In Connecticut, a mother coped silently with a troubled son


NEWTOWN, Conn. — On the outside, Nancy Lanza was the picture of contented motherhood: volunteering at her sons’ school, gardening, keeping a picture-perfect home so well-ordered a neighbor described it as pristine.

Outside public view, say some who knew her, she had a struggle on her hands, and that was her son Adam: a brilliant but sometimes difficult boy.

Lanza battled with the school district over Adam and eventually quit her job, pulled him out of school and educated him at home, said her sister-in-law, Marsha Lanza.


“I know she had issues with the school. … In what capacity, I’m not 100% certain if it was behavior, if it was learning disabilities, I really don’t know,” Marsha Lanza told reporters. The investigation widened Saturday into the still-baffling shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., with police releasing the identities of the 26 students and teachers they say Adam Lanza shot before turning the gun on himself.

His mother, police said, was shot at the family home before her son set out on his deadly rampage through the school.

“Adam, he was … definitely the challenge to the family in that house,” Marsha Lanza said. “Every family has one. I have one. They have one. … But he was a very bright boy, he was smart.”

Jim Leff, who knew Nancy Lanza casually through a friend, said he had been put off by an impression that she was high-strung, until he came to understand what she was trying to cope with as Adam’s mother.

“Now that I’ve been filled in by friends about how difficult her troubled son … 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,” he wrote in a testimonial to her on his blog.

Neighbors said the Lanzas moved several years ago into the hilly neighborhood of graceful houses and pastoral views and immediately fit into the social scene, attending the picnic after the annual Labor Day parade and a rotating ladies’ night at several homes.

By the accounts of some who knew her, Nancy Lanza, who grew up in rural New Hampshire, was comfortable using guns and kept several in the house.

Landscaper Dan Holmes said Lanza often talked about her gun collection, and about taking her sons target practicing. “One thing I will note is that she was a big, big gun fan,” Leff wrote on his blog.

Police have said the three weapons found near Adam Lanza’s body inside the school were legally purchased and registered to his mother.

Yet it appears that Adam may have tried to buy a weapon of his own before Friday’s shootings. Just days before, two federal law enforcement officials say, the 20-year-old attempted to purchase a single “long gun” rifle from a Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Canton, Conn., but was turned away because he did not want to wait for a required background check.

“He didn’t want to wait the 14 days,” said one source, declining to be identified because the case was still under review. “The sale did not take place.”

Marsha Lanza, whose husband is the brother of Adam’s father, Peter Lanza, said the entire family was trying to understand what happened. She said her sister-in-law never talked of being threatened by her son, or about any violence he had committed.

“And if he did, I know she wouldn’t tolerate it,” she said. “If he needed help, I know they would have gotten it for him.

“Because they were the type of parents — when they were married, as well as being separated — if the kids had a need, they would definitely fulfill it.”

She said Nancy Lanza divorced in 2009 and was awarded the house and enough money — up to $12,450 a month in alimony, according to local news outlets that reviewed the divorce files — that she didn’t have to work.

A law enforcement source said the couple were ordered to undergo parental counseling as a condition of their divorce, but another source familiar with the case said that is a standard condition of divorces in Connecticut involving a minor child.

Other Lanza family members emerged from seclusion Saturday, and, like Marsha Lanza, expressed disbelief.

“The family of Nancy Lanza shares the grief of a community and nation as we struggle to … comprehend the loss that we all share. ... On behalf of Nancy’s mother and siblings, we reach out to the community… and express our heartfelt sorrow for their incomprehensible tragedy and loss of innocence that has affected so many,” the family said in a statement.

It was read at a news conference by the sheriff of Rockingham County, N.H., where Nancy Lanza’s brother is employed as a law enforcement officer.

Adam Lanza’s father, Peter, also issued a statement.

“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,” it said. “We are in a state of disbelief and trying to find whatever answers we can. We too are asking why.”

Hennessy-Fiske reported from Newtown, Murphy from Seattle and Serrano from Washington, D.C.