Tia Hernlen was just a young girl of 5 years old when she was forced to make a tragic 911 call that no child should ever have to make. Her brave actions on that dreadful morning helped bring a terrible situation to light and touched the hearts of people across the nation.
Fateful Night for Tia Hernlen
It was early on Thursday, March 31, 2005 in Florida when the gunshots rang out in the dead of night. Tia Hernlen, just 5 years old at the time, was startled awake by the frightening sounds coming from her parents’ bedroom.
When she went to check on them, she made the horrific discovery that both of her parents had been shot. Her father, Aeneas Hernlen, was already dead. Her mother, Julie Hernlen, was clinging to life but would pass away soon after.
Not knowing what else to do, Tia called 911. What followed was a remarkably collected conversation between the brave young girl and the emergency dispatcher that has since been heard by millions.
The 911 Call of Tia Hernlen
During the call, Tia Hernlen tells the dispatcher that she thinks her parents are dead after hearing gunshots. In a soft voice, she confirms there is blood on the floor. When asked who has a gun in the house, Tia says she doesn’t see one but that she is scared. She asks the dispatcher to “send a deputy down here.”
Throughout the call, the dispatcher expresses amazement at how articulate and intelligent Tia is for a 5-year-old. She provides key details about the situation, including the cars in the driveway and her pets in the home. She talks about her black Labrador Lizzah and three cats.
The dispatcher tries to keep Tia calm by engaging her in conversation about school, her bedroom, and her pets. She responds to each question, even specifying the colors of her house and Lizzah’s eye color. Her incredible poise while dealing with such horror inspired sympathy and outrage across the nation.
Text of the 911 Call of Tia Hernlen
Here is the text of the conversation of Tia Hernlen’s 911 Call for help in the tragedy:
Tia: I think my parents are hurt.
Operator: Can you explain what happened?
Tia: I’m not sure.
Operator: How old are you and where are you now?
Tia: I’m 5, at home with my dog.
Operator: I’ll send help. Did you see anything unusual?
Tia: Yes, there’s some blood in the room.
Operator: Where exactly?
Tia: On a plant and the floor.
Operator: Are you with your pets?
Tia: Yes, a dog and three cats.
Operator: Are you alone with your parents?
Tia: They’re not responding to me.
Operator: Stay on the line. What’s your name?
Tia: (provides name)
Operator: What woke you up?
Tia: I heard a loud noise, maybe a gunshot.
Operator: Did you see a gun?
Tia: No gun, but I found a bullet.
Operator: We’ll ensure your safety. Have you seen anyone else in the house?
Tia: No, just us.
Operator: Is the house secure?
Tia: I heard the noise and got up.
Operator: Describe where you are.
Tia: In a yellow and green house with a pink door.
Operator: Do your parents have a car?
Tia: Yes, a Toyota and a Jeep.
Operator: An officer is arriving. Can you open the door?
Tia: Yes, I can.
Tia Hernlen Seeking Justice
After the call, police arrived to find the parents of Tia Hernlen, Aeneas and Julie Hernlen, both dead from gunshot wounds. The murderer was identified as a neighbor, David Edward Johnson. He wrongly believed the couple had tipped off police about his illegal marijuana growing operation months earlier.
Out of this paranoid belief, Johnson broke into the Hernlen home and shot both parents, leaving 5-year-old Tia orphaned before she even started kindergarten. Johnson later died by suicide, robbing the grieving community of justice.
It was discovered that the Hernlens had tried to get a restraining order against Johnson for his threatening behavior. But the judge denied the request, saying there was insufficient proof of violence or stalking. The case highlighted how difficult it can be to get protection from the legal system.
Tia Hernlen’s Bravery
The bravery of Tia Hernlen in the face of such horror inspired many. The 911 recording highlighted how young Tia remained calm and thoughtful, even though she had just lost both parents.
The sheriff who investigated the crime praised Tia’s art of courage for her composure during the call. He said her ability to provide key details demonstrated wisdom well beyond her 5 short years of life.
For many, Tia embodied the innocent victims of senseless gun violence. Her story was a tragic reminder of the damage one person’s violent anger can inflict on an entire family.
The story of Tia Hernlen stands as a reminder to never underestimate a child’s inner strength. Though small and young, Tia achieved more wisdom and poise than many adults ever could. Her 911 call will be remembered as an extraordinary act of everyday heroism.