MILFORD, Connecticut (Reuters) - Families of the victims of the Connecticut elementary school massacre are fighting to keep graphic crime scene photos and audio recordings from being released to the public under the state’s freedom of information law.
Connecticut lawmakers are considering a bill to seal the records of the Newtown shooting and face a deadline of midnight on Wednesday when the legislative session ends. The state’s Democratic governor and Republican Senate minority leader support what they call a narrow exception to the freedom of information law, while some lawmakers worry that the bill could allow victims of other crimes to suppress public information.
The legislation had been drafted in secret until the Hartford Courant newspaper reported on May 21 that the staffs of the state’s top prosecutor and the governor’s office were working with legislators on a law to suppress the Newtown files.
On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, 20, shot dead 20 school children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed himself as police closed in on him at the school. He also shot dead his mother before the rampage.
The massacre shocked and horrified the public and revived the gun control debate in the United States.
Once state authorities release a final investigative report on the massacre, the images and audio would be available to the public under the state’s freedom of information law.
The families, fearing irresponsible dissemination of the material on the Internet, say they are urgently seeking the legislation now because the state’s investigative report is expected to come out before the state legislature reconvenes next February. Representatives for all 26 families have signed a petition supporting the legislation, a spokeswoman for the families said.
“There’s no reason for anyone to see those photos and put all the families and our community through that devastation all over again,” said Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son Dylan was killed that day. “Unfortunately, because of the international interest in this crime, many people want the photos and the audiotapes for personal and political reasons. Bloggers and the internet only make it worse.”
The Democratic-controlled legislature has expressed unwillingness to pass a broadly worded bill that would allow other crime victims to suppress public information, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut cautioned against a Newtown exemption with such haste.
“All government records should be available to the public by default,” said Sandra Staub, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. “If there’s a compelling public policy reason to exempt some records, the exemption should be narrowly tailored and justified with a full hearing conducted with an open opportunity for public comment.”
The debate was inflamed by a web posting by documentary filmmaker and outspoken gun control advocate Michael Moore, who predicted someone would leak the photos and speculated it would result in a political setback for the National Rifle Association pro-gun lobby.
Hockley said she wanted to protect her 8-year-old son Jake from being traumatized again by the “sights and sounds of that horrible day.”
Nelba Marquez-Greene, whose 6-year-old daughter Ana was killed during the rampage, said she and her family were “horrified” the photos and audio recordings could be released.
“This was a national tragedy, but it is very private to us,” Marquez-Greene said.
Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy and Senate Republican Minority Leader John McKinney support sealing the images.
“Listen, I‘m going to stand with the parents,” Malloy said. “I want to protect them. I don’t think these pictures should be released.”
McKinney, whose district includes Newtown, said he was “unapologetic about supporting their efforts.”
Editing by Daniel Trotta and Lisa Shumaker