Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Newtown 911 calls show panic, calm

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NEWTOWN, Conn. — With terror in her voice, Barbara Halstead begged with police dispatchers for help, ending her 24-second 911 call with the haunting plea: "Sandy Hook School please." In the background, 11 gunshots rang out.

Those shots fired by Adam Lanza were in the hallway of the school on Dec. 14. Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach were the first of 26 victims, including 20 first-graders, killed in the rampage.

After months of debate, Newtown officials Wednesday released six 911 calls received by the Police Department as the shooting was unfolding. Halstead's was the first made that morning. Custodian Rick Thorne could be heard on at least three. He spent more than 10 minutes on the phone with dispatchers.

The calls provide insight both into the terror faced by teachers and staff members and the poise with which they sought help in the face of immediate danger. The calls offer few new details on police response or Lanza's actions that morning.

Thorne's first call ended just as Lanza killed himself. His last ended with him urgently identifying himself to Newtown officers who entered the building nearly six minutes after they had arrived.

The operators can be heard trying to reassure callers while working to get police officers to the scene.

"Jen — get the sergeant — all right, get everybody you can going down there," one operator says to a colleague, who was on the line with Thorne.

Another call came from a teacher who calmly described being holed up in her classroom with her students and how she needed to lock her door. While not identified on the tape, the details of the call match those discussed in some media outlets by first-grade teacher Kaitlin Roig. The description of the classroom location also matches Roig's classroom.

In one call, an unidentified teacher who was shot in the foot tells the dispatcher that she is bleeding. She says there are children in the classroom with her, but the door is not locked and that she did not believe it was safe to lock it.

The 911 calls were released after a Superior Court judge denied an attempt by Danbury State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky to keep them sealed. Town officials also sought to keep the calls from becoming public, saying they were concerned about how the release would affect victims' families.

Lanza shot and killed his mother, Nancy, at their Newtown home before driving to the school, which he once attended. In a recently released report, Sedensky concluded that Lanza acted alone in planning and carrying out the massacre. But an 11-month investigation could not determine a motive in the second-deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Sedensky closed the investigation by announcing there would be no criminal charges filed in the case and releasing a report that portrayed Lanza as an isolated, socially inept 20-year-old with a fascination for mass killers that seems to have been developed as far back as the fifth grade.

Sedensky also released a detailed timeline of the events on the morning of Dec. 14 that shows that Newtown police officers were outside the school for more than five minutes before entering. He concluded that police believed there might have been more than one shooter and "acted accordingly."

A number of 911 calls made to State Police Troop L in Litchfield, many from cellphones, were not released Wednesday. They are expected to be among investigative documents released soon by State Police.

Those include calls from another teacher who was shot, Natalie Hammond, and a parent locked in the room where Hochsprung had been holding a meeting at the time Lanza shot his way through a glass window at the front entrance.

Halstead's call to Newtown police was made at 9:35:39 a.m. The office secretary told the dispatcher, "I think there's somebody shooting in here in Sandy Hook School."

Dispatcher Robert Nute replied, "Why do you think that?"

"Somebody's got a gun, I saw a glimpse of somebody running down the hallway, they're still around me, there's still shooting," Halstead said.

While Halstead's call was short, Thorne remained on the phone with dispatchers for several minutes, giving them a layout of the school. He called 911 at 9:36:13, telling the dispatcher he could hear gunshots.

"Everything is locked up as far as I know," Thorne said.

When the dispatcher asked if he saw anything out the window, Thorne replied, "No it's still going on. I can't get over there."

"Okay I don't want you to go over there. I want to know what's happening with the students along the front corridor," Nute said.

"I'm not in the front," Thorne replied.

"Do you see anything or hear anything more?" Nute asked.

"I keep hearing shooting, I keep hearing popping," Thorne said.

At one point, Thorne tells the dispatcher "now it is silent" but the shooting starts again. There are about six shots fired and then silence. About 30 seconds later, there is one last shot. Authorities have said the last shot is believed to have been from a pistol Lanza used to kill himself.

While Nute was on the phone with Thorne, a State Police dispatcher relayed to Newtown a call from the teacher who was shot in the foot. She told the dispatcher that she was huddled in Room 1 with students and two adults. The teacher told dispatcher Jennifer Barosi that her foot was bleeding.

"Are you safe?" Barosi asked.

"I think so. My classroom door is not locked," the teacher said.

The dispatcher instructs her to apply pressure to her wound.

"Are you okay for now?" Barosi asked.

"For now. Hopefully," the teacher replied.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

     
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