UK & World News

  • 5 December 2013, 3:55

Newtown 911 Tapes: Shots Heard In Recordings

Recordings of emergency calls from the Sandy Hook school shooting reveal a mixture of calm and anguish from the callers as gunshots could be heard at times in the background.

The gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, shot his way into the school the morning of December 14 last year and killed 20 children and six staff with a semi-automatic rifle.

Lanza, who had earlier killed his mother in their Newtown home, committed suicide at the school.

The 911 calls were posted on the town's website under a court order after a lengthy effort by the Associated Press (AP) to have them released for review.

One caller told police that a gunman was shooting inside the building.

"I caught a glimpse of somebody. They're running down the hallway. Oh, they're still running and still shooting. Sandy Hook school, please," the woman said.

In the minutes that followed, staff members inside the school pleaded for help as Newtown police juggled the barrage of calls.

One call came from a custodian in the school, Rick Thorne, who said that a window at the front was shattered and that he kept hearing shooting. 

Mr Thorne remained on the phone for several minutes.

"There's still shooting going on, please!" he pleaded to Newtown's 911 dispatcher, as six or seven shots could be heard booming in the background. "Still, it's still going on!"

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

As the town prepared to release the tapes, the superintendent of Newtown schools, John Reed, advised parents to consider taking steps to limit media exposure for their families, as he did before the release last week of a prosecutor's report on the attack.

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

Newtown's police department did not act on 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 prove painful to 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 Wednesday 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."

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