More than a dozen surviving families of the slain Newtown victims came to the state Capitol to lobby lawmakers in favor of a bill they say will protect their loved ones in death the way they were unable to protect them in life.
The families are seeking to prevent the release of crime scene photos, audio of 911 tapes, the release of the death certificates, and other “graphic information” associated with the death of 20 children and six educators.
Dean Pinto, who lost his son, Jack, on Dec. 14, 2012, said he’s 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.”
At a press conference in Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney’s office, Pinto said all the essential facts in the case will be made public. He said they still don’t know why a gunman massacred 26 people, but releasing the photos won’t help the families or even the public get those answers.
He said if the photos are released then it’s not a question of “whether they will be misused, but when they will be misused.” He said the only person who will learn from the photos is “the next Adam Lanza.”
Jennifer Hensel, who lost her daughter Avielle Richmond, said Michael Moore has called for the release of the photos in order to further his political agenda.
In March, the documentary filmmaker blogged about his desire to see the photos because he believed if they were released “the debate on gun control” would come to an end.
“I do not want my child to become collateral damage in a political death-match,” Hensel said. “I believe Avielle’s life means something.”
She said what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School is far worse than a car accident “and there is no reason to look.”
Gilles Rousseau, whose daughter, Lauren, was a substitute teacher at the school, said he feared the photos would perpetuate the conspiracy theories that the families were actors and the shooting never really happened.
“My daughter has been the primary target of these hoax,” Rousseau said as he choked back tears. “It doesn’t matter. Lauren is dead. I can only imagine what would happen when the Internet is full of hundreds of thousands of photos [. . .] they will turn up everywhere.”
Rousseau said he didn’t believe releasing the photos would help debunk the myths, but instead they would just be manipulated by conspiracy theorists.
“I don’t understand what is to be gained by allowing these crime scene photos to be made public,” Rousseau said. “I want to allow my daughter to keep the last shred of privacy remaining to her.”
But the photos weren’t the families’ only concern. The legislation would also prohibit the release of the audio from the 911 calls. Instead, it would offer to release transcripts of the calls.
“To be honest, none of us here want to hear gunshots and the screams of our loved ones as they perished,” Pinto said. “I’m not sure you can make an argument that hearing that in any way advances public policy.”
Nicole Hockley, who lost her son, Dylan, and lobbied hard for more stringent gun control measures earlier this year, said she doesn’t understand why anyone would want to see crime scene photos from any crime. However, she said the situation in Newtown is unique because people are saying they want to see these photos and not all crimes receive that amount of publicity and public interest.
“I would love protection for everyone, but right now to be fair we are talking about this particular tragedy,” Hockley said.
The families were meeting with small groups of lawmakers Friday seeking to shore up support for the legislation before the June 5 adjournment.
“I wish these families were home taking care of their lives right now,” McKinney said. He said he hopes other lawmakers see how important this issue is to the Newtown families.
“The courage that it takes for them to be here today is enormous,” McKinney said. “The strength and courage they show by being here leads me to believe they’re strong enough to understand that we’re only going to be able to do what we can do.”
There seems to be widespread support among lawmakers to exempt the photos from disclosure, but other parts of the bill make some nervous about precedent.
Freedom of Information Commission Executive Director Colleen Murphy, after seeing an initial copy of the bill last week, said she was happy the bill was narrowly tailored and they took care to make sure the transcripts of the 911 recordings would be made available.
“It’s not a wholesale revision of the Freedom of Information statutes,” Murphy said last week. “On the other hand, we’re concerned about the precedent it sets.”
The Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association, Connecticut Broadcasters Association, and the Freedom of Information Council also expressed reservations about revisions to the Freedom of Information laws. In a letter they cautioned Malloy and the legislature to tread lightly on doing anything to restrict public access to information about what happened at Sandy Hook.
“While many tragic events have made us question whether the disclosure of information is always in the best interest of a society, history has demonstrated repeatedly that governments must favor disclosure,” Michael Schroeder, president of the Daily Newspaper Association wrote. “Only an informed society can make informed judgments on issues of great moment.”
There isn’t any vocal opposition to the bill, which was drafted behind closed doors. But a majority of lawmakers seem to be lukewarm to the idea.
Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, said Friday he had concerns about carving out exemptions to the state’s Freedom of Information law. He said that when House Democrats met earlier this week to discuss the issue, most did not favor making changes this legislative session.
Dargan said lawmakers discussed making exemptions specific to Newtown or exemptions applying to murder victims 16 years old or younger. He said they also discussed not taking action on the issue before the session concludes Wednesday.
“The overwhelming response was not to do anything with the timeframe that we have left in the session. But nothing is dead around here until our legislative deadline,” he said.
Jacqueline Wattles contributed to this report.