Police release calls from Sandy Hook massacre

Last updated 10:42 05/12/2013

US police forced to release the 911 calls the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, which killed 26 people.

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ADREES LATIF / Reuters
A man grieves for residents of the school massacre at the entrance to Sandy Hook village last December.

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A teacher calmly explains she has been shot in the foot. Another woman, sounding anguished, pleads for help. A custodian relays information from officers at the scene to a police operator.

There is also the booming echo of gunshots.

US officials in Newtown, Connecticut, have released audio recordings of emergency 911 phone calls from the Connecticut school shooting that killed 20 children and six teachers almost a year ago, revealing raw emotion in the voice of the callers.

The audio files may be the final pieces of evidence released about the tragedy that rocked the US on December 14, 2012, when gunman Adam Lanza, 20, shot dead his mother at home and then went to Sandy Hook Elementary school, where he massacred 26 people before killing himself.

"They're still running, they're still shooting," pleaded one woman, sounding increasingly distraught over the course of the 24-second call. In the final seconds, she grows more insistent, pleading with the 911 operator for help.

"Sandy Hook school, please!" she said.

With a volley of several gunshots audible in the background, she moans.

Town officials initially tried to prevent the release of the recordings. The state Freedom of Information Commission ordered calls placed from inside the elementary school to be aired.

Late last month, a judge ruled the town must comply with the commission's order, and Newtown officials have since dropped their appeal. First Selectman Patricia Llodra recently reversed her long-standing position, saying the tapes should be released in full in order to prevent partial leaks.

Seven files were released, two of which were identical.

On one, a woman who described herself as a teacher said she was shot in the foot. The 911 operator instructed her to apply pressure to the wound.

"There's children in this room," the teacher said, sighing heavily.

"Are you OK right now?" the 911 operator asks?

"For now, hopefully," the teacher said.

Another caller, custodian Rick Thorne, appeared to play an important role helping police piece together events early on.

Sounding composed, he told police the gunfire had stopped. Moments later the silence is broken by more gunshots.

"There's still shooting going on, please," Thorne said, sounding more urgent.

On another call, Thorne is heard identifying himself as a custodian to officers who had just arrived at the scene. He then replays information between those officers and the operator, repeating their questions and answers to each other.

"Victims in the buildings," Thorne said.

"How many" he asked, relaying the question the operator.

"Two down," he responded, repeating the response from the officer.

Earlier, Newtown School Superintendent John Reed had emailed parents to alert them to the recordings' release and warning them they could serve as an "emotional trigger."

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Last week, State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky released a report on the Newtown massacre that concluded Lanza had acted alone, and that his motivation for the attack "may never be answered."

The town has intended for the 911 recordings to be the final release of evidence from the case. Other phone calls and crime scene photographs exist but have been sealed by state officials

Otherwise, once the December 14 anniversary has passed, the town may finally get a reprieve from the exhaustive media coverage of the past year.

"Vulture media, you got your tapes," read a hand-painted sign on a telephone pole in Newtown. "Please leave."

PUBLIC RECORDS

In all, seven recordings of landline calls from inside the school to Newtown police were posted today. Calls that were routed to state police are the subject of a separate, pending freedom of information request by the AP.

Prosecutors opposed the tapes' release, arguing among other things that the recordings could cause the victims' families more anguish.

"We all understand why some people have strong feelings about the release of these tapes. This was a horrible crime," said Kathleen Carroll, AP executive editor and senior vice president. "It's important to remember, though, that 911 tapes, like other police documents, are public records. Reviewing them is a part of normal newsgathering in a responsible news organisation."

On the day of the shooting, the AP requested 911 calls and police reports, as it and other news organisations routinely do in their newsgathering.

Newtown's police department effectively ignored the AP's request for months until the news cooperative appealed to the state's Freedom of Information Commission, which said in September that the recordings should be released.

The prosecutor in charge of the Newtown investigation, State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky III, had argued that releasing the tapes could cause pain for the victims' families, hurt the investigation, subject witnesses to harassment and violate the rights of survivors who deserve special protection as victims of child abuse.

A state judge dismissed those arguments last week and ordered the tapes be released unless the state appealed.

"Release of the audio recordings will also allow the public to consider and weigh what improvements, if any, should be made to law enforcement's response to such incidents," Superior Court Judge Eliot Prescott said.

"Delaying the release of the audio recordings, particularly where the legal justification to keep them confidential is lacking, only serves to fuel speculation about and undermine confidence in our law enforcement officials."

- AP

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