Investigators’ final report on last year’s school massacre in Newtown provided new insights into Nancy Lanza’s home life with her troubled adult son and renewed the debate over whether she bears any responsibility for the bloodbath that began with her shooting death.
“I think that we will always be bewildered by someone who did express her concern for her son, why she sought to have him engage with firearms,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday. “Not even those folks who oppose reasonable gun safety legislation would argue that it was a good idea to have someone who was evidencing this kind of disturbance have possession of the kinds of weapons that he had possession of.”
Adam Lanza’s fascination with violence was apparent to teachers and other acquaintances, investigators said in their report. He collected materials on mass killings and kept a spreadsheet ranking of mass murders.
But his mother wasn’t allowed to enter his bedroom, according to the report, and it was unclear how much she knew about his obsession.
While the details released Monday led some observers to direct their anger at her, suggesting she was more enabler than victim, others were more sympathetic.
A friend of hers, Marvin LaFontaine, said Tuesday that she did her best raising her son even though he was difficult and resisted help from others or talking about issues such as other children picking on him.
“That really frustrated her,” LaFontaine said. “It just wore her down to the bone.”
James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston, said Nancy Lanza didn’t ignore her son’s psychological problems and can’t be blamed for his actions.
“She was a victim, not an accessory,” he said. “We can easily second-guess parents, and there’s a lot there we can question, but the fact of the matter is many people commit horrible crimes despite the best efforts of parents, siblings and others.”
Adam Lanza, 20, shot his mother in the head four times Dec. 14, then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed 20 first-graders and six women with a semi-automatic rifle. He committed suicide as police arrived.
The report detailed some of the family’s efforts to address the needs of a young man described as withdrawn, lacking an appreciation of other’s feelings, and beset with “significant mental health issues.”
He had evaluations of many types over the years, he was home-schooled for a period because he did not like the noise at Newtown High School, and he refused medications and behavior therapies that were suggested for him.
Some parents of other troubled young adults said they can understand what Nancy Lanza was going through.
Peggy Sinclair-Morris, a special education teacher in Midlothian, Va., said it was like the “wild, wild West” as she tried to find the right treatment for her 18-year-old daughter, who has an anxiety disorder and has attempted suicide several times. If your child does not have certain symptoms, she said, you can get passed around by the system.
“I feel empathy for his mom just because, like I said, you try to find the services, and when they’re not available, you try to do what you have to do to help your kids,” Sinclair-Morris said. “Just because your son committed that horrible act doesn’t mean she was a horrible mother.”
Nancy Lanza, who was divorced from Adam’s father, indicated that she did not work because of her son’s condition. In their spacious Newtown home, she catered to his requests, cooking to his specifications and getting rid of a cat because he did not want it in the house.
In the weeks before the massacre, she said her son hadn’t gone anywhere in three months and that they would communicate only by email, even though they lived under the same roof.
She often took her son shooting at a gun range. She legally purchased all the weapons her son carried the day of the massacre, and she had written a check to buy him a pistol for Christmas.
The report said that she was concerned about her son, but that she never expressed fear that she or anyone else was in danger from him. He was never violent or threatening toward others before the attack, according to the report.
A spokesman for Lanza’s father, Peter Lanza, didn’t respond to a request for comment.