As authorities in Connecticut try to piece together the circumstances surrounding the second-worst school shooting in U.S. history, details about the suspected gunman and his family paint a picture of a troubled young man believed to be suffering from mental health issues, a family split by divorce, and a mother who was not shy about her gun collection.
Adam Lanza is suspected of killing 26 people – 20 of them children – in an attack in an elementary school in central Connecticut on Friday before killing himself. Authorities believe that Adam Lanza also killed his mother at her home on Friday.
The 20-year-old suspected gunman is believed to have suffered from a personality disorder, a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation told the Associated Press.
AP is reporting that Connecticut State Police Lieutenant Paul Vance said investigators had found “very good evidence” and hoped it would answer questions about the gunman’s motives.
Officials believe Adam may have tried to purchase weapons or ammunition at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store earlier in the week, according to both CNN and NBC. Authorities are looking at all gun dealers in the area to see if they had any contact with him, NBC reports. CNN says a law enforcement source said that on Thursday, the day before the shooting, Adam was involved in an altercation at Sandy Hook Elementary.
The disagreement was between Adam and four adults, three of whom were killed Friday, according to the source. It’s not clear whether the altercation happened inside or outside the school, the source said, but it had something to do with Adam trying to enter the school. Officials said it is a lead they are investigating, but cannot yet verify it, according to CNN.
Authorities say Adam’s high-school classmates remember him as smart, introverted and nervous, according to AP. They said when he was younger, he had gone out of his way not to attract attention. News clippings from recent years say that he was was an honour roll student.
“We would hang out, and he was a good kid. He was smart,” Joshua Milas, who graduated from Newtown High in 2009 and belonged to the technology club with Adam, told AP. “He was probably one of the smartest kids I know. He was probably a genius.”
Beth Israel, a neighbour of the Lanza family and whose daughter went to elementary school with Adam, told the Wall Street Journal the suspected gunman was a “socially awkward” teenager.
“He was kind of a loner and shy. He didn’t look you in the eye,” she said. Ms. Israel said Adam was very thin with dirty-blonde hair and a long, narrow face.
Richard Novia, Newtown school district’s head of security until 2008, who also served as adviser for Newtown High School technology club, said Adam clearly “had some disabilities.”
“If that boy would’ve burned himself, he would not have known it or felt it physically,” Mr. Novia told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “It was my job to pay close attention to that.”
Mr. Novia was responsible for monitoring students as they used soldering tools and other potentially dangerous electrical equipment. He recalled meeting with school guidance counsellors, administrators and with the boy’s mother to understand his problems and find ways to ensure his safety. But there were others crises only a mother could solve.
“He would have an episode, and she’d have to return or come to the high school and deal with it,” Mr. Novia said, describing how the young man would sometimes withdraw completely “from whatever he was supposed to be doing,” whether it was sitting in class or reading a book.
Adam “could take flight, which I think was the big issue, and it wasn’t a rebellious or defiant thing,” Mr. Novia said. “It was withdrawal.”
Jim McDade, who lives a few houses from where Nancy Lanza was slain, said his family became acquainted with the two brothers and their mother because their children were about the same ages and rode the school bus together, according to a report by AP.
“There was certainly no indication of anything unusual that lets you think that a kid’s going to do something like that,” said Mr. McDade, who works in finance in New York. “There was nothing that would indicate anything going on behind the scenes that would lead to this horrible mess.”
He recalled Adam as “a very bright kid.”
Adam’s aunt, Marsha Lanza, told AP that her husband had seen Adam in June and had not seen anything out of the ordinary.
Nancy Lanza was found dead on Friday in her home, and police believe it was at the hand of her son, Adam, several media outlets report. The New York Times is reporting that she was her son’s first victim.