Adam Lanza: Family Struggles to Comprehend Deadly Shooting

NEWTOWN, Conn. (CNN) — The mother of the man identified by authorities as the gunman behind an elementary school massacre liked to play parlor games in a ladylike setting with neighbors, discussing their landscaping and backyard gardens in this charming exurb some 60 miles from New York City.

Nancy Lanza was a personable neighbor who lived on a block of spacious houses on a crest overlooking gentle hills, acquaintances said.

She and her family moved to the Sandy Hook neighborhood about 1998, raising two sons with husband Peter until the couple separated a few years ago.

“It was just a nice, normal family,” neighbor Rhonda Cullen said Saturday, recalling a recurring neighborhood ladies night over the Bunco dice game.

“We used to joke with her that she’d do all this landscaping that no one could see because it all was in the back, and because her house was so set back,” added Cullen.

At odds with this image of New England gentility was how the Lanza household possessed a cache of weapons — including an assault-style rifle and two handguns — in a community prized for its stillness.

Those weapons were found with Nancy Lanza’s younger son, Adam, 20 — whom three law enforcement officials said was the gunman in Friday’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

After gunfire at the school killed 20 children and six adults — the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history — the shooter killed himself, officials said.

Before Friday’s rampage, authorities said, Adam Lanza killed his mother in her home in Newtown’s Sandy Hook community, after which the school takes its name.

Adam was living with his mother, two law enforcement sources said. The other son, Ryan, was living in New Jersey.

Said Cullen, struggling to make sense of the weaponry and the carnage: “Something doesn’t add up.”

Marsha Lanza, an aunt to Adam Lanza, described him as a “quiet, nice kid,” but he had issues with learning, she said. Her husband is brother to Adam Lanza’s father.

“He was definitely the challenge of the family in that house. Every family has one,” she told CNN affiliate WLS. “They have one. I have one. But never in trouble with the law, never in trouble with anything.”

She said Adam Lanza’s mother “battled” with the school board and ended up having her son home-schooled.

“She had issues with school,” said Marsha Lanza, who lives in Crystal Lake, Illinois. “I’m not 100% certain if it was behavior or learning disabilities, but he was a very, very bright boy. He was smart.”

Nancy Lanza was a giving, quiet, reserved person who grew up on a farm in New Hampshire with three siblings in a self-reliant family, Marsha Lanza said. The Lanza family is from Kingston, New Hampshire, she said.

“She didn’t have to work because my brother-in-law left her very well off, very well off. She was always there for her kids,” Marsha Lanza added, referring to Nancy Lanza’s financial situation after she and her husband divorced.

The gunman’s mother owned guns for self-defense, the aunt said.

“She never felt threatened, or she would have said something,” Marsha Lanza said.

The aunt also said she couldn’t begin to understand the mass shooting.

“Why these kids, why these innocent little kids? That just still baffles me,” she said. “I can’t understand why.”

She said she doesn’t believe gun laws should be changed. “It’s the person who does the killing, not the gun,” she said. “I thank God every day that my kids have faith and know right from wrong — and I’m not saying her kids didn’t — but you have got to give your kids roots.”

Adam Lanza’s brother, Ryan, works as a certified public account in New York, the aunt said. “I couldn’t imagine Ryan doing such a thing. He is too well-educated,” she said. “He has it together.”

Dan Holmes, who owns a local landscaping business, said Nancy Lanza was a gun collector, and that she showed off a rifle she had recently purchased.

“She told me she’d go target shooting with her boys pretty often,” Holmes said.

But ATF Special Assistant Agent Gene Marquez said his agency “has not been able to uncover any evidence that the mother and the son were actively engaged in going to the gun ranges, practicing marksmanship, or anything of that nature.”

The three weapons found at the scene of the shooting were legally purchased by his mother, a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told CNN.

Neighbor Gina McDade said Nancy Lanza was a “stay-at-home mom” and not a teacher or part-time employee of Sandy Hook Elementary, as some media reports stated.

Nancy Lanza had earlier worked in finance in Boston and Connecticut, said a friend who knew her well but who didn’t want her name published. Nancy Lanza had retired or was on a break from her career, but she was not a teacher, the friend said.

The friend said Nancy was devoted to her sons and had been “caring for Adam,” but would not provide further details.

Nancy Lanza’s relatives say they share the nation’s grief and struggle “to comprehend the tremendous loss that we all share,” according to a statement from James Champion, who is a police officer and brother to Nancy Lanza.

