulting in errors.
However, that's still 140 potentially life or death calls that go wrong.
Maria has gone to live with her aunt in Canada. Billie said she still struggles with her mother's death, and tells her granddaughter there was nothing more anyone -- adult or child -- could have done.