Behind The Badge: Davis County dispatcher lives to help others after surviving two major tragedies

Behind the Badge

FARMINGTON (ABC4 ) – Emergency dispatchers deal with callers in the midst of crisis all day, every day. One Davis County dispatcher knows all too well what it’s like on the other end of the phone after surviving two major incidents of her own.

Dawn Shumway says every day feels like a miracle after living through a horrific crime, a life-threatening accident and a planned suicide. Now she feels like she’s still alive to carry on her late mother’s legacy.

“Davis 911. What’s the address of your emergency?” Shumway says, answering a call at the Davis County Sheriff’s Office call center.

She’s the calm voice that helps during someone’s worst moments, “My partner has help headed that way,” she tells the caller. “I’m going to stay on the line so that we can help him, OK?”

Shumway’s mother, Joanne Hansen, was a longtime Weber County dispatcher.

“I would visit her at work and I just thought ‘This is what I’m going to be when I grow up only because they had a soda machine,” Shumway told Behind The Badge. “I thought ‘wow you can get soda whenever you want’.”

But when she was just 9 years old, Shumway suddenly lost her mother and 18-year-old stepsister Jovanna in an unthinkable act of domestic violence.

“My Dad, he killed my Mom and my sister,” Shumway explains about the night of Feb. 15, 1995. “I had an older sister who was 10, I was nine and my little sister was three. The three of us went and hid out in the bushes outside until some neighbors found us.”

With her father sentenced to life in prison for the double murder, Shumway was raised by an aunt and uncle. Nine years later, tragedy found her again in the form of an inattentive driver.

“I was biking and while I was in a crosswalk, I got hit by a car,” she said. “I was Life Flighted. I had emergency brain surgery.”

At just 18 years old, with no parents and facing a long recovery, Dawn decided she would do what neither her father’s gun nor that speeding car had done.

“It was overwhelming. It felt like ending it would be welcoming and warm and peaceful versus staying here,” Shumway said. “The hospital, they gave me an entire bottle of Oxycontin, you know because of my brain surgery and I took that to my mother’s grave and I was going to just end it. Luckily I got a phone call from a friend and that’s why I’m here today.”

Soon after that fateful phone call, Shumway got a dispatch job, first in Logan, later in Layton where she was named the 2014 Trainer of the Year and now in Davis County where she’s the Lead Dispatcher at the Sheriff’s Department Call Center.

“There were times in my life when I really needed help and people were there,” she explained. “So I wanted to you know, still pursue that, like with my Mom, honoring her, her memory, everything like that. I wanted to help out.”

Now a wife and mother of six, Dawn has started making “Zero Suicide” kits containing a coloring book, candy, and a gunlock for officers to give to people in mental distress, like the ones who often dial 911.

“I want to be that hope. I want to help someone else. I want to help them stay,” Shumway said. “I understand more than anyone else what it’s like to feel sad and to feel overwhelmed and to feel the darkness but I also know that staying here, being able to write my own story…Everything I’ve been able to achieve, it’s been fun and the happiness and the trips and it’s sad to think I could have missed all that.”

Dawn tells Behind The Badge that she wants everyone to know that it’s OK to be sad and there’s nothing wrong with reaching out for help. She says the kits she makes can’t save everyone but they can definitely save someone…just like someone once saved her.

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