Soon after 20-year-old Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle to kill eight boys, 12 girls, and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, police quickly descended on the picturesque upper middle-class neighborhood where he grew up.
Fearing that the house Lanza shared with his 52-year-old mother Nancy might be booby-trapped, officers sent a robot in to check each room. Once the downstairs rooms were clear, the robot continued its mission on the second level—where police discovered the body of Lanza’s mother, who was reportedly shot in the face. Inside the home, said Connecticut State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance, police also found “some good evidence in the house as to why [the shooting] occurred.”
At the school that day, Lanza had used tape to attach two magazines—holding the equivalent of 60 bullets—to his rifle. He also carried two handguns, a Sig Sauer and a Glock. In the home, cops found three more weapons.
The investigation also uncovered a video of Lanza shooting guns with friends, according to Dr. H. Wayne Carver, the state of Connecticut’s chief medical examiner. Carver said that Lanza, who died from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, was found alongside his tiny victims and their teachers, including 27-year-old Vicki Soto, in one of the two classrooms he fired upon.
Outside the classroom were the bodies of school principal Dawn Hochsprung and a school psychologist. They were coming out of a meeting when Lanza forced his way into the school and began firing. “He wasn’t voluntarily let in,” said Vance. “He forced himself in.”
Federal agents have begun to canvas gun ranges and gun stores in the area to see if Lanza was a regular. “He must have been a good shot,” said Carver. “These are devastating sets of injuries.”
Friends and schoolmates of Lanza, who may have had Asperger’s syndrome or another developmental disorder, remembered him as a quiet, shy kid who had a hard time connecting with others. “I knew him as the kid who walked around with a briefcase,” said Brandon Logel, who went to Newtown High School with Lanza. “He had a hard time socializing with people. He really couldn’t connect with other kids.”
“My sister went to high school with him,” said Madeline Fletcher, 16. “He was known around the school as the kid who wore a trench coat.”
Richard Novia, the school district’s head of security until 2008, saw a deeper issue. “If that boy would’ve burned himself, he would not have known it or felt it physically,” Novia told the Associated Press. “It was my job to pay close attention to that.” Lanza, he said, clearly “had some disabilities.”
Novia also told the Associated Press that Adam and his older brother, Ryan, became members of a tech club popular with socially awkward teens, but that it was apparent to him that Adam had a tough time. “You had yourself a very scared young boy, who was very nervous around people he could trust or he refused to speak with,” Novia said.
Police say that Lanza had no criminal history to speak of, nor did he have any previous altercations with the elementary school. It is still unclear why Lanza targeted the school.
Laura Bittman, who attended Sandy Hook, believes Lanza was in fact a former student there. “He was one of those kids that blended in,” said Bittman. “I think my first thought when I heard about this was, ‘Could we have done more?’ You know, kids pick on people who are different. I just hope it didn’t happen this way.”
A neighbor of Lanza’s who didn’t want to be identified said she often saw him drive by the neighborhood children at the bus stop. She said she never saw the police ever visit his home. “We let the kids run from house to house,” she said. “I feel horrible. Our kids walked by the bus stop everyday and he would drive by and he could have gone berserk.”
We may never find out what made the skinny 20-year-old man finally snap, shooting his mother, driving her car to the elementary school dressed entirely in black and a bulletproof vest, and gunning down innocent children and adults in what has become the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. Authorities have not spoken much of a possible motive.
“The detectives will analyze everything and we are hopeful it will paint a picture of why it happened,” said Vance. One of the adult victims who was shot but survived is helping with the case. “The survivor will be instrumental in this investigation.”
They’ve also spoken to Lanza’s brother Ryan, who hadn’t had contact with Adam since 2010—and who was incorrectly named as the shooter in initial media reports.
Certainly, police will look closely at Lanza’s relationship with his first victim—his mother. Nancy, neighbors say, was a gun enthusiast and a friendly neighborhood fixture who loved craft beers. According to court records, Lanza and her husband, an executive at GE, divorced in 2008 after 17 years of marriage.
“I never really befriended Nancy, though we exchanged greetings whenever we crossed paths,” wrote Jim Leff, a Newtown musician, on his website. “What held me back was my impression that she was a little high-strung. But now that I’ve been filled in by friends about how difficult her troubled son [the shooter] was making things for her, I understand that it wasn’t that Nancy was overwrought about the trivialities of everyday life, but that she was handling a very difficult situation with uncommon grace. Plus, she was a big fan of my trombone playing.”
A few hours before the list of victims were announced at a press conference at a park in Sandy Hook on Saturday, Blanca Rivera was at the cash register of Misty Vale Deli quietly breaking down. As she rubbed away the tears from her cheek, she mentioned that one of the victims, a 5-year-old boy named Jesse, had come in to the deli and ordered a hot chocolate with his mother on the morning of the shooting. “He usually had a sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich,” she said. “It is so sad. Especially when you have kids and you know him. I remember everything about him.”
Each of Lanza’s victims was autopsied and identified on Saturday. Lanza and his mother will be autopsied tomorrow.
“We still have major crime detectives working at the scene and it won’t be completed for at least a few days,” said Vance. “We will pull back the onion and explore every crack and crevice.”