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Trapped and dying in a minivan, desperate Ohio teen calls 911 for help that doesn’t find him

The 911 recordings are gut-wrenching.

“I probably don’t have much time left. Tell my mom I love her, if I die,” the caller, a 16-year-old teen, tells police dispatchers.

The boy was inside a gold 2002 Honda Odyssey van in the parking lot of his school, pinned under the third-row folding seat.

It took hours for officers to finally find him, and when they did, it was too late.

Kyle Plush was dead, suffocated by the weight of the seat.

Now, officials in Cincinnati have launched an investigation into several questions, including:

When Kyle called dispatchers a second time pleading desperately for help, was the call improperly handled?
How did Kyle — who was on his way to a tennis match — get trapped in the third row bench seat?
“We are actively trying to identify experts to assist us in this investigation,” Hamilton County, Ohio, Prosecutor Joseph Deters told reporters.

What happened

Kyle is a sophomore at Seven Hills, a private school in Cincinnati.

On Tuesday, he was leaving school to go to an afternoon tennis match.

This is what authorities think happen next:

He was inside his Honda Odyssey van, which has three rows of seats. As with many minivans, the third row folds down so it can be stored in the trunk.

Police wouldn’t confirm this to CNN but a law enforcement source with knowledge of the situation told the Cincinnati Enquirer that Kyle was trying to retrieve tennis equipment from the back of the van when the rear bench seat pinned him.

How that happened is unclear. Was the seat upright and collapsed by itself? That’s one of the questions officials have.

Kyle’s first call

Kyle made his first call to 911 operators shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday from a parking lot at Seven Hills.

“Help, help, help. I’m stuck in my van outside the Seven Hills parking lot. Help. I need help,” he says.

He was using voice commands to dial 911, because he didn’t have his phone in his hand, said Cincinnati Police Department Lt. Steve Saunders.

Neither Kyle nor the operator seem to be able to hear each other:

Dispatcher: Where are you?
Kyle: I can’t hear you, I’m in desperate need of help.
Dispatcher: What is the address?
Kyle: Help, help, help. I can’t hear you.
Dispatcher: Where are you?
Kyle: If you don’t send help I’m gonna die soon.
The first call ends and the dispatcher alerts local law enforcement.

Saunders said there are several parking lots associated with the school. A map on the school’s website shows seven parking lots surrounding the campus.

A Hamilton County Sheriff’s deputy who was working traffic detail for the school also searched the area.

The deputy searched in at least two parking lots near the school. “I looked in a van and I didn’t see anybody in it,” the deputy told dispatchers.

In a news conference Thursday, Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac was asked if the deputy had seen the right van, “we believe that the deputy saw the van a little bit later.”

“It was really hard to hear,” the operator told the deputy. “It was really a strange call.”

While the search was going on, a 911 operator tried calling Kyle back, but after several rings his voice mail picked up.

The search for the van lasted 11 minutes. Officers didn’t find anything in the parking lots near the school, so they closed the incident.

Kyle’s second call

But just two minutes before officers ended their search, Kyle had called 911 again.

This time his voice was faint but he gave key information about the type of van he was in – something he hadn’t done during the first call.

“This is not a joke. This is not a joke. I’m trapped inside a gold Honda Odyssey van,” he said.

Banging can be heard in the background.

“I probably don’t have much time left. Tell my Mom I love her, if I die,” Kyle tells the 911 operator.

The call lasted more than 2½ minutes. There is no response from the operator on the recording.

Kyle is found

Later that night, a school classmate told Kyle’s parents that he had seen Kyle after school heading towards the van in the parking lot. But that Kyle didn’t show up for his tennis match.

A family member reported him missing to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department, Chief Isaac said.

“My son never came home from school and we thought he was at a tennis match and he never came home from school,” Kyle’s mom said, according to CNN affiliat WCPO.

His father used a phone locating app, which took him to the school parking lot, Saunders said.

Around 9 p.m., 911 dispatchers received a call that Kyle had been found in the minivan.

How he died

“He was stuck, looks like he was turned over in the seat, he’s stuck there. He’s been there for a while,” one caller says.

Deters, the Hamilton County prosecutor, “this young man was trapped in the third row bench seat.”

A preliminary autopsy ruled that Kyle died of “asphyxia due to chest compression.” In other words, his death wasn’t the result of foul play or drugs. It was accidental; he suffocated because something was limiting the expansion of his chest and lungs and he couldn’t breathe.

Honda’s response

“I’m not certain at this point if we’re talking about an equipment malfunction or some type of other user error possibly,” Chief Isaac said.

When asked about the incident by CNN, a Honda spokesperson said, “while we’ve heard about this tragic incident through media coverage, we have not yet received any formal report or claim related to this incident or any official details.

Thus, Honda said, “it’s premature to speculate on any potential actions.”

The company did add there have been no recalls affecting the seats of the 2002 Honda Odyssey in the US.

Call operator on leave

The operator who took the second 911 call is currently on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, Chief Isaac said.

“On the second 911 call, something has gone terribly wrong. This young man was crying out for help. We weren’t able to get that information to the officers on the scene and we need to find out why,” he said.

Mayor John Cranley said “the events leading up to Kyle’s death are devastating and also raise concerning questions about our City’s emergency 911 system and police response.”

The school’s response

“Kyle joined the Seven Hills community in the sixth grade. He was a young man of keen intelligence, good humor and great courage, and this whole community feels this loss very deeply, ” said a statement from Seven Hills School obtained by CNN affiliate WLWT.

Mercy Montessori, where Kyle went for early education, released a statement saying, “Our Mercy hearts are heavy.”

“Kyle’s gentle spirit made it a joy for others to be around him,” principal Patty Normille said to WCPO in a statement. “We lovingly remember Kyle as creative, vibrant, and kind. Tonight we celebrate Kyle who was a truly remarkable child.”

Visitation is planned for Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati, with his funeral on Monday morning.