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Trapped and dying in a minivan, desperate Ohio teen calls 911 for help that doesn’t find him

A picture of the gold 2002 Honda Odyssey where student Kyle Plush was found not breathing and unresponsive. This was released during a press conference with Cincinnati Police on Thursday, April 12, 2018.

The 911 recordings are gut-wrenching.

Trapped in a gold 2002 Honda Odyssey van with his time running short, 16-year old Kyle Plush asked Siri to call 911 and begged the dispatcher for help in a series of emergency calls released by Cincinnati police.

Law enforcement looked for the van, but Kyle was dead, stuck under seats in the van, when he was found hours after the calls.

Now, a 911 operator is on administrative leave while the Cincinnati Police Department launches their investigation.

The 911 calls

Kyle made his first call from the Seven Hills School parking lot to 911 operators with shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday.

“Help, help, help I’m stuck in my van outside the Seven Hills parking lot. Help. I need help,” he says.

A sophomore at Seven Hills School, Kyle was supposed to be at an afternoon tennis match.

Instead, he was using voice commands to dial 911, because he didn’t have his phone in his hand, said Cincinnati Police Department Lt. Steve Saunders.

Neither Kyle nor the operator seem to be able to hear each other:

  • Dispatcher: Where are you?
  • Kyle: I can’t hear you, I’m in desperate need of help.
  • Dispatcher: What is the address?
  • Kyle: Help, help, help. I can’t hear you.
  • Dispatcher: Where are you?
  • Kyle: If you don’t send help I’m gonna die soon.

The first call ends and the dispatcher alerts local law enforcement.

“Officers responded to the area in an attempt to locate the vehicle. Based on the information relayed to the officers, efforts to locate the caller were unsuccessful,” Cincinnati police said.

Saunders said there are several parking lots associated with the school. A map on the school’s website shows seven parking lots surrounding the campus.

A Hamilton County Sheriff’s deputy who was working traffic detail for the school also searched the area.

The deputy searched in at least two parking lots near the school. “I looked in a van and I didn’t see anybody in it,” the deputy told dispatchers.

In a press conference on Thursday, Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac was asked if the deputy had seen the right van, “we believe that the deputy saw the van a little bit later.”

“It was really hard to hear,” the operator told the deputy. “It was really a strange call.”

While the search was going on, a 911 operator tried calling Kyle back, but after several rings his voice mail picked up.

The search for the van lasted 11 minutes. Officers didn’t find anything in the parking lots near the school, so they closed the incident.

But just two minutes before, Kyle had called 911 again. This time his voice was faint but he gave key information about the type of van he was in – something he hadn’t done during the first call.

“This is not a joke. This is not a joke. I’m trapped inside a gold Honda Odyssey van,” he said.

Banging can be heard in the background.

“I probably don’t have much time left.  Tell my Mom I love her, if I die,” Kyle tells the 911 operator.

The call lasted more than 2½ minutes. There is no response from the operator on the recording.

Finding Kyle

Later that night, a school classmate told Kyle’s parents that he had seen Kyle after school heading towards the van in the parking lot. But that Kyle didn’t show up for his tennis match.

A family member reported him missing to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department, Chief Isaac said.

“My son never came home from school and we thought he was at a tennis match and he never came home from school,” Kyle’s mom said, according to CNN affiliate WCPO.

His father used a phone locating app, which took him to the school parking lot, Saunders said.

Around 9 p.m., 911 dispatchers received a call that Kyle had been found in the minivan.

“He was stuck, looks like he was turned over in the seat, he’s stuck there. He’s been there for a while,” one caller says.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters said “this young man was trapped in the third row bench seat,” but police haven’t said how he ended up there.

Deters said the way Kyle ended up is “called positional asphyxiation,” adding “we are actively trying to identify experts to assist us in this investigation.”

The Hamilton County Coroner’s Office performed an autopsy and the “preliminary autopsy findings are asphyxia due to chest compression,” ruling the death accidental. A statement said there is no indication of foul play or evidence of a drug overdose.

Honda said the third row of seats “is meant to be folded down into the floor”, a design found in nearly every minivan sold in the U.S.

When asked about the incident by CNN, a Honda spokesperson said, “while we’ve heard about this tragic incident through media coverage, we have not yet received any formal report or claim related to this incident or any official details,” Honda added “thus, it’s premature to speculate on any potential actions.”

“There have been no recalls affecting the seats of the 2002 Honda Odyssey in the United States,” Honda said.

A 911 call operator is on leave

The operator who took the second 911 call, Amber Smith is currently on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, Chief Isaac said.

“On the second 911 call, something has gone terribly wrong. This young man was crying out for help. We weren’t able to get that information to the officers on the scene and we need to find out why,” Chief Isaac said.

“I’m not certain at this point if we’re talking about an equipment malfunction or some type of other user error possibly,” he said.

Cincinnati police said the department will “initiate a full procedural and technical review of all calls received by the Emergency Communications Section and associated dispatch recordings related to this incident.”

Mayor John Cranley said “the events leading up to Kyle’s death are devastating and also raise concerning questions about our City’s emergency 911 system and police response.”

“However, separate from this incident, the problems of management, supervision and technology have been reported at the 911 center for years,” he Cranley said.

While the police investigate this incident, his office will look at the overall history of the city’s 911 system to “make sure all necessary recommended improvements are made.”

A community in mourning

“Kyle joined the Seven Hills community in the sixth grade. He was a young man of keen intelligence, good humor and great courage, and this whole community feels this loss very deeply, ” said a statement from Seven Hills School obtained by CNN affiliate WLWT.

Mercy Montessori, where Kyle went for early education, released a statement saying, “Our Mercy hearts are heavy.”

“Kyle’s gentle spirit made it a joy for others to be around him,” principal Patty Normille said to WCPO in a statement. “We lovingly remember Kyle as creative, vibrant, and kind. Tonight we celebrate Kyle who was a truly remarkable child.”

Visitation is planned for Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati, with his funeral on Monday morning.