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Raising Adam Lanza - Part 2 (continued)

Problems Escalate

But Adam never actually left the Newtown school district. He remained enrolled, entering a special program in which he did prepared lessons at home, according to a family member of Nancy Lanza who asked not to be identified. Lanza would take Adam back to Sandy Hook Elementary after hours to do the work he could not do at home. In this manner, Adam stayed connected to Sandy Hook, and was one of the students who signed a school T-shirt in 2003, when he was a fifth-grader. Adam's problems with social interaction and communicating with others began to escalate in middle school, when the chaos and noise of students changing classes upset him. Nancy Lanza's response was to withdraw Adam from the middle school.

But when Lanza again raised the possibility of moving to a smaller town with smaller schools, a professional in the Newtown system told her that Adam needed stability and that moving would be the worst thing she could do, the family member said.
She took that advice and stayed put, but she wasn't always accepting of help for Adam. "There's a lot of counseling help available and not all of it's good," said LaFontaine. "She was very particular about who she would bring him to." "She often didn't trust … the intentions of some counselors, maybe [thought] they didn't really … know what they were doing, or they didn't understand the situation enough to help," said LaFontaine.

Adam began eighth grade at St. Rose of Lima School in Newtown. But he stayed for less than half the year before Nancy Lanza withdrew her son, diocesan officials said. The problems he had there followed a familiar refrain: He was shy, withdrawn, and had little contact with his classmates.

Kateleen Foy, now an undergraduate at Hofstra University in New York, said she was at St. Rose of Lima with Adam. She recalled that he joined the class after the school year began and left before school got out for the summer. "He was really shy, really painfully shy," Foy said. "He was a little hard to talk to." Foy said she didn't recall seeing Lanza again after he left St. Rose until she spotted him in a hall while they were students at Newtown High School. In high school, "There were never any concrete signs of anything like [violence]. He went with the flow. ... He flew under the radar," Foy said.

Asperger's is a disorder that is part of the autism spectrum. It is marked by difficulty with social interaction. Many with Asperger's are otherwise high-functioning people. There is no predisposition toward violence among those with Asperger's, experts say.
"It's very important for people to know that there is absolutely no correlation between the diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome and a predilection toward violent behavior," said Dr. Harold Schwartz, chief psychiatrist at the Institute of Living in Hartford.
In 2006, Adam entered Newtown High School, a 376,000-square-foot building that sits like a fortress off Berkshire Road. More than 1,700 students enjoy such amenities as newly renovated athletic fields, a cutting-edge library and the state's largest school auditorium.

Joining The Club

When Adam Lanza entered the school, he began to spend time with Richard Novia, a former corporate security director and licensed private investigator who served as security chief for Newtown schools. Novia, a self-described geek, was an adviser to the tech club, which he had started in the 1990s with three kids. It had grown to 40 students by the time Adam arrived. As school groups go, this was an uber club. The kids produced Channel 17, an award-winning, townwide cable access channel where they filmed football and basketball games, parades, graduations, and a slew of other school events. The kids programmed robots and rebuilt computers from the motherboard up. Some of them run tech companies now.

The club also became a family of sorts, bonding during overnight romps in the school, with Novia presiding over a slate of events that included capture the flag and video-game marathons. One of the mainstays of the club was Ryan Lanza, four years older than his little brother. Ryan often served as kind of a caretaker when Adam was away from Nancy Lanza.

Novia tagged the skinny, withdrawn Adam right away as someone who could be bullied, and immediately reached out to Adam's mother. "I interacted with his parent early on to find out as much as I could," Novia said. "As a staff member, and certainly a person who's going to be overseeing your child, I need to know what I'm dealing with … so my interaction with Nancy Lanza was really, 'Tell me about Adam. Tell me what, how you deal with Adam.'

Nancy told Novia that Adam had Asperger's and had also been diagnosed with sensory integration disorder, a diagnosis that is not universally accepted in the medical community. That meant he had difficulty coping with loud noises, bright lights, confusion, and change — which describes every high school in America. He also wouldn't respond appropriately to pain. In other words, he might not report an injury, or might not immediately stop doing something that was harming him.

"It's important for me to tell you that there are many Adams, there are many people who fit a profile" of someone who could be victimized or become isolated, Novia said. He said that the vast majority of these children will never become violent, let alone shoot people. Novia said he saw nothing in Adam that would have predicted any overt violent acts in the future.
He said Nancy Lanza told him she was struggling to bring Adam out of "his own little world."

