HARTFORD, Conn. — Recordings of several 911 calls made from inside Sandy Hook Elementary during last year’s school shooting are being released under court order Wednesday after a legal fight by The Associated Press.
The AP has been asking for an opportunity to review the tapes, which will now be released Wednesday to the news cooperative in addition to other media organizations. The AP will review the tapes’ content and determine what might meet its standards before releasing material to subscribers.
Prosecutors opposed their 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 organization.”
A total of seven landline calls from inside the school to Newtown police are expected to be released.
Calls that were made from cellphones and routed to state police dispatchers are not among the tapes to be released. Those include calls from a woman who was injured in the foot and a parent who called from inside a conference room during the shooting, according to documents released last week by prosecutors. The calls are the subject of a separate, pending freedom of information request by the AP.
The gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School the morning of Dec. 14 and gunned down 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.
On the day of the shooting, the AP requested 911 calls and police reports, as it and other news organizations routinely do in their newsgathering.
Newtown’s police department effectively ignored the 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,” New Britain 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.”
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.