Hialeah police dispatched two officers to a mass killer’s home hours before he gunned down six neighbors, but his mother called off the cops because her son had left the apartment to buy gasoline, according to a 911 recording released Wednesday.
Pedro Alberto Vargas phoned 911 at 1:37 p.m. Friday, sounding timid and halting, often failing to complete his thoughts.
“I feel threatened, and I am being a victim,” he told the emergency operator. “Could you run a license plate?”
No, the unidentified female operator answered. But who’s following you?
“People,” he said, later adding: “Sorcery and stuff they are doing to me.”
The operator asked for Vargas’ mother, who lived with him in a one-bedroom apartment at 1485 W. 46th St. Esperanza Patterson, 83, told the operator something was wrong with her 42-year-old son, but she wasn’t sure what.
“I don’t know why, but he is very agitated,” she said.
The recording of the Spanish-language call, which lasted 12 minutes and 21 seconds, offers a glimpse into Vargas’ unstable state of mind shortly before the shooting, which began after 6:30 p.m.
And it raises the gut-wrenching, unanswerable question of whether an early visit by police could have avoided the rampage that followed. By the end of the night, Vargas was shot dead by a SWAT team after a standoff that lasted four hours. Two hostages taken by Vargas survived unharmed.
A spokesman for Hialeah police said the department would not comment on the 911 tape until a news conference scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday.
Police Chief Sergio Velázquez did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. Earlier this week he said the operator who answered Vargas’ call was “very experienced.”
Lonny Wilder, vice president of public safety for the Dallas-based Law Enforcement Training Network, said after listening to the recording that the operator “canceled the dispatch prematurely.”
“The operator had an opportunity to learn more about this individual before making the decision to hold back the officers,” Wilder said, noting that the operator could have asked if Patterson was taking medication, for example, or if there were other factors that could have made the situation dangerous.
But he acknowledged that dispatchers receive many calls from troubled people.
That’s why it’s important for police agencies to establish protocols detailing questions and answers that trigger specific responses, said Ty Wooten, education director for the National Emergency Number Association in Alexandria, Va.
Wooten, a former 911 dispatcher himself, said he couldn’t count the number of times he answered a call similar to the one made by Vargas.
“They’re an attempt to reach out, they’re asking for help,” he said. “Most of those turned out to be nothing. But it’s hard to make sense of something that’s so senseless.”
Visit from the governor
Florida Gov. Rick Scott dropped by Hialeah City Hall on Wednesday to congratulate the SWAT team that rescued the hostages in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
“I want to thank you,” Scott said during the short ceremony in the city council chambers. “People appreciate what you are doing. You put your lives at risk. I hope it never happens again.”