"And I said that I think I can help him," Novia recalled. "I think I can integrate him better … through the tech club, [by] having [him] interact with the students more." Her reaction to that? "She didn't think it would work … she was very concerned … although she really, really desperately needed him to be more social," Novia said. "So she went along with it and I think we saw some success."
Novia said that there was a climate of caring in the school, and that children such as Adam had administrators, teachers, cafeteria workers and custodians watching out for them. Adam Lanza was enrolled in a special-education program geared for children with social-interaction deficiencies. Novia said Adam had a school psychologist and attended mainstream classes in his core subjects.
But he also had serious difficulties. An image has emerged in the media of a scared child, hugging the wall and clinging to his briefcase in the din of the hallways between class bells.

But it went beyond that. A change in routine or unwanted excitement, such as his friends suddenly queuing up for a game of capture the flag, could lead to what Novia described as a complete shutdown. "Adam had episodes, it was the best way I can describe them to you, where he would completely withdraw. Again, he would go backwards … he would pull back within himself entirely. And getting him to come back out of that required my attention."

Here's what it looked like, according to Novia:
"I'd go up and sit next to him. If he was sitting on the floor in the corner somewhere, I would do the same. … If it took a half an hour to sit there in silence with him, at some point, you'd go, 'How we doing?'
"And you wouldn't get an answer. …But I had a gadget [like a Palm Pilot] with me at one time, where I handed him the gadget, and put it down and he wouldn't take it. But at some point, he started to play with it. And that actually …got him to start to come back and interact and be ready to go take part in the events. No answer, but physically getting up and going. So I would be determined to succeed at helping him."

Novia called Nancy Lanza only once to come to the school, but other administrators frequently requested her presence. She could be at the high school as many as two or three times a week dealing with Adam's behavior issues, Novia said. But as Adam entered his sophomore year at Newtown High School, Novia thought the boy was making progress. Adam "would master [technical tasks] very quickly. But still to get him to speak one or two words, it was very, very hard," Novia said. "But over time I was able to get closer and closer to him, to a point where I felt that I could sit next to him and he wouldn't pull away."

He said Nancy Lanza recognized the progress and acknowledged it. "Yes, she did. She saw it working," he said. "Not just her. Administrators, teachers, all the students that were around him would report that slowly, but surely, he was coming out."

Lost Support

Novia left the Newtown school district after 15 years of service in July 2008. He established a private-investigations company in Spring Hill, Tenn. He said he was stunned to learn after the shootings at Sandy Hook that Nancy Lanza had removed Adam from high school following the boy's sophomore year.

"So suddenly, when she pulls him out of there, he loses all those support groups," Novia said. "He loses the tech club team he was involved in. He loses friends that he had made to a limited degree. He loses his special ed, he loses his school psychologist, he loses the devoted school administrators."

According to a person who has been in touch with Peter Lanza recently, Nancy Lanza never told Adam's father about any frustration with the school. The person spoke on the condition that he not be named. Novia said he was also surprised that Nancy exposed her son to firearms. "It's a serious mistake, first of all," he said. "If you have a child in the home with mental disorders, or learning disabilities, to have involved him with guns in the first place would be bad."

Novia owns several firearms and has taught shooting classes, and he carries a concealed pistol at certain times. He said that even shooting with Adam in the controlled environment of a shooting range was a mistake for his mother, given Adam's psychological conditions. "For healthy people, this is a perfectly fun activity," Novia said of activities at the range.

He said the guns and the violent video games Adam played may well have been an unhealthful combination for a troubled boy.
During a search of the Lanza home after the deadly school shootings, police found thousands of dollars worth of graphically violent video games. And detectives working the scene of the massacre are exploring whether Adam Lanza might have been emulating the shooting range or a video-game scenario as he moved from room to room at Sandy Hook, spewing bullets, law enforcement sources have told The Courant.

Before he killed his mother and set off for Sandy Hook Elementary, Adam Lanza destroyed the hard drive on his computer, which probably kept some of the records of the games he played and who he played with. He also may have destroyed any chance to see if he had a manifesto or had written down anything indicating that he planned the shootings, or why he chose the elementary school.

A Period Of Change

Adam's life after high school was marked by change. His parents divorced in the fall of 2009 after a separation that — according to those close to both sides of the Lanza family — started in 2001. In divorce records on file in Superior Court in Stamford, the couple cited irreconcilable differences. Peter Lanza remarried in 2011.

According to records, Peter Lanza paid Nancy yearly alimony totaling $240,000 in 2010; $265,000 in 2011; and $289,800 in 2012. Peter Lanza was solely responsible for the cost of college for Adam and brother Ryan. He also was responsible for buying Adam a car.
The Lanzas had joint custody of Adam, who was 17 in 2009, although he lived with his mother.

