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Emergency calls released from US school shooting

December 5, 2013

HARTFORD, Connecticut (AP) — Recordings of emergency calls released Wednesday of the U.S. school shooting a year ago show town dispatchers urged panicked callers to take cover as gunshots could be heard in the background.

The gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, shot his way into the Connecticut 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 home before driving to the school, and he killed himself as police arrived.

The 911 emergency calls were posted on the town’s website under a court order after a lengthy effort by The Associated Press to have them released for review.

One caller told police in a trembling, breathless voice that a gunman was shooting inside the building.

“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 of the first calls came from a custodian, Rick Thorne, who said a window at the front of the school was shattered and that he kept hearing shooting.

Thorne remained on the phone for several minutes.

“There’s still shooting going on, please!” the custodian pleaded to the emergency dispatcher, as six or seven shots could be heard in the background. “Still, it’s still going on!”

Newtown police officers arrived at the school within four minutes of the first 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 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.

Prosecutors opposed the tapes’ 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.”

On the day of the shooting, the AP requested the emergency calls and police reports, as it and other news organizations routinely do in their newsgathering.

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Gillum reported from Washington.