DENVER — People in the East Colfax neighborhood are trying to move forward after one of their own was shot and killed, but finding solutions won't be an easy task, according to those who allege years of inadequate service from first responders.
On the night of July 15, Ma Kaing was shot and killed by a stray bullet, according to family members. Loved ones say Kaing was unloading her car outside her home at Hidden Brook Apartments as gunshots rang out across the street.
Her son, John Lwin Oo, and others allege their calls to 911 were placed on hold or hung up.
This allegation is denied by all 911 agencies tied to the case. Despite this, a community meeting was held Wednesday, during which community members aired grievances about Kaing's death and emergency response times in previous circumstances.
"When somebody is calling saying, "My mother got shot in the head," nobody on the other side should be saying, "Let me change you to a different line," or, "Let me dispatch you to a different department."" Lwin Oo said during the meeting. "You should be hearing those sirens in seconds."
Others detailed similar concerns.
"It's kind of sad because when calling 911 or trying to get help over here, we get hung up on. No one answers our calls, and we'll flag down an officer driving down the street and they'll keep going," one woman said.
Denver7 confirmed the 911 calls placed the night Kaing died should've been routed to Denver's dispatchers. Because Hidden Brook Apartments borders Aurora, some calls pinged off of the closest cell tower in Aurora, and those were placed on hold as Aurora's dispatchers transferred calls.
In an interview with Denver7, Denver's 911 director, Andrew Dameron, maintained that the calls placed on hold didn't delay emergency crews.
"When Aurora got that first 911 call, they got a little bit of information then initiated the transfer. When they heard the hold message, they got on the radio and gave us [in Denver] a heads up," he said.
Dameron said the radio call allowed officers and EMS to arrive on scene in about five minutes following the initial dispatch. Despite this, the director said he recognized 911 calls needed to be routed with more specificity.
"As an industry, 911 is already pushing the FCC to mandate location-based routing, which means when you dial 911, your call is routed based on the location of your mobile device," Dameron said.
There are solutions that could be implemented at the state level, but Dameron said they'd need funding and legislation.
In a statement to Denver7, a spokesperson for Verizon said, "Our hearts go out to the victim's family in this tragic shooting. Verizon is reviewing the circumstances of this matter, which includes working with the local authorities as part of this ongoing investigation."
While potential solutions to the 911 problem are sought, some community members have also called for increased patrols to the East Colfax neighborhood.
"Are you guys (police) going to leave again and do nothing about it until there's another death?" Lwin Oo said to members of the Denver Police Department in attendance.
Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen told Denver7 he hopes to address concerns despite facing departmental constraints.
"Certainly, we will figure out different approaches to try to get more patrol over here. But when you don't have 150 officers, it makes it very difficult to deploy the number of police officers that we feel is necessary in a particular community," he said. "We will do everything humanly possible to be here in this community, myself included, to try to work toward some solutions. My hope is that we also have some state representation here, because some of the challenges that we face go far beyond the city. We have some state statutes that have changed, that have made it easier for drug dealers and car thieves to run around with guns."
After the community meeting, Pazen was seen sitting beside Lwin Oo. Pazen wouldn't elaborate on what was discussed, but said it was an important conversation.
"It's important to talk to community members, particularly somebody that is experiencing a devastating loss," Pazen said. "We want to work with our community so we can prevent murders in our city. We're at 55 murders for the year, which is 10% more than where we were this time last year. Last year was the second highest murder total in this city since modern records have been kept."
A reward for any information that may help solve Kaing's death increased to $10,000 Wednesday. Anyone with information about what happened that night is asked to contact Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at (720) 913-7867.