911 Dispatchers Urged Sandy Hook Elementary School Callers To Take Cover
NEWTOWN, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Recordings released Wednesday of 911 calls from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting 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.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported Wednesday, one of the calls even came from a teacher who had been shot personally in the foot.
Few who called from inside the school that day could actually see what was happening, No one saw it all, but everyone understood something terrible was in progress.
One caller told police in a trembling, breathless voice that a gunman was shooting inside the building.
Web Extra: Transcript Of 911 Calls
“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, Rick Thorne, who said that a window at the front of the school was shattered and that he kept hearing shooting.
“The front glass is all shot out, it kept, it kept going on,” Thorne said in the call as he struggled to remain calm.
While on the line with Thorne, the dispatcher told somebody off the call: “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 to Newtown’s 911 dispatcher, as six or seven shots could be heard booming in the background. “Still, it’s still going on!”
An unidentified teacher called from a classroom to the left of the front entrance to report what sounded like gunshots in the hall. She said she was in the room with all her students and hadn’t yet locked the door.
“Keep everybody calm, keep everybody down, get everybody away from windows, OK,” the dispatcher said.
Another woman, who was shot in the foot, 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.
The gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, shot his way into the school the morning of Dec. 14 and killed 20 children and six educators with a semi-automatic rifle. He also killed his mother in their Newtown home before driving to the school, and he committed suicide as police arrived at the scene.
Newtown police officers arrived at the school within four minutes of the first 911 call, but nearly six minutes passed before they entered the building as they sorted out concerns over a possible second shooter, according to a prosecutor’s report issued last week.
It’s not clear whether the delay made a difference because Lanza killed himself one minute after the first officer arrived on the scene, according to the report.
In one of the recordings released Wednesday, dispatchers were heard making calls to Connecticut state police that apparently rang unanswered. One of the three unanswered calls rang for at least 50 seconds. State police picked up on a fourth call.
But state police had already been dispatched to the school by the time those calls were made, according to a timeline and call log supplied by Newtown officials.
In all, seven recordings of landline calls from inside the school to Newtown police were released. The calls were posted on the town’s website under a court order after a lengthy effort by numerous media outlets that pushed for the tapes to be released for review.
Calls that were routed to state police are the subject of a separate, pending freedom of information request by The Associated Press.
A state prosecutor dropped his fight to continue withholding the tapes this week after an order to provide them to the AP, which has sought the recordings in part to examine the police response to the Dec. 14 massacre.
The judge who had ordered their release said further delays bring speculation and can undermine confidence in law enforcement.
The prosecutor in charge of the Newtown investigation, State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky III, had argued that releasing the tapes could hurt the investigation, subject witnesses to harassment and violate survivors who deserve special protection as victims of child abuse.
A state Superior Court judge dismissed those arguments last week as he declined to keep the tapes sealed while Sedensky pursued an appeal of the commission’s order. Sedensky said Monday that he would not pursue the case further.
Release of the tapes was an event for which Newtown has been bracing. Leaders there recently told CBS 2’s Young they want all the information out so they can begin to move on.
“We’re able to handle what it is we have to handle, but the drip, drip, drip of information is harmful; it incapacitates,” said Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra. “Emotionally, we’re not able. We don’t know when the end is.”
“We’re in real uncharted territory here in terms of how we deal with the sharing of information, and have to deal with the scale of grief we’re dealing with,” added Rev. Matthew Crebbin of the Newtown Congregational Church.
Llodora told CBS 2’s Young recently that she understands the world’s interest in her town’s tragedy.
She has now endorsed a full disclosure of information just to get it over with.
“Let’s release what we have to release totally and accurately, in a way that is complete,” she said. “To have information released and dribbled out in a way that may or may not be accurate creates a level of anxiety because you don’t know the whole picture yet.”
And Rich Harwood, who guided the local discussion on the future of Sandy Hook Elementary, expects Newtown will turn again to its remarkable resolve and sense of community as it faces another challenge.
“In order for individuals, families and a community as a whole to heal, it simply requires time and there will be continued challenges as the community moves forward,” Harwood told WCBS 880’s Paul Murnane. “At each turn, the community has risen to the occasion and weathered the immediate storm.”
The report released last month noted that Lanza had mental health issues but did not determine a motive for one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.
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