How text messages helped save a hostage

Ottawa County

OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Text messages may have saved the life of a West Olive woman who was being held at gunpoint by her husband.

Mary Hartman’s mother called 911 on the morning of April 22, saying her daughter she was being threatened by her husband. She gave her daughter’s phone number to Ottawa County dispatchers, so they did something unusual: They texted her.

“Once we had the cellphone number, our dispatchers ran with it,” Ottawa County Central Dispatch Executive Director Tim Smith said.

Authorities say Hartman’s husband Matthew Hartman shot two people, killing one of them, in Muskegon that morning before returning to his West Olive home with his wife.

In her text messages to dispatchers, Mary Hartman wrote, “Help me.”

“He said he’s going to kill me next,” she wrote in another message.

“Bullet in the chamber, safety off,” her next message a minute later read.

She also texted that her husband wanted police to kill him.

Normally, people in trouble would have to text 911 in Ottawa County. But in this case, dispatchers wanted to be able to know what responding officers from the sheriff’s office and Holland police would be up against.

“Even though they were short messages, they told us about weapons, they told us about location, they told us what was going on in the house so the law officers on the scene could formulate a plan on how to bring this to an end,” Smith said.

In the end, a Holland officer shot and killed Matthew Hartman as he held a gun to his wife’s head. The Ottawa County prosecutor rules Tuesday the officer was justified in doing so and will not face charges.

>>PDF: Timeline from prosecutor

Mary Hartman was not hurt.

“They could’ve walked up to that door not knowing that information and the outcome could’ve been dramatically different,” Smith said.

Smith says the dispatch team performed brilliantly, saving Mary Hartman, officers and community members.

“In this case, I’ll say this is a lifesaving tool,” he said.

Ottawa County uses the Smart911 program to let people text dispatchers if they can’t talk. The county put text-to-911 into effect in February 2017.

The technology also kept the general public safe while the situation was unfolding. People registered with Smart911 got an alert to take shelter or keep clear of the area.

Smith said that while the Hartman situation was a highly visible use of Smart911, his dispatchers use it every day. People who sign up with the free service can add addresses, cellphone numbers, vehicle descriptions, medical histories and other information that emergency responders might need.

Dispatchers say you should still call 911 if at all possible. The motto: Call if you can, text if you can’t. It’s also important to remember that not all counties have text-to-911, though many that don’t are working toward it.

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