NEWTOWN, Conn. — A community still reeling from last December's Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre relived its horrors Wednesday as police released audio tapes of the chilling 911 calls made by frightened survivors as the shooting unfolded.
"I believe there's shooting at the front glass,'' school custodian Rick Thorne tells a Newtown police dispatcher, providing authorities an initial glimpse into the carnage wrought by Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old who killed his mother, Nancy, at their Newtown home before breaking into his former school, killing 20 students and six staffers with a semiautomatic assault rifle then taking his own life Dec. 14.
"I keep hearing shooting, I keep hearing popping. … Now it's silent. …There's still shooting going on, please," says Thorne, who serves as the real-time eyes and ears of one of the most heart-wrenching mass shootings in U.S. history.
An unidentified woman shot in the foot also calls, telling a dispatcher in an eerily calm voice that she's hiding in a classroom with children and two adults, unable to lock the door. The dispatcher urges her to apply pressure to the wound. Asked if she's OK, the woman responds; "For now, hopefully."
A third teacher, panicked by Lanza's onslaught, hides in a classroom with students. A dispatcher urges her to lock the door and "keep everyone calm, keep everyone down, keep everyone from the windows."
Sandy Hook school shooting 911 audio: Tape 1
Sandy Hook school shooting 911 audio: Tape 2
Sandy Hook school shooting 911 audio: Tape 3
Sandy Hook school shooting 911 audio: Tape 4
Sandy Hook school shooting 911 audio: Tape 5
The 911 calls underscore the chaos and trauma of Lanza's rampage. But like the 48-page November report by the Connecticut state attorney's office that provided chilling details about his troubled, isolated life and chronicled the 11-minute shooting spree, the 911 transcripts provide no motive for Lanza's actions nor why he targeted his former school.
The Associated Press had fought for disclosure of the 911 calls, which local and state officials had fought for the past year, fearing they would reopen the wounds that rocked genteel Newtown to its core.
Release of the tapes creates "a new layer of pain for many in the Newtown community," said First Selectman Pat Llodra, the town's chief executive. "Hearing those calls takes us back to a day of horror and tragedy."
A ruling that the tapes should be made public came last week. "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," said New Britain Superior Court Judge Eliot Prescott.
Still, several media organizations, including ABC, NBC and local media, said Wednesday that they would not air audio of the 911 calls. CNN said it was still reviewing the tapes.
Teresa Rousseau, whose daughter Lauren, a substitute teacher, was among the six Sandy Hook staffers killed, said she hadn't listened to the tapes: "The way we keep our sanity is to start ignoring this stuff," said Rousseau, an editor at the Danbury News-Times. "I think there's a big difference between secrecy and privacy. We have these laws so government isn't secret, not so we're invading victims' privacy."
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Richard Harwood of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation assisted Newtown residents after the shootings. Wednesday's release of the 911 calls will not help a community grappling with closure as the one-year anniversary of the event nears, he says.
"I think it's going to be tormenting,'' Harwood said. "At each turn, the people of Newtown have been asked to relive this tragedy. Last week's state report, now this — it's a lot to handle."
Still, Sandy Hook resident Rob Cox says now that the state police investigative report and 911 calls are out, he's confident that Newtown can move forward.
"Each of these revelations reopens the wound a little bit," Cox says. "They also reinforce the fact that we will never know what propelled this troubled kid to commit such malice, but we can try to move forward in ways that ensure it never happens to another town like ours."
Contributing: The Associated Press