Kari Hunt Dunn’s daughter had always been taught to dial 911 in an emergency.
On Dec. 1, Dunn was stabbed to death in the bathroom of a Marshall, Texas, motel room. Her 9-year-old daughter, who was in room with her two siblings, tried to call 911 four times -- just as she had learned.
But in this emergency, none of the calls got through.
“She didn’t know she was supposed to dial an extra 9 first to get an outside line,” said Hank Hunt, Dunn’s father and grandfather of the 9-year-old.
The family tragedy prompted Hunt, 54, to begin a petition on Change.org called “Let Hotel Phones Dial 911 Easily: Help Enact Kari’s Law,” which has more than 400,000 signatures. On Monday his effort gained a powerful ally: the Federal Communications Commission.
After the incident, Hunt said he felt like he let down his granddaughter and her two siblings, ages 4 and 3, who were also in the motel the day of the stabbing.
“I felt guilty,” he said. “And I’m trying to do something about it.”
Hunt said some hotel phone systems have services that allow customers to dial 911, but others do not. His goal is to have federal legislation passed that makes “911 universal” by requiring that emergency services be accessible from all hotel rooms simply by dialing those digits.
“Three buttons and you are connected with a dispatcher,” he said. “Not the front desk. Not a security office -- just straight to emergency dispatch.”
Kari Hunt Dunn had taken her children to the Baymont Suites to visit their father, her estranged husband, Brad Allen Dunn.
After failing to reach the police, their 9-year-old daughter pushed her siblings into the hallway and tried to find help elsewhere, Hunt said. She encountered hotel employees, but they didn’t speak English. Then the people in the room next door heard the commotion and helped.
Hunt said Brad Dunn approached his granddaughter and told her to come with him. She said refused, but their father took the youngest child and fled.
About five hours later, after an amber alert went out, “we got (our grandson) back,” Hunt said.
Brad Dunn was later arrested and booked on suspicion of murder, a Harrison County Jail official told The Times.
In response to the petition, the FCC said Monday that it is launching "an inquiry to determine what steps can be taken to prevent tragedies like Kari’s.”
“Kari’s daughter behaved heroically under horrific circumstances,” FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said in a statement. "But the hotel’s phone system failed her, her mother and her entire family.”
Pai wrote that he is sending a letter to the 10 largest hotel chains in the United States asking:
“What happens when a guest in one of your hotels dials 911 from a phone in his or her room? Does he or she reach trained emergency personnel? If not, what is your plan for solving this problem?”
Pai said Kari’s death “will not be in vain if we can take action to ensure that whenever someone calls 911, they connect with emergency personnel. Over the coming weeks and months, that’s exactly what I intend to do.”
Christine Da Silva, the vice president of marketing communications at Wyndham Hotel Group, which includes Baymont Suites, said in an email that she could not comment on the incident because the hotel is independently owned and operated.
“However, as an industry leader we are taking this matter very seriously and are currently looking into the issues that have been raised in the petition.”
Da Silva said the emergency phone number is an “industry-wide situation” and that the company is “committed to working with industry associations as well as other hotel companies to better understand the issues and the potential options for addressing them.”
An employee at the Baymont Inn and Suites said on Tuesday no one is available to comment on the incident at this time.
Since Hunt began the petition on Dec. 17, it has received more than 400,000 signatures online. He expected maybe 100 signatures.
“Little did I know we’d have almost half a million,” he said. “And still counting.”