Initial reports suggested there were multiple shooters, but police later claimed the shooting was done by one lone shooter, Adam Lanza, whose brother was mistakenly identified as the shooter initially. Lanza's mother, Nancy, was originally reported to be a kindergarten teacher at the school where she had supposedly been killed by her son. It later turned out that she was found shot to death in her home and had never been a teacher, let alone taught at the elementary school where the shootings took place. Neighbors in the small town seemed to know little about the Lanza family, and the alleged shooter hadn't been seen publicly in years. The AP reports on the move that has advocates for freedom of information voicing concerns.
The proposal is in a bill privately crafted by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's office, the state's top prosecutor and legislative leaders. It would allow authorities to withhold from the public photographs, videos, 911 call recordings and other records depicting the physical condition of any victim of the Dec. 14 shootings, unless the family gives written permission.
The legislation would bar the release of emergency responders' audio transmissions but allow the public to view transcripts of the recordings at a cost of 50 cents a page. The bill also would limit disclosure of the death certificates of the 20 first-graders and six educators killed in the attack to immediate family members only.
Media groups and advocates of public records laws worry the bill, which is pending, would set a bad precedent by exempting specific incidents from FOI laws. They say it would encourage other crime victims to ask the state to limit disclosure of records now routinely released to the public, and it appears to make the Newtown killings more important than the dozens of other killings in Connecticut each year.
They also question the bill being drafted in secrecy and not being subjected to the public hearing process like other bills are. The legislative session ends next Wednesday.
"If you hide away documents from the public, then the public has no way of knowing whether police ... have done their jobs correctly," said Sonny Albarado, city editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and board president of the Society of Professional Journalists, a free press advocacy group based in Indianapolis.
"It sets a tone where it makes it easier to hide other things, and the public suffers, in my view," Albarado said. "Obviously, the mass murder of 26 people is a very horrific crime. But 26 people die regularly in most large towns within a few weeks or within a few months and we don't express the same kind of horror and we don't afford those victims or the perpetrators any kind of anonymity."
The SPJ and other media groups have noted their opposition to the bill in letters to Malloy, and several newspapers in the state have published editorials and columns criticizing the legislation.
Malloy is defending the proposal, saying that the state wants to protect and respect the wishes of relatives of the Newtown victims and that the bill applies only to the Sandy Hook shootings.
Parents of some Newtown shooting victims said at a news conference at the state Capitol on Friday that one of their main concerns was photos of the massacre scene being posted online.
"I'm fully supportive of an open and transparent government, but I can't understand how distributing graphic photos of murdered teachers and children serves any purpose other than causing our families more pain," said Dean Pinto, whose 6-year-old son, Jack, was killed in the school shooting.
"Unfortunately, newspapers are no longer the only disseminators of information," he said. "The world of information has changed substantially over the past few years and our Freedom of Information laws need to adjust to the times. There are many who lack the common sense and decency of mainstream media (and) who will freely use these images for their own disgusting purposes."
Albarado, the SPJ president, said there have been efforts in many states in recent years to restrict the release of public documents.
"I see, overall, just a general effort to erode FOI laws and public records laws throughout the country," he said.
Gov. Malloy defends the legislation, insisting it is needed to defend the privacy rights of the victims. A number of Internet sleuths have identified a number of the victims and their family members as bearing striking resemblance to other persons who they claim were hired to work as crisis actors at an emergency training exercise. They note that the tragedy has been exploited by advocates for stripping Americans of their Second Amendment rights.
That's not all the public records Connecticut officials are trying to bar from public records. According to the AP, there is also legislation making its way through the Connecticut legislature that would shield from public view records concerning the state's pardon process for criminals, information about government employees and even new fees charged to merely view, not copy, pubic records. The shielding of the release of death certificates and crime scene photographs as proposed by the new state law would only be necessary if there were no real victims. The shielding of records concerning state employees is also of particular concern given that some of the persons Internet sleuths claim were crisis actors were supposedly government employees.
"I've seen a gradual sea change ... toward more people asking questions about why should the public have access to information instead of why shouldn't they," Colleen Murphy said. "We forget why we have these laws. Any record created by government belongs to the people." By shutting down the release of records that are ordinarily made available to the public, Connecticut officials are only giving further credence to conspiracy theories about what really happened at Sandy Hook.