“On behalf of Nancy’s mother and siblings, we reach out to the community of Newtown and express our heartfelt sorrow for the loss of innocence that has affected so many,” said the family statement, which was read by Rockingham County, New Hampshire, Sheriff Michael Downing.

That county includes the town of Kingston, where Adam Lanza’s father, Peter, was raised.

Peter Lanza released a statement Saturday expressing condolences to the families of victims.

“Our family is grieving along with all those who have been affected by this enormous tragedy. No words can truly express how heartbroken we are. We are in a state of disbelief and trying to find whatever answers we can,” said the statement.

Four years ago, the Lanzas’ marriage was ending.

Nancy Jean Lanza sued Peter John Lanza for divorce on November 24, 2008 — three days before Thanksgiving, Connecticut court records show.

The husband was known in the family as “P.J.,” Marsha Lanza said.

Nancy Lanza checked off “yes” for financial disputes but “no” for parenting disputes, records show.

They were divorced in September 2009 after an uncontested hearing, records show.

Peter Lanza is tax director and vice president of taxes for GE Energy Financial Services in the New York City area, according to his resume posted on the website LinkedIn.

He has been an adjunct faculty member at Northeastern University in Boston since 1995 and also teaches a partnership tax class in the master’s in taxation degree program at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, his LinkedIn page states.

On LinkedIn, he wrote summaries about himself, including: “Career dedicated to developing and refining partnership tax planning and transactional skills” and “Work closely with many of the preeminent partnership tax advisors in the United States on a daily basis.”

Hours after the shooting Friday, a reporter with the Stamford Advocate found Peter Lanza as he pulled his blue Mini Cooper into his driveway in Stamford, Connecticut.

Peter Lanza was apparently unaware that his son was behind the school massacre and his ex-wife had been killed, the newspaper reported.

Peter Lanza told the reporter, “Is there something I can do for you?” and then declined to comment upon being told of his family’s involvement in the shooting, the newspaper reported.

The newspaper quoted an unidentified neighbor as saying Peter Lanza and his new wife, who has been living in the neighborhood for at least a decade, were married fairly recently.

Peter Lanza was taken in for questioning, but there was no indication he would face any charges, one U.S. law enforcement official told CNN.

Ryan Lanza was taken into custody for general questioning Friday from a home in Hoboken, New Jersey, according to three law enforcement officials. They did not label him a suspect.

The more complicated story of Adam Lanza was still being assembled by authorities and media in the aftermath of the massacre.

Authorities on Saturday said they were examining the sequence of events that led Adam Lanza to dress in what a law enforcement source said was “black battle fatigues and a military vest,” enter Sandy Hook Elementary and begin firing.

He was named by authorities as the invader who shot to death 20 children — ages 6 and 7 — and six adults, then killed himself.

Adam Lanza was found dead in a classroom, and police recovered three weapons from the scene: a semiautomatic .223-caliber rifle made by Bushmaster and two handguns made by Glock and Sig Sauer, a source with knowledge of the investigation said.

Adam Lanza had no known criminal record, a law enforcement official said.

A member of Lanza’s family told investigators that he had a form of autism, according to a law enforcement official who spoke under condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the investigation.

Acquaintances struggled with fathoming the deadly actions being attributed to someone they had known.

Alex Israel was in the same class at Newtown High School with Adam Lanza, who lived a few houses down from her.

“You could definitely tell he was a genius,” Israel told CNN, adding she hadn’t talked with him since middle school. “He was really quiet, he kept to himself.”

His former bus driver, Marsha Moskowitz, told CNN affiliate WABC that he was “a nice kid, very polite” like his brother.

“It’s a shock to even know (the family),” she said. “You can’t understand what happened.”

A former classmate told CNN affiliate WCBS that Adam Lanza “was just a kid” — not a troublemaker, not antisocial, not suggesting in any way that he could erupt like this.

“I don’t know who would do anything like this,” the classmate said, before walking away distraught. “This is unspeakable.”

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28 comments

  • Johnny

    When you go into a bank or store, where ever you go where there's money you have armed security. Yet nothing is more valuable or precious then our children. Most schools have a minimum or no security. This is not the first or will it be the last time our children will be attacked and slaughtered in our schools by homicidal maniacs. Sadly there may come a time in our future when principles from elementary to graduate schools will legally be required to carry firearms on their persons – or in an emergency go to a well stocked gun locker close at hand in the school. Hell it may come a time when pretty young kindergarten school teachers will be packing loaded Glocks, and know how to use them, on their pretty hips when they go over the ABCs and 1,2,3s with five-year-old children. Instead of covering in corners and using their bodies in futile attempts to shield their children they will be prepared to throw serious gunfire down range at their and their children's gun weilding assailant. Let us not forget we can easily replace money stolen out of banks by gun weilding robbers. The protection of our innocent defenseless children whose lives are priceless should be our number one priority. It's time teachers and administrators from pre-school to graduate school be required by law to pack serious fire power when on the job. When a young child is slaughtered ever few seconds, five to ten minutes seems like an eternity to have to wait for first responders.

