NEWTOWN, Conn. - Emergency dispatchers at the Newtown Police Department warned a panicked teacher to protect herself and her students, urged another staffer to apply pressure to a gunshot wound to her leg and told the school custodian to take cover as the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre unfolded.
The advice came via 911 exchanges between school staffers and dispatchers minutes after gunman Adam Lanza began shooting inside the school. He would kill 20 students and six staffers with a semiautomatic assault rifle before taking his own life. Earlier that day, Lanza, 20, shot his mother, Nancy, at their Newtown home.
Tapes of the 911 calls were released Wednesday afternoon, nearly a year after the Dec.14 massacre rocked this genteel community. Officials said they would not release the names of the dispatchers, whose response to an incoming flood of fear-ridden calls was calm, deliberate and reassuring even as gunshots are audible in the background.
On the tapes, custodian Rick Thorne tells dispatchers that he "keeps hearing popping noises'' before he's warned to take cover. On another call, an unidentified teacher says "it sounds like there are gunshots in the hallway" before she goes to lock the door to her classroom.
A dispatcher tells her to ''keep everyone calm, keep everyone down, keep everyone from the windows."
The unidentified wounded teacher, shot in a hallway, retreats to a classroom. A dispatcher asks "Are you okay right now?" and the teacher responds; "For now, hopefully."
The 911 calls underscore the chaos and confusion that occurred on the morning of the shootings. But like the report released last week by the Connecticut State Attorney's Office that chronicled the shooting spree and provided chilling details about Lanza's troubled, isolated life, the 911 transcripts provide no motive for his actions or why he targeted his former school.
Newtown and state officials had fought release of the tapes of the 911 calls to protect victims and families. But a state judge ruled that the recordings should be made public.
"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.
Newtown School Superintendent John Reed advised parents to limit media exposure to students.
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."
Richard Harwood of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation assisted Newtown residents following the shootings. Wednesday's release of the 911 calls won't help a community that continues to grapple with closure, he said.
"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."
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 re-opens the wound a little bit," says Cox. "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."
The Associated Press had fought for disclosure of the 911 calls.
"We all understand why some people have strong feelings about the release of these tapes. This was 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 news gathering in a responsible news organization."