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The Globe and Mail

Motive for Sandy Hook killings still a mystery

In this Jan. 14, 2013 file photo, white roses with the faces of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting are attached to a telephone pole near the school on the one-month anniversary of the shooting that left 26 dead in Newtown, Conn.

Jessica Hill/Associated Press

Last December, Nancy Lanza prepared to take a three-day trip to New Hampshire. She was worried about her son Adam: He hadn't left the house they shared in several months and would only communicate with her via e-mail. Before she left, she cooked some of his favourite foods.

She returned home to Newtown late at night on Dec. 13. Early the next morning, as she slept, Adam Lanza shot her four times in the head. Then, armed with four firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition belonging to his mother, he drove to the school he had attended as a child.

A 44-page report released Monday by the state of Connecticut provided new details of the days leading up to one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history. In just five minutes, Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School before committing suicide.

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The report marks the close of the investigation into the Sandy Hook killings and concludes that the shooter's motive may never be known. He acted alone, authorities said, and was not under the influence of any drugs. He didn't exhibit violent tendencies around others, but compiled a spreadsheet of mass murders at home, ranking them by the number of people killed.

Monday's account – a distillation of the complete investigation – comes almost a year after the shooting in Newtown. Portions of the accompanying documents are redacted to remove references to what first responders saw at the scene. In that sense, it is part of an ongoing debate over how much should be released about what happened that day and what should remain private in deference to the families of the victims.

As the one-year anniversary of the massacre approaches, Newtown is bracing for a fresh wave of attention, much of it unwelcome. Local leaders have urged the media and the world at large to allow the community to observe the occasion in quiet and untroubled fashion and have decided not to hold any town-wide commemoration.

The report provides the most detailed account so far of the enigma at the centre of the horror that gripped Newtown last December. People described Mr. Lanza, the 20-year-old shooter, in "contradictory ways," it notes. Some viewed him as having above-average intelligence, while others said it was below average; with some people, he could talk and even joke, while many others found him "unemotional, distant, and remote."

As a teenager, he was diagnosed as having Asperger's syndrome, demonstrating extreme anxiety and difficulties in social situations. He also displayed elements of obsessive-compulsive behaviour and a sensory disorder: He hated to be touched, abhorred making direct contact with doorknobs and would wash his hands and change his clothes repeatedly over the course of the day.

The report notes that he refused to take medication or to engage in a suggested course of therapy. But it also emphasizes that it's unclear how or even whether his mental-health issues contributed to the attack. None of the professionals who evaluated him saw anything to predict his future behaviour.

He dropped out of high school, later earning his degree through courses at a local university. In the months leading up to the killings, he would spend hours at a time at a local movie theatre playing Dance Dance Revolution – a video game where your score depends on your proficiency in replicating the footwork of dance moves shown on a screen.

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In private, he had developed a darker obsession. In his bedroom, where his mother was not allowed to enter, black garbage bags were taped over the windows. Police found newspaper articles about school shootings in 1891 and 2008; online bookmarks on mass murders, firearms and ammunition; images of him holding a gun to his head; and a large amount of material related to the 1999 shooting at Columbine high school in Littleton, Colo.

He didn't have to look far for guns: Ms. Lanza was a firearms enthusiast and had taught both of her sons – Adam and his older brother Ryan – to shoot. Investigators found a cheque made out from Ms. Lanza to her son so he could buy a pistol as a Christmas present. All of the weapons used in the attack on Newtown were legally purchased by Ms. Lanza. She was killed by her own .22-calibre rifle.

The day before the shooting, Mr. Lanza drove from his home into the hamlet of Sandy Hook, but did not go to the school. On Dec. 14, just after 9:30 a.m., he shot his way into the locked elementary school, killing the principal and school psychologist just inside the main entrance. Then he turned left and entered the second and third classrooms along the hallway.

Ahead of the release of Monday's report, John Reed, the superintendent of Newtown's public schools, sent a note to parents suggesting that they monitor their children's exposure to the news in the coming weeks. "Depending on the age of your child or children, I think it is advisable to carefully consider what you want them to see, hear or read," he wrote.

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