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Newtown Parents Push To Protect Shooting Records

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Families of Newtown shooting victims at the state Capitol, asking legislators to change the law to ensure photos from the school could be kept private, along with recordings of 911 calls and other documents. Photo by WTIC's Matt Dwyer.

Families of Newtown shooting victims at the state Capitol, asking legislators to change the law to ensure photos from the school could be kept private, along with recordings of 911 calls and other documents. Photo by WTIC’s Matt Dwyer.

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SUSAN HAIGH
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Family members of the Newtown school shooting victims made a last-minute appearance at Connecticut’s state Capitol on Friday, urging legislators to block the public release of crime scene photos and other records from the massacre.

About 20 relatives of the 20 first graders and six educators killed Dec. 14 met with legislative leaders on Friday, days before the regular legislative session is set to adjourn on June 5. More than 30 family members signed a letter to lawmakers, urging them to pass legislation addressing their concerns.

Dean Pinto, whose 6-year-old son Jack was killed in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, said the families are especially worried about crime scene photos appearing on the Internet, posted by people with various political agendas and conspiracy theories about the crime. He acknowledged traditional media typically would not publish such graphic photos.

“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 Pinto, adding that the only person who would learn from the photos would be another Adam Lanza, referring to the Newtown shooter.

Earlier this month, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the state’s top prosecutor and legislative leaders acknowledged they were working privately on a bill that would address the parents’ concerns. A working draft released by Malloy’s office required the written consent of the Sandy Hook victims’ family members before the public release of any photograph, videotape or digital recording related to the shooting. The draft also proposed releasing only written transcriptions of any 911 calls related to the shooting, not the audio, to the public.

“To be honest, none of us here want to hear gunshots and the screams of our loved ones as they perished,” Pinto said. “And frankly, I’m not sure how you can make an argument that hearing that in any way advances public policy and the public’s right to know.”

According to the working draft of the bill, the identities of minor witnesses may be redacted from any record and the Newtown town clerk could continue denying public access to the victims’ death certificates.

Both advocates for the media and open government laws have expressed concerns about the proposed legislation, arguing that public access to records such as 911 calls and investigative reports serve the public’s best interest by allowing the public to monitor the government’s performance.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, whose district includes Newtown, said lawmakers still need to decide whether to vote on the working draft this session. If they decide to push ahead with the bill, McKinney said they have to decide which items in the draft to include in the final legislation. McKinney believes the legislature needs to act now.

“The urgency of this situation is that the criminal investigation will close and at that point certain information is available to the public,” he said. “The legislature won’t be in session at that point. And we know that people have made requests and have said they will get those pictures and display them on the Internet. And once they’re there, they’re there forever. And to be candid, that is what makes this different.”

Family members on Friday voiced concern about a recent column by filmmaker Michael Moore, who wrote about the benefits to the gun control movement if the Sandy Hook crime scene photos are released. He said when Americans see the damage that an assault weapon can do to a child’s body, “that’s the day the jig will be up for the NRA. It will be the day the debate on gun control will come to an end. There will be nothing left to argue over.”

Jennifer Hensel, whose 6-year-old daughter Avielle Richman was killed at Sandy Hook, said she hopes the photos won’t be released.

“I do not want my child to be collateral damage in a political death match,” she said. “I believe that Avielle’s life means something.”

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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