The night shift started off in typical fashion for veteran 911 dispatchers Norma Iacopucci, Theresa McCann and Terry Bonds.
From their quiet second-floor office inside Police Headquarters, they fielded the usual mix of prank calls from snickering preteens, serious calls from robbery and assault victims, and frustrating ones from people who think of 911 as a source of general information.
The business-as-usual mood of the evening changed at 8:18 p.m. Monday, when a man named Patrick Sweeney called, reached Iacopucci, and triggered a period of "controlled chaos," said Inspector Thomas Lippo, commander of the police Communications Division.
Speaking in a calm, measured voice, Sweeney explained his predicament: He had been shot in the stomach and leg several times, and was in a Navy Yard conference room surrounded by three dead colleagues. A crazed gunman was still in the building.
Sweeney summed it up simply: "I need help."
Unknown to police, Sweeney had just rewired a phone smashed by gunman Vincent Julius Dortch, who had executed three executives from a New York-based investment firm, Watson International.
When the call first came up on Iacopucci's computer, "It said the phone was registered to [a property] on South 6th Street, Zigzag Net," Lippo said. "But Sweeney said, 'No, no - It's 5131 S. 11th Street, Building 79.' "
Iacopucci quickly typed down the rest of Sweeney's remarks, including a description of Dortch, and then transferred him to fire officials, who told him how to tend to his wounds. Bonds, 53, dispatched the information to police in South Philadelphia at 8:21 p.m.
Officer Lawrence Leissner and two female officers were the first to arrive at Building 79, relying on the information Sweeney had fed to 911 operators to guide them through the brick warehouse.
"The guy is unbelievable," Inspector Lippo said. "The guy was aiding himself and aiding us at the same time."
Leissner and Dortch ultimately exchanged gunfire, prompting a wave of cops to descend on the Navy Yard. "When shots are fired at an officer, it just changes the whole scenario," said Bonds, a dispatcher for 11 years. "From that point on, that job became our number one priority."
As the scene unfolded in the quiet confines of the old Navy Yard, McCann, 46, started to think about her brother-in-law, who works there in a government office.
"Next thing I know, the phone rings and Sweeney's in my ear," McCann said. It was 8:30 p.m., and Sweeney had dialed 911 again.
"He said, 'I've been shot, I'm on the second floor, and I need help. Help me! Help me!' He was very composed. It was amazing, with all that was going on in the room, with him looking around and seeing his business partners dead."
While McCann listened to Sweeney's voice drop as he struggled with the pain of his wounds, she heard police in the background, pounding on the conference-room door. The cops had already found Dortch, who had killed himself in a small office in front of two duct-taped hostages.
Sweeney said he wanted to try to make his way to the door, but McCann pleaded with him to keep talking. "I didn't want to lose him," she said. "I felt like I needed to stay on the phone with him until somebody got in there."
Their nine-minute conversation ended when the line fell silent. "My stomach was doing flips and I had chills going up my arms," McCann said. "I thought, 'Oh, this poor man.' "
Police finally broke down the conference-room door and found Sweeney and his slain colleagues - Robert Norris, 41, Mark Norris, 46, and James Reif, 42. Sweeney was taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in critical condition. Officials declined to update his condition last night.
The 911 operators consider Sweeney a hero. "If it weren't for him calling, I don't know how anyone would have ever found out what happened down there," McCann said.