After the divorce, Peter Lanza continued to see his sons weekly, taking them skiing, hiking, rock climbing, to coin shows and on overnights at his Stamford apartment, the person who has recently been in touch with Peter Lanza said.
Peter Lanza often would help Adam with his math and science homework and described his son as "highly intelligent" and a "voracious reader," the person said.

But during the following year, 2010, Adam severed all contact with his father "Something happened with Adam," the person in touch with Lanza said. "Given the amount of time they were spending with each other, it was a sudden shift." During this period, Adam also cut contacts with his brother, Ryan, who lived in Hoboken, N.J., and worked at a New York City financial firm.

Around this time, in 2010, Nancy Lanza was no longer in communication with her younger brother, James Champion, a military veteran and a ranking officer with Kingston police. Adam had looked up to his Uncle Jim, but Nancy began to discourage Adam from emulating his uncle, according to LaFontaine. LaFontaine said he ran into Champion in Kingston in 2011 or early 2012 and asked him about his sister. By that time, after 10 years of regular contact, Nancy Lanza was no longer communicating regularly with LaFontaine.
"I haven't heard from her in a while,'" LaFontaine said Champion told him. "And he looked down at the ground and he looked sad and he said, 'I don't know, she's not talking to me anymore." LaFontaine said, "I thought, well, that's odd because she really loved her baby brother and so I wondered what had happened. I didn't ask him, I didn't think he wanted to talk about it, but there was something amiss."

Champion did not return phone and Internet messages for comment. When The Courant went to his Kingston home, a sign on the door asked members of the media to respect his privacy. After the divorce, Nancy Lanza traveled more, leaving Adam alone for days at a time, something, she told friends, she was doing to encourage Adam to be more independent. She went to fine restaurants in Connecticut and Boston and traveled to England, New Orleans and San Francisco on occasion, her friends said. In an email to LaFontaine after her divorce in the fall of 2009, she said she was in Boston "on a regular basis," and usually stayed at the Fairmont, the Four Seasons or the Ritz-Carlton.

When she went away, she would leave prepared meals in the refrigerator for Adam. She spent this past Thanksgiving in northern New England with family, one in a series of trips she took without her son. "She was very comfortable leaving him alone for several days at a time," said Bergquist, who was friends in Newtown with Nancy Lanza. Adam eventually earned his high school diploma, according to a person close to Peter Lanza. He also worked part time at a computer-repair shop in Newtown until it went out of business.

In the summer of 2008, when he was 16, Adam enrolled in classes at Western Connecticut State University. He did well, earning a 3.26 grade-point average. He received an A in a computer class, an A-minus in an American history class and a B in a macroeconomics class. He was given a C in philosophy, and he dropped out of a German language class. His mother told friends that Adam embraced a more adult environment in college, but it didn't last. He was out in a year. In 2010, he enrolled in classes at Norwalk Community College but dropped out in the first semester. After that, there was no more school for the 19-year-old. He sprouted to about 5 feet 10 and got his driver's license in 2010. He played the saxophone and a stringed instrument, and was studying Mandarin Chinese.

During this period, friends and family members said, Nancy Lanza disclosed little about her struggles with Adam. But on one recent occasion, she confided in Rich Collins, another friend in Newtown and father of a boy with autism. Something was bothering her, she told Collins. "He was very sensitive to touch and didn't want to be touched," Collins said of Adam. "That used to hurt her. She would get upset about that." Asked about the Asperger's experience, the person close to Peter Lanza said Adam's father found it challenging.

Family With Firearms

Adam was exposed to guns at an early age and he continued to shoot at target ranges with his mother through his late teens, friends and other sources said. Shooting weapons was something Peter and Nancy Lanza did with their children dating to the early days in Kingston.

But after the killings, investigators would focus on Adam Lanza's involvement with firearms and his immersion in the video-game culture as they tried to unravel the riddle of Lanza's last two years. Nancy Lanza purchased four firearms between 2010 and 2012, according to law enforcement sources. During that time, she told a friend, landscaper Dan Holmes of Newtown, that she took both sons target shooting at a gun range. "She said she took her kids target shooting, that they bonded over that," said Holmes, who planted flower beds and tended the 2 acres surrounding Nancy and Peter Lanza's $500,000 home.

Since the Sandy Hook shootings, officials from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives have visited gun stores where Nancy Lanza is believed to have purchased the weapons, as well as gun ranges where she is believed to have shot with Adam. An ATF official told The Courant in December that the agency doesn't believe either Nancy or Adam Lanza engaged in target shooting over the previous six months.

Mark Tambascio, owner of the My Place Pizza & Restaurant in Newtown, which Nancy Lanza frequented, and a friend of hers since 1999, said a retired police officer instructed Nancy in the use of her firearms. "She really took to it," Tambascio said. "I grew up target shooting myself and so we talked a little bit about it."

