Newtown 911 calls released: Superintendent warns of 'emotional trigger'

Despite the efforts of some Newtown officials to prevent their release, audio files of 911 calls placed from Sandy Hook Elementary School during last year's shooting were made public on Wednesday. 

REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin
A sign expressing displeasure with the media is tacked on a pole in Newtown, Connecticut. Some members of the community felt the decision to release 911 audio files from last year's Sandy Hook school shooting should have rested with the families of the victims.

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.

Officials in Newtown, Connecticut, on Wednesday released audio recordings of emergency 911 phone calls from the Connecticut school shooting that killed 20 children and six educators 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 United States on Dec. 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 from the operator.

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

On Tuesday, 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."

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."

Among those who opposed release of the recordings was Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, a Sandy Hook first-grade teacher who hid in the bathroom along with her students during the shootings.

"I don't understand the reasoning for the general public to hear them," Roig-DeBellis told Reuters, saying the decision should have rested with the families of the victims and people who were in the school that day. "The families, they've already experienced such immeasurable pain and loss and sadness."

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 Dec. 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 on Wednesday. "Please leave."

(Additional reporting by Chris Francescani, Elizabeth Dilts and Curtis Skinner; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Gunna Dickson)

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