Newtown 911 calls show anguish, tension
A bus drives past a sign reading Welcome to Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn. The 911 calls from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings released Wednesday show town dispatchers urged panicked callers to take cover, mobilized help and asked about the welfare of the children as the boom of gunfire could be heard at times in the background. The recordings are released under court order after a legal challenge from The Associated Press. AP photo
HARTFORD, Conn. — As gunfire boomed over and over in the background, a janitor begged a 911 dispatcher to send help, saying, “There’s still shooting going on! Please!” A woman breathlessly reported seeing a gunman run down a hall. And a teacher said she was holed up in her classroom with her children but hadn’t yet locked the door.
Recordings of 911 calls from last year’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting were released Wednesday, and they not only paint a picture of anguish and tension inside the building, they also show Newtown dispatchers mobilizing help, reassuring callers and urging them to take cover.
“Keep everybody calm. Keep everybody down. Get everybody away from windows, OK?” one dispatcher told the frightened teacher who reported hearing shots in the hall.
The calls were made public under a court order after a lengthy effort by The Associated Press.
Prosecutors had argued that releasing the recordings would only cause more anguish for the victims’ families.
The gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, shot his way through a plate-glass window at the front of the school on Dec. 14. The office staff saw the shooter, who was wearing a hat and sunglasses, as he entered the building with a rifle and began firing down a hallway.
One of the first callers to Newtown police was a woman who said in a trembling, out-of-breath voice: “I think there’s somebody shooting in here at Sandy Hook school.”
Asked what made her think so, she said: “Because somebody’s got a gun. I caught a glimpse of somebody. They’re running down the hallway. Oh, they’re still running. They’re still shooting. Sandy Hook school, please.”
Another woman, who was shot in the foot, calmly reported that she was in a classroom with children and two other adults, but that there was no way to safely lock the door. The dispatcher told her to apply pressure to the wound.
“OK, are you OK right now?” the dispatcher asked.
The woman answered: “For now, hopefully.”
Another call came from a custodian, Rick Thorne, who said that a window at the front of the school was shattered and that he kept hearing shooting.
While on the line with Thorne, the dispatcher told somebody else: “Get everyone you can going down there.”
Thorne remained on the phone for several minutes.
“There’s still shooting going on! Please!” the custodian pleaded as six or seven shots could be heard in the background. “Still, it’s still going on!”
Within 11 minutes of entering the school, Lanza had fatally shot 20 children and six educators with a semi-automatic rifle. Lanza also killed his mother in their Newtown home before driving to the school. He committed suicide as police closed in.
In all, seven recordings of landline calls from inside the school to Newtown police were posted Wednesday. Calls that were routed to state police are the subject of a separate, pending freedom of information request by the AP.
“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 organization.”
Christina Hassinger, the daughter of slain Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, praised the efforts of Thorne and the teachers who protected their students.
“The ability of the Sandy Hook teachers to keep calm in order to reassure their students during the most frightening time of their young lives was amazing. My mom would be proud,” Hassinger said.
Teresa Rousseau, whose daughter Lauren was among the six educators killed, said she hadn’t listened to the tapes: “The way we keep our sanity is to start ignoring this stuff.”