    • Betty

      First of all why would this women have these types of guns in her home unlocked up, knowing she has a son that is getting medical help, you have to put part the blame on the mother. Second the NRA need to work with congress and stop people from purchasing assult weapons, why do they need them, except to hunt humans. You cannot keep saying it is not the guns, it is the people, but if people are restricked from buying these types of weapon, than there would be less chance of another person losing there life. Congress shold have forced this change a long time ago. What more is it going to take. Peoplact as if they are afraid of NRA, just like anything , they can be brought down. What is more inportant citizens feeling safe or giving these sick people the right to take somebodies life.

    • Dan

      I disagree. More guns is not the answer. Yes, if the teachers had guns they may have been able to shoot back and minimize the deaths. BUT, if Lanza's mother WAS NOT ABLE TO PURCHASE the guns in the first place, this would never have resulted in the death toll being so high. IMO, guns should be available ONLY to licensed, trained police organizations. Gun "enthusiasts", get another hobby. STOP the production and availability of weapons to the general public. Eventually, the old guns will become useless. Ruby Ridge, Waco, etc. ended in tragedy….

      • Jim

        Actually in Ruby Ridge and Waco it was the police and government forces with guns who caused the tragedy.
        In the Los Angeles and Orange County areas, it was police with guns that caused all kinds of tragedies. Examples include the guy down on the beach with a boom box killed by police who thought it was an "assault rifle", the young boy in Anaheim killed by a police officer who broke into the boy's locked apartment and shot him in the darkened room. The unarmed brother at the Pacific Mushroom farm in Huntington Beach killed by police while he was running towards the safety of the police presence. What makes you think the police are all so trustworthy?

  • plinkum

    The stupid teacher Unions. They should all be fired. New Moral people, given the right to teach about GOD and why we should follow The Ten Commandments and learn why we’re made not evolved from monkeys.

    • Sandy

      Teacher unions have nothing to do the exclusion of God from our public schools. The government does not allow it. Most of the teachers I know would dearly love to teach their students about God and the Ten Commandments. Please learn to aim your criticism at the right people!

  • RHR

    I still blame the parents. The Mother was not a victim, she had to know her son was evil. The father and brother should feel so proud to be part of such a horrible family

    • Michele

      The Mother was definitely part of the problem. My guess, for what it is worth, is . . . . She wanted her son in school. But, the school couldn't accommodate him. Several reasons for that. Now if this guy had a disability & his mother focused her anger & frustration towards the school system, in front of her son & didn't address the situation appropriately. The son might have felt it necessary to address the situation by way of how his Mother felt. This child acted out. Mom, may very well have been a nutter & talked about such actions in front of her son, who then acted out what she wanted. When she realized to late, she was a victim of her own attitude, actions & behavior. This cost an entire community a great deal. My deepest condolences to the community there in CT.

    • bob

      ditto on what RHR said….the family had to know something was wrong, they will have to live with what happened too…….the night mares will never end for either the father or the brother…..I am sure they might both be looking for work, not sure if a company wants to keep someone like that on there payroll……so sad, america took a big step back wards….it will take a long time to heal as a country, if ever…..lets hope we never forget….send a donation as I did….if it helps another kid somewhere along the line..then we have done a good act, and since it is the christmas season..that is what should happen…

  • kim979

    like John replied I'm amazed that someone able to earn $7507 in one month on the internet. did you read this web link jump15.comCHECK IT OUT (Click on menu "Home" for more information)

  • arhmt9

    What kind of child abuse did Adam Lanza suffer from to become such an angry, evil person? I blame the parents. That family is hiding something.

    • betty

      God needs to be put back in the center of our lives. when we removed God from prayer in schools and just regarded him as our maker, it seems all hell has broken lose

    • betty

      The only thing they are hidding, is admitting they knew this fool was crazy. If either one of my children tell me they are going to kill me, they would not be living in my house. This mother knew he had serious issues. When anyone tell you they are going to kill you now adys, take them at there word. She knew he was a nut case. That boy may have had the best parents in the world and there may not have been abuse, but if you have a sick person, then it is up to the parent to get help for them as soon as they know. it sounds as if the mom was trying to get medical help for him, but if he told her he was going to kill her and she know this, but yet she has weapons unlocked so he can get to them, then she is just as much to blame for those people dying.