Holmes, the landscaper, recalled a spring day a couple of years ago when Nancy had retrieved a beautifully crafted rifle in a case from her home and proudly displayed it to him. "I could appreciate the craftsmanship," Holmes said. The target shooting "was definitely her outlet. She really talked enthusiastically about it," Holmes said.

After the massacre at Sandy Hook, friends said, Nancy Lanza has been unfairly portrayed as a "gun nut" when, in fact, she enjoyed shooting firearms as a hobby and used the activity to bond with her sons. "She's been described as some sort of survivalist, or a prepper who was preparing for the government and the economy crumbling, which was simply not the case," Bergquist said.

But other friends are now questioning Nancy Lanza's decision to expose Adam to firearms. Tambascio said he didn't know that Adam had accompanied his mother to the shooting ranges. He said that if he had known, "I may have had a little bit to say about that."
Holmes said that although he worked for Lanza for several years, she never let him in the house — something other friends had reported as well.

Her home was renovated after sustaining damage in the heavy snows of 2010 and 2011, and her My Place buddies were hoping to get an invitation. "When the renovations to her house were complete, she always said that she was going to have a garden party and we were all excited to see her house all finished and maybe finally get over there and see what her house was like," Bergquist said.
"That never happened, and maybe she realized that that wouldn't be possible. Not a lot of people went into the house. I assumed that Nancy was very particular, just like me … but I don't think that was it. I think that was a little bit of an excuse and I think that Adam was uncomfortable having too many people around."

The amount of time Adam Lanza spent in the basement alone, playing video games, also has become a subject of police scrutiny, law-enforcement sources told The Courant. Police investigators scoured the house after the rampage and found Lanza's collection of video games in the basement game room.

Nancy Lanza described renovations to the basement in a Feb. 12, 1999, email to LaFontaine, She said the basement included "a gameroom for the boys. … It will actually be two rooms and a bathroom. In addition, I will have a laundry room/exercise room for myself and perhaps a small shop area for my newest hobby (refinishing antiques)."

A contractor who did extensive work inside the Lanza home in 2011 said he frequently saw Adam Lanza going in and out of his upstairs bedroom. Bergquist said Adam Lanza slept in the basement gameroom during the renovations in 2011. He said his mother spent her days at the house during the construction and slept at night at an inn in Newtown "because she didn't want to sleep around a big mess. She would go [home] during the day and be with Adam."

But there were stretches when he was alone in the house for days at a time. During the week leading up to the shooting rampage, Nancy Lanza spent at least one night away in an upscale New Hampshire hotel, while Adam stayed home alone. It was Wednesday night, Dec. 12, 2012, 36 hours before Adam's rampage. She sent a Facebook message from the fancy dining room to Bergquist. In it, Lanza describes how she is dining next to a finely dressed couple — with tattoos poking out of their evening wear.
"A shimmery evening dress looks less formal with daggers and skulls peeking out," Lanza wrote to Bergquist. "Be forewarned," she added as a joke, "tattoo girl has talked me into a dragon tattoo."

A Plan Of His Own

Earlier in 2012, Nancy Lanza had once again begun to talk with friends and family members about a big change: moving to Washington state or North Carolina so Adam could once again attend college and pursue a degree in history. To friends and family, Nancy was again looking for the right educational fit for her now adult son — even if it meant leaving New England, where she had lived her entire life. One family member believes Nancy would not have planned such a move without Adam behind it. When the family member asked Nancy why, she responded, "You never turn your back on your children," the family member recounted.

She told Tambascio that she planned to continue living with Adam "for a very long time." And Tambascio said Nancy even sold her beloved Red Sox season tickets as she prepared for the move. "She seemed excited about it," said Bergquist. "She wanted to get Adam into school and try to have him have some sort of normal life and she seemed excited about the change." But Adam's father didn't know about the move. "He was not aware of any discussions about that," said the person close to Peter Lanza.

Tambascio said she had been entertaining a move for some time and appeared to have settled on Washington state. "For a couple of years she's been looking. And she always told me the last couple of years, 'Mark, I'm gonna be moving. I'm gonna be moving for Adam, I'm gonna be moving.' But she never got the chance. Adam Lanza had plans of his own.

Who Was Adam Lanza, And What Was The Nature Of His Relationship With His Mother?
Watch The FRONTLINE Special Tues., Feb. 19 at 10 p.m. (Link to courant article)

February 17, 2013|By ALAINE GRIFFIN,, and JOSH KOVNER,, The Hartford Courant
Courant staff writers Dave Altimari and Edmund H. Mahony contributed to this story. Reporting from Frank Koughan, FRONTLINE included.

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