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Dispatcher keeps suicidal woman on the phone while police rush to find her

LORAIN -- With Lorain police rushing to four different locations Sunday night searching for a suicidal woman, officers finally found her just as she jumped off a chair with a sheet tight around her neck. Officers cut the woman free as she dangled four feet above a motel room floor, moments before certain death. The woman was saved, and two Lorain police dispatchers were credited with keeping the despondent women on the phone long enough to allow police to find her.

When the woman, sobbing uncontrollably, called the Lorain Police Department Sunday night to ask for the number for a suicide hotline, Dispatcher LeeAnn Failing did the first thing that came to mind.

She started talking, and then tried to lend a sympathetic ear.

'I said, 'Hey, I'm here till 10 p.m., I'll talk,'' Mrs. Failing said with a chuckle yesterday after receiving a plaque of recognition from Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera. 'I'm Italian. My jaws are always moving.'

Dispatcher Failing's instinct to talk -- about everything from music concerts to family -- and the quick thinking of fellow dispatcher, Valerie Cruz, were applauded yesterday by the entire police department.

'Their performance was excellent. I couldn't praise it enough,' Rivera said. 'We acted as a team and we saved a life.'

Mrs. Failing picked up the 6:09 p.m. call to the department's non-emergency number, expecting nothing especially notable to set this call apart from the more than 200 calls she fields during each eight-hour shift.

But the dispatcher immediately knew something was terribly wrong.

'The woman was crying real hard, inconsolably,' Mrs. Failing said. 'You heard it in her voice that she was tired -- tired of life.'

Mrs. Failing started a conversation with the woman, determined to keep her on the line and talking while Mrs. Cruz worked to trace the call.

Within the first five minutes of their conversation, Mrs. Failing felt the woman was determined to end her life. Mrs. Failing heard the woman gasping for air through the phone as the she tried to hang herself with a sheet from the top of a door.

'When I heard her gagging the first time, I was like, 'Oh, my God,'' Mrs. Failing said.

The sheet slipped off the door and the woman came back to the phone.

Mrs. Failing kept talking.

'I ended up telling her all about me. What concerts I had been to, about my family, and tried to ask her about her, to try to pick up on something to keep the conversation going,' Mrs. Failing said.

Mrs. Cruz called the telephone company and quickly looked through department records to try to determine where the woman was while fielding other calls into the department.

'There was a call from a man complaining his neighbor's leaves were blowing into his yard and some kids playing on a 9-1-1 line,' Mrs. Cruz said. 'I was working the whole time off LeeAnn, and with the phone company, trying to send officers to the scene.'

The woman, still despondent, continued to listen to Mrs. Failing talk. Then the dispatcher picked up on a detail of the woman's life. She loved her mother.

'Tell my mother I love her,' the woman said in a muffled tone.

'No, I want you to tell her you love her,' Mrs. Failing responded.

Mrs. Cruz was able to track down the woman's location, a local motel, and alerted officers. Police pounded on the woman's room at 6:32 p.m. As the door swung open, she saw officers and jumped from a trash can placed on a chair as a sheet tied to a heating vent in the ceiling and wrapped around her neck pulled taught.

Officers rushed to the woman and cut her free.

Lorain Police Sgt. James Ryan, the officer in charge Sunday night, picked up the phone, now lying on the floor.

'I told LeeAnn, good job, we got to her,' Ryan said.

Mrs. Failing and Mrs. Cruz said they breathed a huge sigh of relief when they heard Ryan on the other end of the phone.

'It is an unbelievable feeling,' Mrs. Failing said. 'It makes you feel like you matter.'

The woman is currently in a Cleveland psychiatric hospital receiving treatment.

'She now has a second chance,' Ryan said

Reprinted courtesy of the Morning Journal, Lorain, Ohio."