For three years, Heather Lock has been a dispatcher for LaGrange County, taking calls for medical runs, fires, accidents, and the assorted list of incidents that fill a rural county sheriff’s department’s days.
Sunday evening, though, Lock took a call that has garnered national attention.
The night had been calm, with only a single call in the first hour and a half of Lock’s shift. Then, shortly after 11:30 p.m., a cellphone 911 call came in.
“The caller was extremely calm,” Lock said Tuesday afternoon during an interview. “I did not expect that intense of a situation with that kind of voice.”
The situation was very intense, as a woman from Ionia, Mich., told Lock that she was being held captive by an escaped murderer who had forced his way into her vehicle and driven to Indiana.
“That’s why I asked her to confirm what she said,” Lock stated.
That began a half-hour long call that ended with the woman, whose name has not been released, being found by officers. Her abductor, Michael Elliot, had fled the scene with her vehicle by the time officers arrived. (See related story.)
While dispatchers receive monthly training, this was a situation that had not come up before. “My instincts kicked in,” Lock said. “I knew we didn’t want her to leave that location. So I asked if there was any way for her to get inside.” Lock told the woman to tell Elliot, who was coming back to the vehicle after paying for gas, that she had to use the restroom.
Elliot let her go into the station alone, where the woman locked herself in the restroom.
It took some time working with Elkhart County to figure out the precise location the woman was at based on information she provided. Lock stayed on the line with her, feeling that they would lose valuable time if she transferred the call, which would leave the woman needing to explain everything again. Landers continued to relay information to Elkhart County.
She advised the woman to stay in the restroom until Elkhart County could confirm that a Middlebury Police Officer was on scene and knocking at the restroom door. Then the woman hung up.
“The first thing I thought was, dang it, he got away,” Lock said. She was also concerned for the community, knowing that an escaped convict, serving a life sentence for killing four people, was loose. Her shift partner, Kelly Landers, had been working as fast as she could to find out about Elliot, finding news items online. “That proved that this was quite serious,” Lock said.
Lock said she was also glad and relieved that the woman was safe.
Both Lock and the woman sound very calm throughout the entire call. “Her being calm helped the process. I don’t know how she stayed so calm,” Lock said. But throughout the call, Lock reassured the woman, telling her help was coming, and letting her know there was someone there for her.
There are plans being made to reunite Lock with the woman, in person this time. “I would tell her how wonderful she is. She’s the true hero,” Lock said. “She’s an amazing lady.”
For Lock, this is what being a dispatcher means. It’s not being a “hero.” “That’s what our job is. To help and protect. That’s what we did,” Lock said.