Some of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter’s personal belongings, including personal journals containing stories about hurting children and a spreadsheet ranking mass murders, must be released to the public because they are not exempt from open record laws, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
Thousands of documents already have been released from the investigation that ended without determining a motive for the massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, but the writings could provide insights into the thinking of the shooter, Adam Lanza.
The Hartford Courant and other media organizations requested to view Lanza’s belongings, which were seized by authorities during a search of Lanza’s home and described in a state police report released about a year after the shooting. State police rejected the requests, citing privacy rights in the state’s search and seizure law.
The Courant appealed to the state Freedom of Information Commission, which in 2015 ordered state police to release the documents. But Superior Court Judge Carl Schuman overruled the commission in 2016 — a decision overturned Tuesday in the 5-0 Supreme Court ruling.
“We feel these documents are necessary to tell a complete story in our reporting,” said Andrew Julien, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Courant. “Understanding what a mass killer was thinking not only paints a clearer picture of the individual, it helps us identify and understand red flags that could be part of a prevention formula for future mass shootings.”
It’s not immediately clear when the 35 requested items will be released. The state attorney general’s office, which represents state police and declined to comment Tuesday, could ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling or possibly appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. State police officials did not return messages seeking comment.
Among the disputed documents are a spreadsheet ranking mass murders by name and number killed and a notebook titled “The Big Book of Granny.” The notebook contains a story that Lanza wrote in the fifth grade about a woman who uses her “rifle cane” to kill people.
Police also so far have not released an eight-page document titled simply, “me,” which was described in a police inventory as “detailing relationships, ideal companion, culture, voting, personal beliefs, describes doctors touching children as rape.” Another, named “tomorrow,” apparently contains details about the author’s “desires, list of the benefits of being thin and negative connotations associated with being overweight, list of goals …”.
Some of the other requested items include a folder containing hand-drawn, comic-style pictures and stories about Pokemon-type characters; a packet of educational materials from the Sandy Hook school to Lanza’s mother including report cards and an educational plan addressing his mental health issues; a list of problems and requests from Lanza to his mother; and a story about a relationship between a 10-year-old boy and a 20-year-old man.
A report by the Connecticut child advocate said Lanza’s severe and deteriorating mental health problems, his preoccupation with violence and access to his mother’s weapons “proved a recipe for mass murder.”
Lanza’s medical and school records included references to diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, the child advocate’s office said. The 2014 report said Nancy Lanza backed her son’s resistance to medication and from the 10th grade on kept him at home, where he was surrounded by an arsenal of firearms and spent long hours playing violent video games.
In Tuesday’s court decision, Justice Raheem Mullins wrote that the court must “narrowly construe” language in state law that allows exceptions to public disclosure, and that “otherwise any statute governing an agency’s general treatment of records becomes a possible restriction on disclosure.”
“The trial court pointed to nothing in the express terms of the search and seizure statutes that creates confidentiality in the documents or otherwise limits the disclosure, copying, or distribution of the documents,” wrote Mullins. “Indeed, the search and seizure statutes are silent on the issues of confidentiality, copying, or disclosure to the public.”