ATHENS (WATE) – Nearly a week after the tragic shooting at the Thomas and Betts plant in Athens, 911 calls have been released from people in the plant as they were seeking cover and pleading for help.
Police say gunman Ricky Swafford, a long-time employee of Thomas and Betts, became upset during a meeting with his two supervisors. Swafford, 45, abruptly left the meeting, and the building. He returned shortly afterward and went to the office and found his supervisors, James Zotter, 44, and Sandra Cooley, 68. Swafford shot both of them and continued to walk through the plant.
Each of the 911 calls is chilling, but one in particular really gives insight to horrific moments. In the call, the employee talks to dispatch about what is happening in the plant as she hides behind a door with the shooter on the other side.
Dispatcher: “911, Where is your emergency?”
Caller: “At Thomas and Betts. Someone’s been shot, please hurry.”
Dispatcher: “Someone’s been shot?”
Caller: “Yes, please hurry. We have an active shooter.”
At that point in the call, other Thomas and Betts employees had already fled the building and called 911, telling dispatchers they had heard the shooting over the intercom. This caller was still inside the facility.
Caller: “We need ambulances, we have two down.”
Dispatcher: “You’ve got how many down?”
Caller: “And we need the law first, please.”
The shooter had been walking through the plant. The caller was in the front offices, telling dispatchers where to send officers. That’s when she realized the gunman had moved much closer to her.
Caller: “Okay, come up front. The shooter’s up front now, please hurry. He’s up here.”
Dispatcher: “Okay, who is he? Has he still got the gun?”
Caller: “Yeah, and hurry up.”
Dispatcher: “Okay. Can you tell me who he is, can you describe him to me?”
Dispatcher: “What kind of gun does he have?
Caller: “I don’t know.”
Dispatcher: “What kind of gun does he have?”
Caller: “I don’t know.”
Dispatcher: “Is it a handgun?”
Caller: “Yes, but please hurry. He’s outside our door.”
The dispatcher continued to talk the caller through the situation, trying to get clues that first responders could use to find the shooter as soon as they got there.
Dispatcher: “If my officer comes in, which way does he need to come in?”
Caller: “Through the front door…We’re secured. They’ll have to shoot the door down to get in because I’m not walking up front to unlock the door.”
Then, the recording brings a reminder that in those moments, the employees didn’t know who the shooter was or where he was going. They didn’t know his motive or if he was coming for them.
Dispatcher: “The shooter, is he still right there at the main office or do you know?”
Caller: “I don’t know. I don’t want to open up the door.”
Dispatcher: “Okay, but he’s not trying to get in with you or anything like that?”
Caller: “Not yet.”
We now know what happened after that. The gunman had shot and killed two of his supervisors and eventually went into a bathroom and shot himself. Other employees later said he had gotten upset with his victims during a meeting, left, and then came back and killed them.
Thomas and Betts has been closed since the shooting. The facility is supposed to open by the end of the week with hopes of resuming operations next week. Right now, the priority is helping employees grieve and heal.