updated 3/27/2006 10:41:16 AM ET 2006-03-27T15:41:16

The city has sent out letters to 24 families of people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks advising them that partial transcripts and recordings of 911 calls made by the victims soon will be released to the public because of a court order.

The letters, sent by express mail on Friday, advised only family members whose dead relatives could be identified from the calls recorded by police and fire department operators.

The imminent release of the records was ordered by a judge in a case brought by The New York Times and nine family members of victims under the state’s Freedom of Information law seeking fire department records.

The lawsuit asked that the complete records of the 911 calls be released, but the judge ordered that the victims’ sides of the conversations with the operators be redacted unless specifically released by the nearest kin. The city has decided to release calls taken by police department operators on the same basis.

The family members can receive CDs with the unedited calls if they want them.

Letters take some by surprise
The letters took some Sept. 11 family members by surprise, a family advocate said.

“Some family members didn’t even know their loved ones had made a 911 call,” said William Doyle, whose son was killed in the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center but was not one of those recorded. “Why did they have to wait so long to inform them? To send a cold form letter overnight express without advance warning is crass.”

According to the city’s law department, officials waited until a complete record of all the identifiable calls was ready before releasing any information.

“Based on previous experience, we felt it was most appropriate to release all the information together rather than in a piecemeal, lingering fashion that might give families false hopes or ongoing pain,” law department spokeswoman Kate O’Brien Ahlers said Sunday.

The 24 letters, which Ahlers said were personalized, were meant to go out only after e-mails to groups representing the families explaining the release. But, because of a miscommunication, the e-mails did not go out as planned, said Jonathan Greenspun, commissioner of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Community Assistance Unit.

“We sincerely regret the delay,” he said in a statement.

The city said the transcripts and recordings likely would be released Thursday or Friday. It didn’t say how many there are.

In August, the city released 12,000 pages of oral histories and more than 15 hours of fire department radio transmissions.

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