‘He Keeps Me Locked In a Garage!’ 911 Operator Recognizes Missing Daughter’s Voice - Story of the Day
911 operator Dina's world is turned upside down when her 10-year-old daughter goes missing without a trace. One morning, she hears her daughter's voice on the line, "Mama! He keeps me locked in a garage!" Before Dina can act, the line goes silent, and she loses contact with her daughter.
Only Dina's heart knew how challenging it'd all been—the unexpected divorce, Mia's custody battle, and the constant fear that things would spiral out of her control one day. Dina and her ex-husband, John, had been married for over ten years when they decided to end everything.
John was an ordinary construction worker and was discouraged from continuing his job after a tragic accident occurred at his workplace. Since then, he'd been afraid to leave the house, and Dina had to step in as the family's breadwinner.
But things were tough in the current economy, and Dina's paycheck alone wasn't enough, so she pushed John to look for work. "We have a daughter, John!" she'd said. "Mia is ten, and before we know it, she'll be a senior in high school! We don't want her to miss out on anything, do we?"
But John had refused to find another job, saying he wasn't in the right mental space. Quarrels and arguments ensued between the couple as a result, and Mia was tired of her parents fighting all the time.
For Mia's sake, Dina decided she was better off without her loser husband, who was self-centered and didn't think about anyone but himself, so she divorced him.
Then six months after their divorce, she received an unexpected call from John. Dina was reluctant to pick up the phone, but John kept calling, so she answered. "What do you want now?" she snapped. "I'm busy with work, John!"
"I really want to see Mia, Dina," he pleaded. "All I want to do is see her one last time..."
"Last time?" Dina asked curiously. She didn't want to do anything with her ex-husband but was curious about what he meant.
"I'm leaving the city," he told her. "I'm going to start over. I need to make things right. I just wanted to see my baby girl once. Please?"
"I'm sorry, but I don't think that's a good idea," she said sternly. "Mia and I are happy without you, and she would hate to see you after all the pain you caused us."
"Hey, I know, I know," he said emphatically. "But please, give it a thought. Just one meeting. That's all. You decide the time and day and let me know. Please? You can call me back on this number," he added and hung up.
Dina thought it over. She didn't reject John's proposal immediately. He was Mia's father, after all. He had the right to see her for one last time. Besides, something in Dina's heart told her it was just a meeting, and that nothing would go wrong.
But everything went wrong, every single thing! Mia went missing that day!
It was a Friday. Dina had allowed her ex-husband to take their daughter for a walk at the neighborhood park. Mia and John were supposed to be home before 6 p.m., but there was no sign of them until 7, so Dina started getting worried.
She tried to reach John, but his number was unavailable, and Mia wasn't answering her phone. Dina grabbed her overcoat and drove to the park, but there was no sign of Mia or John.
It was getting darker as Dina searched every nook and cranny of the streets surrounding the park and the restaurants and cafes nearby, thinking John might have taken Mia for dinner. But it was all for naught.
Dina alerted her colleagues about the situation, and a team was dispatched to look for her daughter and ex-husband. "Where are they?" Dina cried as she pulled into her driveway. "What if they're in trouble?"
Unfortunately, for days, there was no development, no sign of Mia or John. Mia's phone was constantly off, and John's was out of service.
Never leave your loved ones in tough times. Sometimes, just your presence can change everything.
Dina tried everything she could to find her daughter, but it was futile. She stopped going to work since Mia went missing and didn't want to do anything. How could she focus on anything when her daughter was missing? Mia was barely ten and too innocent for the outside world.
Dina blamed it all on herself. She'd been a terrible mother! She should never have let John take Mia for a walk! Had he just disappeared with Mia? That night, Dina was holding Mia's picture and crying when she suddenly remembered she had taught Mia to contact 911 in case of emergencies.
"If you ever find yourself in trouble, Mia, remember that Mama will always come to your help at 911! OK? 9-1-1! Repeat after me."
"9—1—1," Mia had chirped with a smile. "I will remember it, Mama!"
"Work!" Dina cried. "I have to get back to work. Maybe Mia will contact me there?"
So Dina was back at her operator workstation the following day, waiting for a call from her missing daughter. She had asked her colleagues whether they had received a call from Mia, but none of them had.
Dina's anxiety grew with each call she attended, hoping her daughter would contact her soon. But the entire day passed without Mia's call. Dina asked her colleagues again if they'd received a call from Mia, but they said they hadn't.
Dina didn't go home that evening. She was waiting for Mia's call at her desk and didn't realize when she dozed off. At 4 a.m., the line rang.
Dina was startled awake. "Uh, yeah, 911. What's your emergency?" she asked.
For a moment, Dina could hear someone sobbing on the other end of the line. "Hello? This is 911. What's your—"
"Mm—Mama?" a child's voice appeared on the other end of the line.
Dina's heart began racing in her chest as she recognized the voice. Her palms grew icy cold, and tears gushed out of her eyes. A week after her daughter went missing, she could finally hear her voice. There was finally a ray of hope Dina could track her daughter down.
"Mia?" Dina asked, jumping to her feet. "Mia? Honey, where are you? What happened? Are—Are you OK?" she asked. Her colleagues turned to look at her, and she signaled to them to track Mia's location.
"Mama! He keeps me locked in a garage!" she sobbed. "Help me, mama! Please! I'm scared!"
"Mia, honey, stay strong, OK? Mama's gonna help you," Dina told her daughter, trying to hide the panic and fear in her voice. "Who—who took you there, Mia? Can you tell me what you see around you, darling, besides the garage?"
"Daddy," she replied, sending chills down Dina's spine. "I stole my phone from daddy. Daddy brought me here, mama. But he's not daddy, and I—" Before Mia could tell about her exact whereabouts, the line went dead, and the tracker vanished from the computer screen.