  • DAS

    GOD GOD AND GOD ALONE IS THE ANSWER. PARENTS SHOULD TEACH THE CHILDREN WHAT IS GOOD AND WHAT IS BAD. TOO MUCH FREEDOME TO A CHILD RIGHT FROM THE VERY INFANT AGE IS NOT GOOD FOR THE CHILD AND TO THE SOCIETY AT LARGE

  • Goyoman

    Everyone including the mother knew that this kid had a skewed brain. The fact that she had all of these unsecured weapons around the house is criminal. Maybe I'm naive, but I personally have never met a female "gun collector". Sounds like she was trying to protect herself from her son.

  • betty

    We need to stop making excuses for things people do, true this man as the rest of them that have taken people lifves for no reason. You are not going to try and get people to beleive that the family and other family, did not know these people were crazy as hell, this is not something just pop up over night. crazy signs are there and we fail to take the steps to keep these things from happening. This I will say the mother is part to blame for the killing. This fool should have put away to get some help. Why does it always have to be something in his childhood? some people are just born pure EVIL. The only thing is God is not a part of these crazies lives. Congress and the president better make some changes and force the NRA to back down. Congress acts as if they are afraid of the NRA. They can go to war againt another country, but yet they cannot fight the NRA to make it so these people cannot get these weapons. How can these people have more power and control the congress and the president. I just don't understand. This is the time when this country should be taking it to congress and the streets.

    • Hardtobeachristian

      As a Christian god alone knows the sinful nature of our souls but his son Jesus died for all of our sins so please do not attempt to force religion on everyone in this world or country as the solution to this event. People are still killing each other in the name of god and where were all these Christians when discrimination and hateful crimes were being committed against our citizens of colored 50-260 years ago? I also believed the mother made a poor choice in regards to the access of these assault weapons n paid for it with her life n the innocent children. It is hard to be a true Christian n follow his teachings but forgiveness is hard n hate is easier.

  • sks

    This person was very obviously mentally ill. It has nothing to do with religion, God or "evil" although his actions were most definitely evil.
    Any parent who would keep guns in the house with a mentally ill person OR take that person target shooting must have had serious mental issues themselves.
    I'd like gun advocates who consider themselves "sportsmen" to explain why they believe everyone should have access to automatic or semi-automatic weapons.

  • none

    A lot of you don't seem to understand about mental illness,Im a 17 year old boy. I suffered from major clinical depression and other mental illnesses at a young age. I had many sucidal and homicidal thoughts. My parents were scared and they did everything to get me help. Last January I was admitted to a mental hospital and it wasn't that much longer until I was admitted into a treatment center. I was there for 3 months in a program called Dialectical behavior therapy(DBT) . I am a better person now I got the help I needed. Adam was not evil ,his actions were extremely negative,he just needed a lot of help to cope with however he felt.

  • 2BELBJJ

    Perhaps Nancy Lanza should have invested and utilized a GUN SAFE to secure her weaponry from her insane son and innocent victims…

  • valerie holley

    I havent heard anything about the eyes being the window to the soul! can anyone see how deranged his eyes are? that is the first sign!

  • Jamie

    You are all ignorant….you have no idea if the guns were locked up…..no idea what kind of mother she was and what she did to get her son help….autism is nota mental disorder and autism does not make people violent…..please get the facts before stating opinions

  • Stephany

    Even if the killer had not shown obvious prior signs of mental problems, his mother should have had her guns secured, especially of the nature they were, just on general principles of safety. If she had them secured, it seems we would have already heard about how her son got hold of them despite their being secured, just as we were told that he broke through a barrier, glass maybe?, at the school. The killer was said to have target practiced so it is highly unlikely the mother would have prevented his access. Much is made of his inability to fit meaningfully into society without a single word to indicate he had ever had treatment for this. Someone or ones seem to have been horribly remiss in this. What were they going to do, let him live his life out with no hope for anything but mother and their house? They had the means to seek help. One newspaper article states one of his teachers had said he apparently lacked the ability to feel pain, as when burning his finger. What was he doing around guns at home? There are none so blind as those who refuse to see, and for whatever reason key persons in his life seem not to have seen what they desperately needed to see.