Sandy Hook 911 tapes: We have a right to hear but should we listen?

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Memorial of candles, flowers, stuffed animals, and cards for the children and 6 adults who died at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. RNS photo by Arthur McClanahan, Iowa United Methodist Conference

Memorial of candles, flowers, stuffed animals, and cards for the children and 6 adults who died at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. RNS photo by Arthur McClanahan, Iowa United Methodist Conference

Confusion. Chaos. Frantic pleas. Chilling sounds.

We don’t know — yet — what those moments of horror sounded like at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14, 2012 when Adam Lanza began killing. But we may all soon find the horrific soundtrack on our TV and mobile devices.

The Associated Press sought the release of the 911 tapes and it was granted by a state judge. He said holding back “only serves to fuel speculation about and undermine confidence in our law enforcement officials” although he called the reports “harrowing and disturbing.”


The 911 tapes between Sandy Hook Elementary School Staff and police, recording the shootings Dec. 14, were released to media Wednesday. Should they be played for the public?

Memorial of candles, flowers, stuffed animals, and cards for the children and 6 adults who died at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. RNS photo by Arthur McClanahan, Iowa United Methodist Conference

Now, media around the country and the world must decide if there really is news value in broadcasting the moments when Lanza went on his inexplicable rampage.

Twenty little children are dead. Six Sandy Hook staffers are dead. Lanza is dead. The 48-page Connecticut State Attorney’s Office report, issued last week, says we will never really know why.

I have a barrage of questions as we all sort through the ethical decisions ahead by news editors and, by us, the consumers of news.

Once in public domain, the tapes will likely turn up in other places, places not curated by editors who weigh the public’s right to know against … against what? Sensationalism for ratings? MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow was clear in her view — “No legitimate news value,” she said. Would you agree?

What can be learned from listening to the 911 tapes between terrified teachers, the custodian and others at the school and the police?

What do you think would justify playing the tapes for the public?  Would it be bringing the news to a public served by information that can empower their own lives? Or would it be exploiting both the dead, the wounded, their families and — and all of us — listen?

Do you want to hear the tapes? Why or why not?

Remember, the rule at Faith & Reason: All views respectfully presented are welcome.

  • Ian Clark

    My first reaction to the question was: maybe hearing the 911 calls will make this more real to people and spur people towards meaningful social change to combat gun violence. But then I reminded myself that we’re surrounded by such imagery and sounds and media, and yet we find our society digging in its heels and refusing to work towards meaningful action on weapons. Media of this sort has a tendency to polarize people rather than bring them together in shared horror.

    Listening to these 911 tapes, I fear, would satisfy nothing more than morbid voyueristic curiosity. It would turn a gut-wrenching tragedy into a paparazzi tabloid affair.

    Im not so sure I agree with the idea that 911 calls should be public information. They are often people’s most trying and emotionally sensitive moments. Just as I wouldn’t want my private phone calls published for public consumption, I wouldn’t want my private calls for help to be published.

    What benefit would this bring? Michael Moore has advocated releasing the crime scene photos as a way to shock people into social action. But it’s a step too far. And so is the release of the calls. If the idea of 20 children being shot to death in their school isn’t enough to change how we think about guns, we may need to spend a bit more time in quiet reflection.

  • Larry

    The question itself reminds me of the film Grizzly Man.

    The director/narrator Werner Herzog had an audio tape of the last moments of the subject Timothy Treadwell as he and his girlfriend are killed by a bear. He plays it for the people being interviewed in the film and shows their reactions but never plays the tape on the film.

    He got to play up the sensationalist elements, tease the heck out of the audience and still maintain a semblance of respectability.

    I think the tapes are of a better value for accurate re-enactments for documentaries and films. If they can do it for the phone-calls from the airplanes used in the September 11 attacks and accounts of Columbine, I see no reason why it couldn’t be done for Sandy Hook.

  • JB smith

    NSA and JNLWD are partnering with Virginia State Police and local police implanting people with biochips. Read “A Note on Uberveillance” by M. G. and Katina Michael. it enables Uberveillance. “In its ultimate form, überveillance has to do with more than automatic identification technologies that we carry with us. It has to do with under-the-skin technology that is embedded in the body, such as microchip implants; it is that which cuts into the flesh – a charagma (mark). Think of it as Big Brother on the inside looking out.” Newport News Police and Virginia State Police had a doctor implant me w/o my knowledge and consent with a biochip. A U. S. Attorney for the NSA/DOJ pretended to be my attorney. It enables torture and thought monitoring. They use it as a sensor and pulse energy projectiles at you. I had a heart attack. It enables voice to skull communication. See LRAD white papers or audio spotlight by Holosonics. Law enforcement believes we will only be safe if they know where we are at all times, what we are doing and what we are thinking! See Safeguards in a World of Ambient Intelligence by Springer page 9. See Mental Health and Terrorism by Amin Gadit. He states, “Of late, there are reports of a new and dreadful invention of weapons of violence that are called Bioelectromagnetic Weapons. According to the description by an Institute of Science in Society, these weapons operate at the speed of light, can kill, torture and enslave without making physical appearance. It further adds that voices and visions, daydreams and nightmares are the most astonishing manifestations of this weapon system, it is also capable of crippling the human subject by limiting his/her normal range of movement, causing acute pain the equivalent of major organ failure or even death and interferes with normal functions of human senses. It can cause difficulty with breathing and induce seizures besides damage to the tissues and organs. Through this form of terrorism, it is possible to persuade subjects that their mind is being read; their intellectual property is being plundered and can even motivate suicide or murder. Pulsed Energy projectiles (PEPs) are another form of weaponry that is used to paralyze a victim with pain. According to Peter Philips, a scientist from USA, circumstances may soon arrive in which anti-war or human right protestors suddenly feel a burning sensation akin to touching a hot skillet over their entire body. Simultaneously they may hear terrifying nauseating screaming, which while not produced externally, fills their brains with overwhelming disruption. This new invention is dreadful addition to the armamentarium of weapons of abuse and torture. Manifestations of the effects of these occult weapons can mimic mental ill health and add further to the misery of the victims.” See Bio Initiative Report 2012. See Forbes and search Brandon Raub. Law enforcement tases citizens into “excited delirium” (see at nij org) to make them act in ways they normally would not. I believe they are directly responsible for the Virginia Tech massacre. There are 3 reasons to have it implanted 1) mental health, 2) criminal record, and 3) infectious disease. If you don’t meet any of those requirements like me, they’ll falsify your records. All the mass shootings are the work of law enforcement. They want to take away your right to bear arms and make America a police state. People aren’t suddenly going crazy, they’re being tortured. I also believe the biochip to be responsible for PTSD. Read Brian Castner’s book “A Long Walk”. I have the same ambiguous pains, twitches, heart attack, night mares, day mares, gurgling, etc. I never served in the war. What do we have in common? The biochip. Suicide is one way to get relief. Virginia’s suicide rate is higher than the national average and the military suicide rate is unacceptable! You can check your upper right buttock, upper right shoulder. They are just under the skin.

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