A breakdown in communication between city and county law enforcement caused a delay in medical response at the scene of the July 5 shooting that resulted in the deaths of a mother of five and an 11-year-old girl.
As a result, Columbia and Boone County first responders say they’ll look for ways to improve coordination at incidents that involve violence resulting in injuries.
That was the central conclusion of a debrief Thursday that brought together representatives of Columbia Police, Columbia Fire, Boone Hospital Center, University of Missouri MU Health Care and Boone County Joint Communications. The agencies analyzed the response to the shootings in the area of Volunteer Drive and Grace Lane.
Tara Knedler, 38, and 11-year-old Ri’ajauhna, whose last name was withheld at her family’s request, both died. A 40-year-old woman, a 22-year-old man and another woman whose age is unknown suffered non-life-threatening injuries, Police Chief Geoff Jones said at a news conference after the shootings.
A review of radio traffic related to the shooting revealed that communication between first responders was unclear, according to a joint statement Monday from the city of Columbia and MU Health Care.
The root of the breakdown is the standard practice of agencies using separate radio channels to communicate as they respond, according to the statement.
“Responders at the scene do not hear all requests made by Boone County Joint Communications. This practice of channeling communications is intended to ensure that agencies do not interrupt critical, time-sensitive conversations happening on other channels in response to an active incident. ... Agencies on one channel will not hear radio traffic on the other channel.”
One result was that when officers on the scene, who were providing trauma care, indicated they needed medics, the request “was not relayed as expected,” according to the statement. Medical responders were waiting nearby for the scene to be declared secure before entering.
The Missourian obtained a copy of the audio recording under the Sunshine Law.
In their joint statement, the city and MU Health Care warned that “it is important to note the time stamps are important markers. Voices heard on these recordings at the same time indicated simultaneous radio traffic.”
What is clear in a stretch about 6 minutes long is the confusion apparent among responders about where the medics are and if they are coming on the scene.
Around the 17-minute mark, a woman responder on the scene can be heard asking, “Where are my medics?”
Around the 17:15 mark, a different female voice replies, “Medics are advised to abandon CPR; we’re getting them.”
The first woman replies in a distressed voice: “OK. They don’t get to decide that.”
It is unclear, based on the recording, to whom “we” or “they” refers.
Later, someone is heard saying medics are unwilling to come on the scene, so responders are asked to transfer victims from the scene. A woman is heard saying, in a worried tone, “I’ll get them as close as I can.”
Around the 18-minute mark, a male responder says, “Respond in,” followed by a woman responder saying, “We have told them we are not responding in.”
Past the 20-minute mark of the recording, Boone County emergency responders can be heard inquiring about treating the 11-year-old victim, whom they refer to as “the 12-year-old.” By then, she is on her way to University Hospital in the back of a police squad car, based on the recording.
Later, around the 23-minute mark, someone off scene at Grace Lane says, “If there’s any officer on scene who needs a medic, let me know,” indicating nearby medics did not immediately go on scene despite knowing there were gunshot victims present.
The joint statement did not say whether more prompt response from medics would have resulted in lives saved.
After listening to the audio, the agencies involved in the incident outlined steps for improvement, including:
- Having responding agencies monitor cross-radio traffic to ensure accurate and direct communications in situations involving an active crime scene;
- Requiring Columbia Police to provide clear communication to first responders that the scene is stable in all incidents involving violence;
- Conducting ride-alongs between agencies to improve understanding of the role of each agency;
- Developing and practicing additional joint training scenarios similar to active shooter trainings.
“Events of violence and active crime scenes present challenging and often chaotic circumstances for responding agencies,” Jones said in the release. “It is our shared commitment to continue improvement and clear communication. Our hearts go out to the families of those affected by this violence. Out of this tragedy, we will emerge stronger as a community as will our public safety agencies.”