911 calls made during Sandy Hook school shootings released

Calls capture horror of mass shooting that left 20 children and six members of staff dead

Anne Alzapiedi, of the Newtown Selectman’s office waits for journalists to pick up the 911 recordings in Danbury, Connecticut yesterday . Photograph: Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters

Anne Alzapiedi, of the Newtown Selectman’s office waits for journalists to pick up the 911 recordings in Danbury, Connecticut yesterday . Photograph: Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters


The operators are calm; most of the callers are not. One teacher tells an operator on a 911 emergency phone call that she is in a classroom just inside the door of Sandy Hook elementary school with her students.

“It sounds like there are gunshots in the hallway,” she says. The operator asks if the door is locked. “The door is not locked yet,” she says. Her voice is tense. Her breathing has quickened.

Almost a year after Adam Lanza (20) blasted his way into the Newtown, Connecticut, school and murdered 20 children and six staff with a semi-automatic rifle before turning a gun on himself, the 911 calls made on that December day were made public.

They capture the horror of a mass shooting that shocked the United States, sparked a national debate about gun violence, child protection and mental health, and led some states to introduce strict gun controls.

Door broken
School caretaker Rick Thorne tells one 911 operator that the door at the front of the school has been broken. “I keep hearing shooting,” he says in the call. “I keep hearing popping.”

His call lasts 10 minutes. The longer the shooting goes on the more alarmed he gets. “There is still shooting going on. Please!” he says, with a popping noise in the background. “Still, it’s going on!”

The emergency dispatchers coolly ask the callers what’s happening, whether the children are safe, whether there are other adults in the room. You can hear the distress in the breathless responses. A female teacher on one call has been shot in the foot and cannot get to a classroom door to lock it. The dispatcher tells her to put pressure on the wound.

Sounding strangely calm, seeming almost in shock, she says there are two other adults in the room with her on the other side of a bookshelf.

Sandy Hook 911 call

Sandy Hook Call 2

“Are you okay?” asks the dispatcher. “For now, hopefully,” she replies.

Seven recordings of landline calls from inside Sandy Hook school to Newtown police were released.

The calls show the professionalism of the 911 operators, how they tried to reassure the panicked callers and dispatched police and emergency services as quickly as possible to respond to the 11-minute rampage by a lone gunman.

For many in a quiet town in northeastern US still struggling to cope with the tragedy ahead of the first anniversary on December 14th, the release of recorded 911 calls are not welcome.

Connecticut state attorney Stephen Sedensky, the prosecutor in the investigation into the Sandy Hook shootings, tried to stop the release of the tapes, arguing that the calls could prove painful for the families of the victims, damage the investigation and violate the rights of survivors.

But a Connecticut judge upheld a Freedom of Information Act request from the Associated Press for the tapes to be released, saying they would “allow the public to consider and weigh what improvements, if any, should be made to law enforcement’s response to such incidents”. The AP news wire agency defended its request to seek the release of the tapes.

‘Horrible crime’
“We all understand why some people have strong feelings about the release of these tapes. This is a horrible crime,” said AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll. “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 organisation.”

There were differing views among the Newtown families about whether the tapes should have been released. Most were opposed.

“It will affect our community certainly and it will affect our families,” said Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan (6) was one of Lanza’s victims. “I think as parents it’s just down to us to ensure our children and families are protected from hearing those for as long as possible,” she told the MSNBC news network.

Gilles Rousseau, whose daughter Lauren, a teacher, was murdered by Lanza, said: “The more the public knows, there will be less confusion, there will be less people making stories about what happened.”

Amid the renewed interest in the shootings, the media has also been asked to stay away from the town around the first anniversary.

The new tapes shed no further light on one mystery behind the second-deadliest mass shooting at a US school: why Lanza murdered 26 people after shooting dead his mother in their nearby home. Last month a report by Connecticut state’s attorney office showed that Lanza, a psychologically troubled gun fanatic, was obsessed with school shootings and carefully planned the attack but revealed no clear motive.

As the anniversary approaches, this is no closer to being explained, nor is the US Congress any closer to enacting changes to federal gun laws in response to the Newtown tragedy.