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911 Dispatchers Kept Mall Shoppers, Workers Calm During Garden State Plaza Shooting

People Called While Hiding From Gunman
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MAHWAH, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — When calls began pouring in from the Garden State Plaza mall Monday night, one 911 dispatcher assumed the outcome was going to be much worse.

Frightened shoppers and employees inside the Paramus, N.J., mall began calling for help when an armed man walked in just before closing time and opened fire.

“I was thinking people were out in the hallways shot,” Nathalie Mendola, a 911 dispatcher in Bergen County, told CBS 2’s Christine Sloan. “‘Cause nobody knew. Everybody was in the stockroom, in the bathroom.”

The gunman, Richard Shoop, 20, of Teaneck, N.J., fired several random shots before killing himself, authorities said. No one else was injured.

PHOTOS: Shots Fired At Garden City Plaza Mall

But before knowing whether Shoop might be targeting innocent people, one employee called 911, saying “I’m inside the store, in the office with the door locked by myself. But I’m scared, and I want to get out the mall.”

Another said: “Someone is shooting up Garden State Plaza right now. I’m in the bathroom.”

Dispatchers such as Mendola had to comfort the callers.

“I just said, ‘Relax. The police are coming. You’re going to hear dogs,'” she said.

Their colleagues are calling the 911 operators the unsung heroes. But the dispatchers credit those inside the mall for being brave on that terrifying night.

“Everybody had all their wits about them,” said dispatcher Linda Merse. “They were able to give me a location. The employees had gathered their customers into safe areas.”

New technology now captures the location of cell phone calls and displays them on a map. But dispatchers don’t take any chances.

“The most important important info we obtain on a 911 call is the location,” said Mark Lepinski, communications director for the Bergen County Communications Center. “So that’s why we say ‘911, where is your emergency?”

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