Location: Arlington, Texas
Date: December 14, 1988
Eight-year-old Laura Hollingsworth thought she was dreaming when she opened her eyes and saw a man standing over the bed with a gun pointed at her. It was in Arlington, Texas, shortly before dawn on December 14, 1988, and Laura and her father, Dale, were asleep in Dale's bed. Laura's brother, fourteen-year-old Buddy, was asleep down the hall. Unfortunately, Laura wasn't dreaming.
The intruder woke up Dale, forced him out of the room at gunpoint, and made him cut the phone wires. Laura lay in bed, terrified, and heard the intruder yelling to an accomplice. Laura screamed for Dale, and when he didn't respond, she ran into the living room and found him on the floor, scuffling with the robber. Laura raced to the phone in the kitchen, where luckily the wires had not yet been cut. She dialed 911.
"There's a man in my house!" Laura's voice quivered in fear. "He broke in with a gun. He's threatening-" "I have police officers on the way," responded Arlington Police Department Dispatcher Valerie Nelson, who heard the fighting in the background. "Stay on the phone."
As police officers sped to the scene, Nelson questioned Laura, but between Laura's panic and the commotion in the background, Nelson was unable to make sense out of what was happening. "There's a gun and a knife," screamed Laura in tears. "Who has the knife?" asked Nelson. "My brother! He was going to kill my father if he didn't tell him where his wallet was!"
Laura of course meant the robber was going to kill her father, but it came across to Nelson as if Dale and Buddy were fighting. "I think he's got the guy!" "Who's got the guy?" asked Nelson. "My dad." "Your father has-" "Buddy!" Laura let out a blood-curdling scream. "What's going on?" "Oh, God, Buddy!" cried Laura hysterically. "Please!" Nelson heard a shot fired. "He killed the guy!" cried Laura. "Your father shot the burglar?" asked Nelson. "No, Buddy did." "Your brother?" "He shot my dad, too!"
As the confusion mounted, police officers responded to what they thought was a domestic disturbance. Nelson told Laura to open the door for the officers who stood outside with guns drawn. But Laura didn't trust Nelson, and Buddy thought the police outside might really be the robber's accomplices. The officers could see Buddy's silhouette inside the house. He was holding a rifle, but the officers didn't realize he was a scared fourteen-year-old protecting himself and Laura.
"I need your help," Nelson told Laura sternly. "It's the police outside. Can you go to the door?" "No," replied Laura. "It's the good people outside!" urged Nelson. "Tell Buddy to come to the phone." Nelson desperately explained to Buddy that the police were afraid of him, that he had to come out before rescuers could safely get inside to help Dale. Finally he dropped the rifle and came out, followed by Laura. Officers handcuffed him, unaware that he'd just saved Dale's life by killing the robber with Dale's hunting rifle.
Buddy was quickly released from custody. Dale recovered from the stab wounds inflicted by the eighteen-year-old robber, Douglas Spencer Collins. But the accomplice was never found. Dale and his family never spent another night in their house. "Ugh, what a call," recalls Nelson.
"If I had those calls everyday, I could not do this job. You realize how close they came to losing it all. I literally didn't own anything of value that I would miss more than a half-minute," says Dale sadly. "I get upset thinking about that. I got all cut up, but, jeez, you know, I didn't want my kid to kill somebody." "For the rest of my life I'll always remember the day this happened," says Buddy. "It'll depend on the situation at the time if I'll feel happy we're alive, or I'll feel sad that it happened."
Nelson feels that the key to the successful outcome was Laura. Despite her terror, she had the presence of mind to 911 and managed to remain calm and relay events over the phone. Says Dale, "If Laura hadn't called 911, if Buddy hadn't intervened, if the dispatcher hadn't known how to do her job, I would be dead. And I feel my children would be, too."