"Hello, Mia? Hello? Oh, no! I lost her!" Dina cried, tossing away her headset. "David," she turned to her colleague. "I need your help and a team! I need to save my daughter!"
"Don't worry, we got you," David said, typing some keys on his computer. A team was dispatched immediately, and Dina was hoping she'd find her daughter safe. Little did she know she was in for a shock…
When Dina and her team arrived at the location, they found themselves in a shady neighborhood with houses that seemed uninhabited for years. "She mentioned a garage," Dina told the team. "Look for a house with a garage! Now! Spread out in all directions!"
Dina and her team dispersed in different directions, looking for Mia. They knocked on every doorstep with a garage, showed their police badges, and searched the entire place, but there was no trace of Mia.
When Dina knocked on an old, dilapidated house's door, there was no answer. She rang the bell several times. No response.
"Something is fishy!" she thought, noticing the house's lights were on and clothes were out for drying on the back porch.
"Hello? Is anyone home?" she called out. "We're doing a search; please get out of the house. I know you're in there!"
Dina noticed a shadow move across the drapes in the living room. She was sure now that somebody was inside the house and avoiding her. Dina called her team and surrounded the house from all directions.
"If you don't step out by the count of three, we'll have to break through the door!" she warned over the megaphone. "ONE—TWO—and THREE!"
At the count of three, Dina signaled the team to smash open the door, and when she followed them inside, she was shocked to see her ex-husband cowering beneath the stairs in the living room. The property was messy, with takeout boxes strewn about, and a filthy, fishy odor lingered.
"John! Where is Mia!?" she asked stiffly. "What the hell did you do? WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER!"
John looked terrified and pointed to the garage outside. "No way!" she cried. "You did not lock our daughter in there! You're a monster, John! A freakin' monster!"
When Dina and her team broke open the garage's lock, they found Mia inside. "My baby!" Dina sobbed as she held her daughter after what felt like an eternity of waiting. "Oh, my baby. I missed you so much! I love you, baby. I love you."
Mia was crying and couldn't utter a word. She just wrapped her arms tightly around her mother's neck and sobbed. As Dina scooped Mia in her arms and looked around the garage, she noticed something weird. Unlike John's house, the garage was clean and well-kept.
In one corner was a small bed, a desk for Mia to study at, and her toys and clothing neatly placed in a makeshift closet. "What's the matter with you, John?" Dina wondered as she watched her team arrest John and take him to the police car. "Why did you keep our daughter here?"
Mia was safe. Dina was relieved, but she couldn't help but worry about what was wrong with John. He didn't seem like his usual self. She'd noticed how terrified he appeared as he was led to the police cruiser.
"Had daddy kept you there, Mia?" she asked her daughter as they settled in a separate car. "Did he try to hurt you?"
"Daddy was acting weird, mama!" Mia said nervously. "I was scared, but he said he was keeping me safe! I—I don't want to talk about Daddy!"
No matter how hard things get, there's always hope for a happy ending.
"It's OK, baby. It's OK," Dina said, confused about what her daughter meant. Dina took Mia home, gave her a warm bath, fed her dinner, and read her stories till she was asleep. Then she kissed her daughter's forehead and left the room.
Sitting alone in the living room, Dina couldn't take Mia's words off her mind. "He was keeping me safe…"
Dina dialed David to ask if John had confessed to his crimes and learned something horrifying about her ex-husband.
"Mild agoraphobia, it seems, Dina," he said. "Psychological thing. He didn't want to leave the house and thought he was keeping Mia safe."
"Oh god. But he…I mean, when did it all start? He never said anything. He looked perfectly fine when I dropped Mia off at the park. He did seem a bit nervous, and I thought it was just, you know, his anxiety."
"Well, a doctor examined him, and they say it all started after an accident. Seems like something happened at his previous workplace. He was seeing a therapist for it."
That's when it hit Dina. The accident after which John quit his job. He was traumatized by it and was so worried about anything and everything going wrong that he didn't want to leave the house. He was worried the same would happen to his loved ones, especially Mia, which is why he kept her in the garage, for her safety.
"He didn't want anyone to find her," David told Dina. "He wanted to keep your daughter safe—at least, that's what he thought he was doing."
Dina felt awful. She'd been so preoccupied with her perception of things that she hadn't realized John needed her. If she'd been there for him and tried to understand him instead of divorcing him, things would've been so different.
Dina knew it wasn't too late to make things right. She decided to help John step out of his condition and give him a second chance.
Dina paid for John's therapy sessions and was there for him, motivating him that he could heal and move on. While John didn't show any progress for months, she didn't lose hope.
A year later, things finally started changing. Dina hadn't allowed Mia to see John all this while because Mia was taking her time to cope with what had happened. But one day, Dina took Mia with her to see John and was surprised to see how comfortable they were with one another.
John's therapist was surprised to see the positive change in his patient, and he encouraged John to go out often with Mia, seeing it as a sign that had helped John step out of his mental condition.
Today, everything has gone back to normal for Mia, John, and Dina. They are back to being the perfect family after John has healed. In fact, Dina and John are expecting their second child, and Mia will soon become a big sister! To Dina, it all feels like a dream—her family is happy, together, and blossoming.
What can we learn from this story?
- No matter how hard things get, there's always hope for a happy ending. Although Mia, John, and Dina went through some terrible things in life, they are together as a family today, happier than ever.
- Never leave your loved ones in tough times. Sometimes, your presence can change everything. If Dina had been for John and tried to understand him, he might have never gone down the wrong path and done what he did.
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If you enjoyed this story, you might like this one about a mom who ends up at a gas station while searching for her missing son and finds a video there that confirms him getting into a stranger's car.
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