Newtown Releases the Harrowing 911 Calls From Inside Sandy Hook

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 4 2013 2:42 PM

Newtown Releases the Harrowing 911 Calls From Inside Sandy Hook

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State Police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance briefs the media and answers questions about the elementary school shooting during a press conference at Treadwell Memorial Park on December 15, 2012 in Newtown, Conn.

Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The town of Newtown on Wednesday released recordings of more than a half-dozen 911 calls from the morning of last year's tragic Sandy Hook shooting that left 20 first-graders, six school staff members, and the 20-year-old gunman dead.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Given the subject matter, the audio clips are obviously difficult to listen to, but throughout all seven of them you can hear town dispatchers reacting calmly to the unthinkable, urging the panicked callers from inside the school to take cover.

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In one of the more intense moments among many of them, a dispatcher urges an injured staffer to apply pressure to a gunshot wound to her leg. "Are you OK right now?" the dispatcher asks. "For now, hopefully," the unidentified injured woman responds. In another, a teacher and a dispatcher discuss whether she should risk moving toward her classroom door to lock it. In a third, custodian Rick Thorne says he "keeps hearing popping noises."

According to dispatch records that had previously been released, the first 911 call came in moments before 9:36 a.m. and authorities say that the first officer arrived at the school a minute and a half later.

Newtown officials released the recordings this afternoon after a court ruled in favor of the Associated Press and other media outlets that had pushed for their release. All were made from landlines to Newtown police; other calls that were routed to state police are the subject of a separate and still-pending FOIA request.

There's been plenty of debate over whether the audio of 911 calls should be made public and, likewise, whether media outlets should publish them. I'm embedding the audio clips as published by the New Haven Register below not because the calls aren't harrowing and disturbing, but because they are. Obviously I don't recommend them for children or the faint of heart, but for the rest of us they provide an incredibly small window into a tragic event that remains largely incomprehensible nearly one year after it happened.

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