True Crime Thursday – 911 Pizza Emergency

Photo credit: In memorium: Mr. Ducke, Visual Hunt

By Debbie Burke


On a dreary winter night when hunger pangs strike, the craving for a thick-crust pepperoni pizza with double cheese might FEEL like an emergency.

But in this True Crime Thursday case, a 911 dispatcher in Oregon, Ohio answered a call from a woman ordering a pizza that turned out to be a bona fide emergency.

Tim Teneyck, a 14-year veteran at the 911 center, at first thought the call was a prank. But the woman was insistent and repeated her address, tipping Tim off to a problem at that location. He asked if someone was threatening her. She answered yes. He asked more questions and determined she was in danger even though she couldn’t say so directly.

He dispatched officers to the address. Inside the residence, they found a drunk man menacing the caller’s 57-year-old mother. The man was the mother’s live-in boyfriend who had a history of domestic abuse. He was arrested, averting a possible tragedy.

From time to time, social media spreads the word that there is a “secret code” for domestic abuse victims. Supposedly, if they call 911 and order a pepperoni pizza, that indicates they are in danger but cannot talk. According to law enforcement, this code is neither standard nor official.

But quick-thinking 911 dispatchers recognize signs of stress in a caller’s voice and will prolong the conversation, as Tim did, until help arrives.

Thank you to the unsung heroes who answer frantic calls to 911.


TKZers, do you have an unusual or interesting 911 story to share in the comments? Some regular TKZ readers are dispatchers or connected to law enforcement. Please chime in with your anecdotes.




Please check out Debbie Burke’s new release, Eyes in the Sky, book 3 in her Thrillers with a Heart Series. You can read a sample here.


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About Debbie Burke

Debbie writes the Tawny Lindholm series, Montana thrillers infused with psychological suspense. Her books have won the Kindle Scout contest, the Zebulon Award, and were finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award and Her articles received journalism awards in international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers.

14 thoughts on “True Crime Thursday – 911 Pizza Emergency

  1. I heard about this on the news. That 911 operator did an amazing job. Though I didn’t realize asking for a pizza was code for domestic abuse. Good to know. Thanks, Debbie.

  2. I’m sure you’ve heard the call that many 911 operators have to listen to in training to see if they can deal with what they’ll hear. A little girl is hiding in a closet and talking to 911 while her dad is killing her mother then finds her. Or the woman trapped in a car that’s filling with water as she begs for help, then drowns during the call. I’m pretty tough, but nope. God bless these people in this hard job.

    • Amen, Marilynn.

      When I toured our local 911 center, there was a quiet room where dispatchers could decompress after difficult calls. Too stressful for me.

  3. An amazing story, Debbie. When I was a reporter in St. Louis, we had a different — and not so noble — pizza story. An ambulance crew stopped for a pizza on the way to the hospital when they were supposed to be delivering a patient!

  4. I’m going to be the naysayer here. Ever hear those 911 calls on the news where the dispatcher argues with the caller about whether or not there is an emergency? This is me, every single time. Many years ago at the dinner table my dad started having a stroke. I knew this was a stroke. I called 911. “How do you know he’s having a stroke?” I had to describe every symptom, and even then she didn’t seem to believe me. I practically had to scream at the woman to get medics sent. Official medical diagnosis: he had a stroke.

    I heard gunfire outside my house. “How do you know it was gunfire?” Umm, I have freaking ears in my head. Etcetera. I have more long these lines.

    The day my mother couldn’t get out of bed after I had just convinced her she should go to the ER I called 911 for help. They didn’t see this as that big an issue. I had to argue with them to get medics sent. The medics knew she needed a level 1 trauma center, not the local ER. Official medical diagnosis: ruptured aortic abdominal aneurysm. She died that night.

    I hear about how wonderful 911 dispatchers are, but this has never been my experience.

  5. Catfriend, what horrible experiences for you and your family. Sadly, in every job, there are people who are poorly trained or don’t take their responsibilities seriously. I’m sorry your loved ones paid the terrible price.

  6. In the early ’80’s, I dispatched for our local sheriff’s office. It was a difficult job, in that we directed from afar what law enforcement, good guys, and bad guys experienced close up and personal. I didn’t last long in that job; the stress was unbelievable. And working the swing shift, I saw plenty of stress. And, as a dispatcher, I had to ride with an officer 2-3 times a month, which necessitated being proficient with a weapon-and pursuit driving-in case the officer I was with was incapacitated.

    I have great respect for 911 call takers. Split-second decisions, perception developed through a phone line, compassion for the vulnerable, along with definite rules to follow make for a job that’s not for everybody.

    It’s too bad that sometimes emergency staff get it wrong, and that it has affected the some families multiple times. I’m sure it’s not an isolated case. My heart goes out to the folks who’ve had bad experiences that negatively affect themselves and their loved ones.

    And, BTW, never heard of the pizza code. Seems like a good idea, though.

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