Mundelein police dispatcher Vicki Dorjath said Sept. 30 was just another ordinary Monday until a call came in at around 5:30 p.m.
On the other end of the line was a panicked woman saying her 3-year-old daughter had been taken from in front of their apartment complex on the 500 block of Deepwoods Drive.
"I was trying to get information, and the phone was being handed around on the other end," said Dorjath, 41. "I probably talked to four people maybe in a span of under a minute."
While Dorjath says the investigation "was definitely a team effort," she is among 20 finalists for the Smart Telecommunicator Award, a national honor given annually to a dispatcher who demonstrates leadership in their department, according to Jessica Rose, community marketing manager for Rave Mobile Safety, the company that hands out the award.
About 30 minutes after the initial call, the toddler was returned in a parking lot adjacent to the building.
During that time, Dorjath dispatched officers, and relayed information including a description of the alleged vehicle and, using a partial license plate and in-house databases, information on who might own that car.
Jose Reyes, 29, of the 4900 block of West North Avenue in Chicago, was arrested at his job in Libertyville on Oct. 2. He has been charged with kidnapping, aggravated kidnapping, predatory criminal sexual assault of a child and making and possessing child pornography.
Police say Reyes tried using the promise of candy to lure the 3-year-old and her 9-year-old sister into his car, a black 2007 Hyundai Accent. When that didn't work, police say he took the younger sibling and drove off with her.
As of a previous court date, Reyes was in isolation at the Lake County Jail. He is being held in lieu of $5 million bail. A judge recently ordered a psychological evaluation for him, and he is due back in court on April 30.
Dorjath said during the call, she feared for the girl's safety.
"I was very anxious throughout the call because, I was thinking to myself, 'If she doesn't get returned soon, this has got to end soon,'" she said.
Dorjath's supervisor Mike O'Brien and police Chief Eric Guenther nominated her.
"Not only is she a very experienced dispatcher, but this type of call is once every 10 years," O'Brien said of Dorjath, the department's longest-tenured telecommunicator. "It just doesn't happen. This call really affected everybody on a personal level, just because a small child is involved."
The nine-year veteran of the Mundelein police department, who doesn't have kids but has a niece and a nephew, said her training took over.
"There's no time to really think about it," she said. "You really don't react. You just have to act."
This is the award's third year.
Past recipients include the dispatcher who handled the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and a New York telecommunicator who led a mom through steps that saved her 17-year-old disabled daughter's life while she was choking.
The finalists come from all over the country, from Tewksbury, Mass. to Bellevue, Wash.
According to Rose, the 20 finalists were whittled down from a list of hundreds of nominations.
The winner receives a $1,000 donation to the charity of his or her choice, while regional honorees are given $500 for the same purpose.