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One year on, Newtown voices revive pain of massacre

05 december 2013, 13:05
Street artist Mark Panzarino, 41, prepares a memorial as he writes the names of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims. ©Reuters/Eduardo Munoz
Street artist Mark Panzarino, 41, prepares a memorial as he writes the names of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims. ©Reuters/Eduardo Munoz
One year after a gunman burst into a US school and slaughtered 20 small children and six adults, the voices of their trapped and terrified protectors returned Wednesday to haunt survivors, AFP reports.

After a freedom of information lawsuit, US authorities released seven recordings of emergency calls made from Sandy Hook Elementary School as the killer stalked the classrooms.

The tapes, released despite resistance from the families of some of the slain six-year-old victims, record eerily calm operators warning wounded callers to take cover and try to staunch their bleeding.

On December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut, 20-year-old Adam Lanza took less than 11 minutes to carry out one of the deadliest school shootings ever seen in America.

The massacre was just the latest in a series of deadly shooting sprees across the country, and inspired a short-lived and ultimately failed drive to tighten US gun ownership rules.

The tapes record how a teacher, shot in the foot, speaks calmly to the operator. She says her classroom door is not locked and that there are children in the room.

"Try to apply pressure," she is told, "People are coming."

"I think there's somebody shooting in here, Sandy Hook school," says an audibly upset woman. "I caught a glimpse of somebody there running down the hallway... there's still shooting."

A man in the corridor told 911 that the front glass had been shot out. Over bursts of gunfire, he said: "It's still happening."

The responder tells him to take cover as he orders officers to get everyone they can down to the scene. "I keep hearing shooting, I keep hearing popping," the man said.

The Associated Press news agency took legal action to get the calls released and the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission ruled that the recordings should be made public.

Although 911 calls are public records officials had argued they be withheld so as not to upset families of the victims.

Television channels were cautious on whether to broadcast part or all of the tapes, deferring a final decision until after they had listened to the recordings.

Dean Pinto, whose six-year-old son Jack was killed, had told a hearing that the audio recordings could "further victimize the surviving children and teachers who witnessed their friends being killed and the families of those who lost their lives".

But Gilles Rousseau, whose teacher daughter Lauren was one of those killed, said it was better to know.

"I think the more the public knows there will be less confusion, there will be less people making up stories about what happened," told NBC television before Wednesday's release.

The calls were made available a week after the official investigation was unable to find a motive for the massacre other than conclude that the killer was obsessed with mass murders.

Lanza shot dead his mother in her bed, then drove to the school.

He killed the principal and school psychologist in the hallway, then entered two first-grade classrooms, killing two adults in each room, 15 children in one classroom and five in the other.

Police arrived less than four minutes after receiving an emergency call. But Lanza killed himself a minute later with a single shot with a pistol.

The official investigation said Lanza had "significant mental health issues" and was obsessed with mass murders, especially the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado that killed 13 people.

The weapons he used for the killings and a large number of firearms found in his home were all bought legally.

Although the Newtown killings renewed the emotional debate about gun control in America, opposition in Congress to tighter firearm ownership rules thwarted a short-lived drive for reform.

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