Family Forgives 911 Operator Who Told Drowning Woman to 'Shut Up'

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The family of a woman who drowned while a 911 operator appeared to mock her say they are appalled by the handling of her emergency, but they forgive the operator. 

A frantic Debbie Stevens sobbed as she was on the phone with an operator in Arkansas while she was trapped in a flash flood on the morning of Aug. 24.

“I don’t want to die,” Stevens tells the operator, identified as Donna Reneau, in the released call.

Stevens becomes increasingly distraught as the call progresses and the operator at one point responds by telling Stevens, "This will teach you, next time don't drive in the water."

Reneau also tells her at another point, "You're gonna have to shut up, OK?" 

Stevens eventually drowned. Now, her family is speaking out, telling Inside Edition they are furious at the handling of her emergency. 

"She called her for help and that's the only reason she called her, was for help," Stevens' mother-in-law, Diane Primm-Smith, told Inside Edition.

Stevens first called Diane when she became trapped. "She said, 'Please come help me, pull me out of the water, I'm stranded and I don't want to die today. I'm gonna drown,'" Diane recalled. 

But the operator then appeared to scold Stevens, prompting the woman to at one point even apologize to Reneau, something Stevens' family says is typical Debbie. 

Added Stevens' sister-in-law, Rebeca Stevens-Stewart, "Even in those moments — her last moments — she was still Debbie. She was still genuine and sincere and kind and loving and respectful."

Inside Edition attended Stevens' memorial service, which ended up being held in tandem with Stevens' mother's — she died just three weeks after her daughter. 

"I do think that that played a big role in her death," Diane said. "She was brokenhearted."

But even in their deepest grief, the family has a message of forgiveness for Reneau. 

"I do forgive her, even though it's hard," said Rebeca. 

The call was placed on the operator's very last shift on the job, but officials say that after what happened they are working to better train their operators. 

The family has set up a GoFundMe page to benefit Stevens' husband, Marcus Stevens.

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