Calling 9-1-1: Staying Calm Can Be Hazardous

Sometimes it pays to lose your cool.

Take the case of Lenona Suggs, age thirteen. Lenona was raised as a single child by a single parent who worked by day and mothered by night. She dreamt one day of becoming a lawyer and prayed that she would makes grades that would earn a scholarship. She was an attractive child, wire thin, with smooth chocolate skin and slanted eyes which suggested a hint of Asia somewhere in her bloodline.

Mama had been married once but her man vanished one day after a night out with the boys when Lenona was only a year old. Mama worked the next twelve years cleaning white people’s homes in upscale neighborhoods. A devoted mother, indeed, Mama would make sure her daughter would never suffer the same foolish fate, marrying a loser, then having no other skills than scrubbing toilets and floors on bended knees. She read stories to Lenona at night, helped her with homework and spoke openly about sex, drugs and violence and the rigors of life.

She often left Lenona home alone during late afternoons while she worked beyond rush hour. She covered those bases also. “If you’re ever real sick or you’re hurt, or you’re afraid, be sure and call 9-1-1,” she said. “They will be at the house in seconds. And whenever you talk to the police, try and be real calm and speak clearly so they can understand you.”

“Okay, Mama.”

One bright Thursday afternoon, while Lenona was working on her algebra homework, she heard a rap at the window. There was Darryl Ray Stiles, a 15 year-old boy she knew from school, a boy who had often made advances for her attention to no avail, a boy who had failed the seventh grade and then the eighth. Lenona waved him off. “Go away!”

But Darryl was persistent. He beat on the window, then went to the front door. “Let me in,” he shouted.

“Go away! Please.” Lenona scampered from door to door making sure bolts and latches were in place. Then she peered out the windows following his motion as he circled the house. She could see that he was wired, intense, determined.

As he pounded on the door, she was afraid he’d break the locks. Petrified, she lifted the phone and called 9-1-1. Her mother’s words echoed through her brain. “When you talk to the police, try to be real calm….”

     Lenona: “Hello, my name is Lenona Suggs. I’m thirteen, and I’m alone, and there is a boy trying to break into my house. He’s outside right now, please send someone.”

     Officer: “I see. Give me your address young lady.”

     Lenona: “It’s 3640 Northwest 77th street. Please, he trying to get inside.”

     Officer: “I see. Do you know this boy?”

     Lenona: “Yes, his name is Darryl. I know him.”

     Officer: “Uh huh. And how do you know this boy, Miss Suggs?”

    Lenona: “He be after me all the time in school. Please, could you send someone out here. He’s trying to get into my house.”

     Officer: “Sure. Just stay right there, and we’ll get someone out there as soon as we can.”

And so it went. Judging by her quiet and deliberate manner, the complaint officer logged the call as a domestic dispute between schoolmates and lay it in the “non-emergency” stack. Police would be dispatched only after other more pressing calls were answered.

A two-man cruiser arrived thirty-five minutes later where they found the rear kitchen door ajar and windows broken with shards of glass strewn about the floor. Inside, Lenona Suggs lay on the bedroom carpet agaze at the ceiling in a pool of crimson blood, her clothes ripped from her body and a screwdriver impaled into her heart. Lenona’s dream of becoming a lawyer was forever terminated by a young lunatic and his rock of crack cocaine.

No one will ever know, for certain, if Lenona’s life would have been saved had the police rushed there in emergency mode. But we do know that these split-second decisions are often guided by the emotional pitch of the moment. In this case, Mama’s good advice backfired.

Sure, Darryl Ray Stiles was arrested, tried as an adult, and sentenced to life in prison. But so what? Nothing could bring Lenona back.

Unconsoled by good detective work and a fine prosecution, Mama went into depression and ultimately disappeared from the face of the earth, just like Lenona’s father.

The Complaint Officer? Handicapped and wheelchair bound, this congenial old man simply thought it was a domestic squabble and no emergency, because the girl didn’t sound like she was in peril. He wished the caller had been more hysterical.

No discipline was administered to the gentleman, but it didn’t matter. He’ll live with it for a lifetime.

Yes, this is a true story…from the annals of Miami-Dade P.D. It could happen anywhere.