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.
According to reports, Ms. Lanza owned the guns her son used. Dan Holmes, owner of a landscaping business who recently decorated her yard with Christmas garlands and lights, told Reuters that Ms. Lanza once showed him a “really nice, high-end rifle” that she had purchased. “She said she would often go target shooting with her kids,” Mr. Holmes said.
Jim Leff, who often sat next to Ms. Lanza at the bar at My Place, a Newtown restaurant, wrote on his website that she was “a big, big gun fan,” the New York Times reports.
Court records show Ms. Lanza had no criminal history and was divorced from her husband, Peter Lanza, in 2008, the Denver Post reports. The couple had separated about a decade ago. The Denver Post also reports that court records show that either Ms. Lanza or Peter Lanza had participated in a parenting education program and that proceedings were held for custody of a minor child.
Ryan Kraft, a neighbour of Ms. Lanza’s, told the Washington Post that the separation hit the children hard. “The kids seemed really depressed” by the breakup, Mr. Kraft said.
When Adam was younger and Ms. Lanza would go out to dinner with friends, she sometimes relied on Mr. Kraft to watch him, as he was too boisterous for his older brother Ryan to manage.
Mr. Kraft said Adam would have tantrums. “They were much more than the average kid [would have],” he told the Washington Post.
Marsha Lanza, Adam’s aunt, said her nephew was raised by kind, nurturing parents who would have sought mental help for him if he needed it.
“Nancy wasn’t one to deny reality,” she said.
Initial reports said that Ms. Lanza was a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where the shooting took place. AP is now reporting that an official investigation on Saturday has been unable to establish any connection with the school.
Ryan Lanza, Adam’s brother, was incorrectly identified as the suspected gunman for hours on Friday.
A law-enforcement official who has been briefed on the investigation says that Ryan, 24, has been “extremely co-operative” and is not under arrest, although he was still being questioned by authorities late Friday evening, AP reported.
Ryan’s computers and phone records were being searched but only “in an abundance of caution,” the official said. Ryan told authorities he had not been in contact with Adam since 2010, and the official said authorities do not believe he has any connection to the school killings, according to AP.
Ryan lives in Hoboken, N.J., in a building that was hit by superstorm Sandy, Katie Colaneri, a 24-year-old resident of Hoboken, told The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Colaneri, who described herself as friend of Ryan’s, said he lost power for a number of days after the storm. Ms. Colaneri described Ryan as “a little shy, but very nice and sweet.”
She added that he is devoted to his job at an Ernst & Young accounting firm. Ernst & Young would not comment on his employment status.
Peter Lanza, the father of the alleged gunman, lives in Stamford, Conn., and is remarried, according to several media reports. The Stamford Advocate reports that he is a vice-president of taxes for GE Energy Financial Services in New York.
The paper also reports it was one of their own reporters who broke the news about the shooting to Peter as he arrived at his home several hours after the shooting.
According to the Advocate’s news story, as Peter learned the details of what happened to his family, his expression “twisted from patient, to surprise to horror; it was obvious that this moment, shortly after 1:30 p.m. Friday, was the first time he had considered his family could have been involved.” He declined to comment, and moments later he was seen at a table in the front of his house on the phone, according to the Advocate.
On Saturday evening, he released a statement saying he was in a “state of disbelief” and was fully cooperating with law enforcement officials investigating the massacre.
He also said: “We are in a state of disbelief and trying to find whatever answers we can. We too are asking why.”
“We have cooperated fully with law enforcement and will continue to do so,” Peter Lanza said in a statement. “Like so many of you, we are saddened, but struggling to make sense of what has transpired.”
The Lanzas’s relationship ended over “irreconcilable differences,” the Connecticut Post reports.
The Connecticut Post also reports that Peter agreed to provide alimony payments of $10,000 a month, according to court documents, and increasing to a minimum of $12,450 up until 2023.
Peter’s gross weekly income is $8,556 and he was required to pay all of Adam’s college and graduate school expenses.
With a report from the Associated Press