Newtown 911 calls show calm response to shooting

12:27 PM, Dec 4, 2013   |    comments
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The advice came via 911 exchanges between school staffers and 911 dispatchers minutes after gunman Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 students and six staffers with a semi-automatic assault rifle before taking his own life. Earlier that day, Lanza, 20, shot his mother, Nancy, at their Newtown home.

Tapes of the 911 calls were released Wednesday afternoon, nearly a year after the Dec.14 massacre rocked this genteel community. Officials said they would not release the names of the dispatchers, whose responses to the emergency calls were calm, deliberate and reassuring.

On the tapes, custodian Rick Thorne tells dispatchers that he "keeps hearing popping noises'' before he's warned to take cover. On another call, an unidentified teacher says "it sounds like there are gunshots in the hallway." A dispatcher tells her to ''keep everyone calm, keep everyone down, keep everyone from the windows."

The unidentified wounded teacher, shot in a hallway, retreats to a classroom. A dispatcher asks "Are you okay right now?" and the teacher responds; "For now, hopefully."

The 911 calls underscore the chaos and confusion that occurred on the morning of the shootings.

But like the report released last week by the Connecticut State Attorney's Office that chronicled the shooting spree and provided chilling details about Lanza's troubled, isolated life, the tapes provide no motive for his actions or why the Sandy Hook school was targeted.

Newtown and state officials had fought release of the tapes - which include a 10-minute call by school custodian Rick Thorne and six others - to protect victims and families.

But a state judge ruled that the recordings should be made public. "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, " said New Britain Superior Court Judge Eliot Prescott.

Newtown school superintendent John Reed advised parents to limit media exposure to students.

Release of the tapes creates "a new layer of pain for many in the Newtown community," says Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra, the town's chief executive. "Hearing those calls takes us back to a day of horror and tragedy."

Richard Harwood of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation assisted Newtown residents following the shootings. Today's release of the 911 calls won't help a community that continues to grapple with closure, he says.

"I think it's going to be tormenting,'' Harwood says. "At each turn, the people of Newtown have been asked to relive this tragedy. Last week's state report, now this - it's a lot to handle."

The state's report said the first police officer arrived at the school within four minutes of the first 911 call - about one minute before Lanza shot himself.

"The calls are going to be gut-wrenching. My hope is that the folks in Newtown will be able work through yet another challenge,'' he says. "The healing process is on-going."

The Associated Press had fought for release of the tapes.

"We all understand why some people have strong feelings about the release of these tapes. This was a horrible crime," says AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll. "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 organization."


The Newtown Police Department posted the following statement on their website: 

The Newtown Police Department wishes to express its deepest sympathies to the families of those lost in the senseless tragedy that visited Sandy Hook Elementary School and to the entire Town of Newtown on Friday, December 14, 2012.

First, let me offer my praise to our teachers and school staff.  They became first responders to unimaginable chaos and violence.  Their actions under fire to protect the children inspire us all.  Equally inspiring was the courage of our children in helping their classmates.

Our police, fire, and emergency medical personnel reacted quickly and without hesitation, rapidly responding to Sandy Hook Elementary School. Their professionalism was heartwarming to witness; our community is proud of them.

I appreciate the many area police departments and the Connecticut State Police, who have provided immediate assistance in our time of need. The unconditional support of the law enforcement community as we investigate and recover has been overwhelming.

Processing multiple crime scenes in Newtown, conducting countless interviews, and analyzing all of the evidence is very daunting and time-consuming task. Newtown Police Officers are working with state and federal authorities to thoroughly and professionally analyze all aspects of this crime as we seek answers.

I would like to reassure the people of Newtown that our schools are safe.  The staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School had taken all reasonable precautions to provide a safe learning environment to the faculty and students of the school.  Those precautions clearly saved lives.

I thank the community for its support of the Newtown Police Department. We much appreciate the outpouring of food, gifts, and expressions of support to our agency.

The Newtown Police Department will work with our community partners to restore a sense of security and normalcy to Newtown.  Our law enforcement professionals are committed to helping the community through this difficult period.  It is my honor to be associated with such fine people.

Chief Michael K. Kehoe

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