As mourners by the hundreds placed flowers at makeshift shrines to the murdered youngsters in Sandy Hook, somebody left a lone bouquet of red and white carnations outside the house where Nancy Lanza became her murderous son’s first victim.
The single offering lay by the base of the mailbox at the foot of the driveway just outside the crime-scene tape that still ringed the property on Tuesday night.
Tuesday was artisan-beer night at Nancy Lanza’s favorite bar, My Place. She likely would have been setting off for there had she not been so deluded as to keep guns under the roof she shared with a troubled son.
She seems even to have imagined that firing guns was therapeutic for young Adam Lanza. She reportedly told a friend that it helped him become more focused and confident.
“How about bowling?” a detective said on hearing this after the massacre.
She is reported by CBS News to have bought the assault rifle first, in March 2010. She and Adam must have looked like two figures out of an NRA fantasy when they visited an outdoor range, mom and son sharing quality time and bonding by blasting away.
She may have delighted in finally finding something to get him outside his room, persuading him to do something physical and real rather than just withdrawing into the cyber-realm of his computer. She may have been too relieved to consider where it could lead and what might be the real appeal for him.
Adam does not seem to be the kind of hardy soul who would go in for outdoor shooting in winter. And the only conveniently located indoor range, Shooters in Danbury, is mainly for handguns.
Perhaps that is one reason why Nancy purchased the Sig Sauer automatic a year later, in March 2011. She might have timed the purchase so the paperwork and the rest would be complete in time for his 19th birthday, in May. Or she might have just bought it for herself.
She purchased a second handgun, a Glock, in January. The manager at Shooters refuses to confirm or to deny whether Nancy and Adam ever visited there. The range’s website reports that those who do shoot there are videotaped, so perhaps that is the video the chief medical examiner has said was recovered in the case.
One question worth asking is whether the father had any idea that Nancy kept guns in the house and had taken Adam shooting. Peter Lanza gave his ex-wife custody and a good financial settlement, but alimony is not the end of responsibility.
Adam reportedly broke from his father in 2010, when Peter began seeing other women, well after the Lanzas’ divorce became final. If that is true, Peter’s recent remarriage could very well have fed Adam’s rage.
Perhaps by chance that was the same year Nancy bought the Bushmaster. A mother raising a son on her own always has to think of what she might not be giving him that a father would, even more so if the son is troubled. Part of Nancy’s purpose in getting her son into shooting may have been as misguided as Bushmaster’s now infamous ad slogan, “Consider your Man Card reissued.” She may have felt that Adam’s had yet to be issued at all. She may have even imagined that getting one could help him find himself.
Adam may indeed have felt a rush of power when he took the Bushmaster up in his hands, but he proceeded to prove that this power had nothing to do with manhood. He used the weapon to murder unarmed adults and helpless little kids. He might have kept doing it, but at the approach of cops who might shoot back he ducked into a room and killed himself. Maybe he chose the elementary school in part because the high-school entrance has a security kiosk manned by a guard.
Perhaps. Might. Maybe. There is still so much supposition, and the soul-searing certainty is still so impossible to accept: 20 magical youngsters and six proudly devoted adults were slaughtered with that Bushmaster by the son who had already killed his mom and then shot himself, reportedly with the Glock. The Sig Sauer is said to have been in his pants pocket.
Something else is certain: the murdered innocents would still be alive had Nancy not acted as if firearms were no more dangerous than bowling balls. And Nancy herself also would have been alive on Tuesday night to climb into her black Honda and set off from the big white house decorated with Christmas garlands and an outsize wreath on the front door, installed by a local landscaper who is also a My Place regular.
At the end of another long day as a stay-at-home mom with a stay-in-his-room son, she would have driven down the long dark road, passing equally big houses made festive with colored Christmas lights, but not a soul in sight unless glimpsed in a window for an instant.
Before long, she would have turned right down the two-lane road that leads into Sandy Hook. She would not have had any reason even to think of the elementary school a short way off to the right. Adam had gone there only briefly, if he had at all when the family first moved to Sandy Hook in 1998.
She could not have missed the big village Christmas tree. The lights had been strung by members of the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire and Rescue. A village festival had accompanied the ceremonial lighting on Dec. 8, with the laundromat handing out free gifts and the kids’ haircutting salon offering face painting. The Newtown Middle School chorus had sung carols. And nobody had seemed to love it all more than the little ones.
A left would have taken Nancy over the small river that runs through the middle of Sandy Hook. She would have continued over the interstate highway, then past St. Rose of Lima Church, where Adam is said to have gone after whatever time he spent at Sandy Hook Elementary.
A few more minutes and she would have been there, My Place. She would have gone up the steps into a bar as cozy as the living room of a big and happy family.
She would have been greeted by name by the bartender and the others and taken her regular stool. She would have had a beer or a chardonnay, but this is not the kind of place where you go to get sloshed. You go to talk and laugh and just be with others.
Nancy was bubbly and cheerful by nature, so the others understood it was a measure of just how bothered she was at those moments when she would go quiet and talk about her son’s troubles. She would then shake it off, and sometimes she would talk about guns. Nobody seemed to think it was madness to have guns in the house with a troubled son.
The difference between shooting and bowling was never made more horrifically clear than on Friday morning, when it was Adam who left the big white house and drove down those same roads. He made not a left at the town Christmas tree but a right, toward the elementary school. He had already shot Nancy four times in the head.
Her regular stool was empty on the first Tuesday after the massacre. The cars outside were ferrying mourners both away and toward St. Rose of Lima Church, where a funeral for one 6-year-old was being followed by a wake for another.
And instead of Nancy coming up Route 6 in her Honda on Tuesday, a mother in a black limousine was being escorted by a police car with flashing lights, on her way to standing by her child’s coffin. Nineteen other mothers will have done the same when the funerals are done.
A crowd was gathered down by the town Christmas tree, but they were not singing and smiling and hugging, as they had at the tree lighting. They were crying and leaving flowers and stuffed animals for some of the same youngsters who had been so shiny-eyed with excitement 10 days before.
Some of the same first responders who had strung the lights had raced to the scene of the shooting and tried to save two of the shot youngsters, only for them to prove beyond saving. The offerings that had now been set beneath the tree looked like presents for those who would be spending this Christmas in whatever comes after life.
Straight ahead were the flashing lights of the police cars that still guarded the side road leading to the school. Off to the right were the winding roads from which Adam had come on Friday morning, which Nancy likely would have taken to My Place, had she been able.
To drive these roads on this most recent Tuesday evening was to pass some homes whose bright holiday lights made it that much harder to realize that the families inside were crushed by grief. The other families surely felt guilty to be lucky beyond measure and near Christmas without loss.
A left at a blinking red traffic light, followed by another turn and another turn and maybe a mile farther into the darkness. Then, there it was, at the base of the mailbox, the single bouquet of red and white carnations.
And another maybe came with it. Maybe whoever left it understood that even a mother as deluded and reckless as Nancy was still a mother and deserved at least this lone offering, if nothing more.