'This is really happening:' 911 dispatchers kept calm during VTA mass shooting chaos

Thursday marks one year since a gunman walked into Building B of the VTA Guadalupe rail yard; his gunfire resulted in a total of 10 deaths.

That morning a year ago, the San Jose Police Dispatch center received six 911 calls directly related to the shooting. 

Each call taker made sure to fall back on training to make sure as many people as possible were guided to safety.

"Sometimes this is the worst day of some of their lives," said Latisha Thompson, a call taker with San Jose police. "You just want to make sure you're there for every aspect of what they're telling you."

In San Jose, recruits go through eight weeks of Dispatch Academy. That curriculum follows POST, or the Peace Officers Standard Training, which is set by the state.

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After academy, recruits then go through three five-week cycles of on-the-floor training. Supervisors expose them to real phone calls and real emergencies to emphasize their reactions and decisions will determine life or death.

Once a year, those call takers do a re-training for a week.

With the job, employees know to expect the unexpected.

"I just want to rise to the occasion to make sure I'm able to help," said Thompson.

The first call came in 15 minutes before Thompson was set to clock out of her shift. She answered the first call.

"San Jose emergency?" said Thompson during that call, released to KTVU by San Jose police.

"We have an active shooter at Guadalupe Light Rail," said the caller.

"Is anyone shot?" asked Thompson.

"Yeah I think eight people?"

Once she knew this was a mass casualty event, Thompson entered a laser-focus mode and worked to get police to the scene as quickly as possibly. Her voice remained calm through the three-minute call. 

"Your voice is calm. You have to put on that persona," Thompson told KTVU. "But in the inside you're basically ‘oh my gosh, this is really happening,’"

Beth Knepper, a fellow call taker, answered one of the last calls. Her shift was just starting.

"There aren't a lot of jobs where you make a difference," she said. "You do here."

Not only are they working to get help for the callers, they also need to make sure the callers don't put themselves in any danger.

"Should I go back to see if they're okay?" asked the caller.

"No no no, you stay where you are."

The call takers had support from their supervisors. That was the role Jennifer Hern served that day. 

"You can't take on someone else's emotions," she said. "You won't last in this job if you do. You have to be able to separate it."

Separate during the call, but the emotions come once it hangs up.

"When the officers gave a visual of what happened, that's when I really broke down," said Thompson. "It brought back every shot I heard on the call, when someone was losing their life."

"You're in, like, really sacred moments of peoples lives," said Knepper.

It's a tough job, listening to people's worst moments while it's happening. But these call takers opt to do it because it's a service that needs to be done.

"I feel like a superhero every time I come to work," said Thompson.

Of course, mental health can take its toll. 

Thompson and Knepper say they know their limits and they know when to step away from their computers.

The San Jose Police Department also offers a variety of services to its employees to handle stress and traumatic events. 

One example, is the Mental Health Network; that allows employees, including officers and dispatchers, access to an unlimited number of visits to mental health specialists whenever they need.