Local News

Language barrier hindered help in 4-year-old boy's shooting

Posted November 30, 2012

— 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."


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • Timetogo Dec 5, 2012

    "bordering on depraved indifference to not have Spanish speaking people at all nine eleven call centers"
    If you have Spanish speaking people at all the centers, you should have to add Asian, German, French, etc. Yes, Spanish is quickly growing because everyone else was expected to LEARN ENGLISH when they moved to this country to be a part of what already was established! Go to Mexico (non-tourist area) and expect them to bother with your English. Get real!

  • donewithecu Dec 4, 2012

    Please take a look at this about 'official language'. It states that the US has no official language, but certain states have it as their official language.


  • piene2 Dec 3, 2012

    "And by the way, we Native Americans don't speak "dialects"; we speak the language of our Native American Nations, here long before anyone else was,
    Heuman Bean"

    You are not even close. Actually you are off by a few millenniums. Man hadn't even evolved to H*mo Sapiens when they crossed to the Americas from Asia.

    "While there is general agreement that America was first settled from Asia by people who migrated across Beringia, the pattern of migration, its timing, and the place of origin in Asia of the peoples who migrated to America remains unclear."

  • piene2 Dec 3, 2012

    "It is unfortunate for the boy but there is nothing that can be done about it."

    That surly is the understatement of the millennium. For starters unfortunate is about as sorry a comment as can be imagined. The boy did not lose his comb, he nearly died. second it is absolutely unacceptable, bordering on depraved indifference to not have Spanish speaking people at all nine eleven call centers. While The United States does not have an official language both English and Spanish predominate and should be available to accommodate both language groups.

  • driverkid3 Dec 3, 2012

    Heuman Bean, if all the people that came here today would be like your grand and great grand parents, it would be a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, it seems that a huge blanket of entitlement mindset is being used now, and that's a shame.

  • driverkid3 Dec 3, 2012

    A good reason to try and learn the dominant language of the country you're in, at least some of the most important phrases. phrases.

  • delta29alpha Dec 3, 2012

    No sense in arguing about it, fact is people from different cultures speak different languages. Its inevitable that incidences like this will occasionally happen. It is unfortunate for the boy but there is nothing that can be done about it. Apparently there was an arrangement to contact a translator but unfortunately these things take time. Ultimately it is the parents responsibility to take care of the child which means having some kind of plan to communicate in case of emergency when you are in a foreign land where your language is not dominate. I know that there are free apps for smart phones that translate your speech directly into whatever language you choose. perhaps a dedicated device can be produced cheaply enough for immigrants to buy for emergencies.

  • Dynol Yn Cael Ei Nov 30, 2012

    WooHoo - "1) I never use the term "leftist" if you want discuss specifics."

    I copied and pasted, so that's just what you said.

    How do you know anyone here is a leftist, or a right wing nut or a centrist for that matter?

    You wouldn't know us if we walked up to you on the street and bit you on the nose.

  • WooHoo2You Nov 30, 2012

    "You guys need to leave your Y2K bunkers and see the real world!!!"

    And you need to leave you mother's basement.- beausheep

    Basements are not common in this area.

  • retiredindependentpopo Nov 30, 2012

    Sorry for the kid. Glad it's not one of my family. But, the 911 issue is the fault of the parents. They are in a foreign country and should have at least learned the basic language.