Clinton, N.C. — The language barrier between a Sampson County emergency dispatcher and a Spanish-speaking caller seeking help for a 4-year-old boy who had been shot appears to have added to confusion during a frantic 911 call in the case.
Authorities say Jose Santiso Vargas was asleep in his home outside Clinton on Nov. 16 when a gunman invaded and fired a gunshot through a door, striking the boy in the head.
Jose was still on life support Friday but in stable condition.
According to the 911 recording, released this week, the operator spent the first two minutes of the call on another line trying to get access to a translation service while the sometimes-frustrated caller pleaded for an ambulance.
At one point, a customer representative with the translation company tells the 911 dispatcher to "please hold for your Spanish interpreter."
Meanwhile, in the background, a woman screams "Ay se me muere," or "He's going to die on me."
Although the male caller identifies himself, it is unclear who he is or what relationship he has to the child and his family.
Less than three minutes into the 11-minute call, he tells the translator that he is taking the child to the hospital. For several minutes afterward, the operator and translator continue to ask where he is and whether he wants an ambulance to meet him.
The operator finally asks, approximately six minutes into the call, about what happened to the child.
"I don't know what happened to the boy, ma'am," the caller says in Spanish. "I can't explain that to you."
In the background, a woman cries, "Le dieron un balazo aqui," or "They shot him here."
"A gunshot wound or something like that," the caller then says in Spanish.
"But what happened to the child?" asks the translator.
"No, nothing. I don't know," the caller says. "That's the simple truth."
"He doesn't know what happened to the child," the translator then tells the emergency dispatcher.
By the end of the call several minutes later, the man finally arrives at the hospital and disconnects from 911.
Jose's father says his son later underwent surgery for his injuries at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.
Investigators, meanwhile, are looking at whether the shooting might be connected to a number of other burglaries in the area – all of which involved migrant workers.
Anyone with information should call the Sampson County Sheriff's Office at 910-592-4141. Anonymous tips can be submitted by calling 910-564-5261.
Despite a $10,000 reward, the Sampson County Sheriff's Office says it still has no suspects, partly because witnesses might be unwilling to come forward with information out of a fear of retaliation.
"Most criminals have a habit of not being able to keep their mouth shut," Capt. Eric Pope, with the sheriff's office, said last week. "I would hate to know I was out there and had that information, and there's a 4-year-old child on life support."