Dispatcher who handled 911 call about slain Officer Ella French shares in powerful interview

Keith Thornton Jr., a former police officer himself, was the calm voice that tragic night


By Suzie Ziegler 

CHICAGO — Keith Thornton Jr. was one of the dispatchers on duty August 7 when the call came in saying that two Chicago police officers had been shot. Officer Ella French would later die. 

In a new TV interview, Thornton recounts how he managed to stay calm and collected in the face of tragedy and chaos. Thornton, a former police officer, has been praised for using his knowledge of the city to efficiently direct first responders. 

For example, Thornton redirected responders to a trauma center.  

“Learning from these guys for many years of experience, I know the hospitals throughout the city,” Thornton told CBS Chicago

Thornton also helped officers on scene begin life-saving measures. 

“Ok, listen to me. Take that damn vest off right now and start compressions,” Thornton’s voice said over the radio. “Start breathing. Whatever we got to do, start it now. While you’re driving, the officer in the back with her take her vest off and start compressions now. You’ve got the air.” 

But Thornton himself wasn’t immune to the emotion of the call. 

“I was crying in the middle of it. My partner was crying,” Thornton said. “But we as dispatchers have a job to do, just like everyone else.” 

Now, Thornton is helping campaign to reclassify 911 dispatchers as a “protective service occupation.” The change would mean more mental health services for Thornton and his colleagues. 

“We need to start supporting the people who we don’t see, but they’re getting you help when you need it,” Thornton said. 

Watch the full interview below: 

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