Connections to shooter's family adds to Newtown's grief
NEWTOWN, Conn. -- If you don't know someone in this town, you can be sure a friend does. That's how the elementary school shooting that killed 28 Newtowners Friday ripped through this sleepy New England hamlet. But tight-knit as the community is, relatively little has emerged about the 20-year-old gunman's life here.
"It's such a small community," said John Schreiner from the front walkway of his Churchill Street home on Sunday. "You're bound to know somebody who was directly touched by this -- a family member of one of the victims, a first responder who was there on the scene."
Even for locals who didn't know Adam Lanza directly, there are few degrees of separation: He was the high school classmate of a son's girlfriend. He was the younger brother of former employee. He lived three doors down from a friend.
These are the kinds of connections being drawn in a town reeling with loss. But they don't satisfy the unanswerable question: Why?
Piecing together a portrait of the Lanza family is complicated largely because Adam and his mother are dead. Nancy Lanza's body was found in the home they shared after Adam killed 20 young children and six adults in a shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday.
Local law enforcement officials have indicated that there's "some very good evidence" that will help explain how and why Adam snapped, but they've declined to get more specific as the investigation continues.
Newtowners are dumbfounded, not just by the nightmarish surreality that the horrific murders brought to their charming community, but by the involvement of a family that's been here for nearly two decades.
"We were like, ‘No way,' " said Mark Tambascio, one of the owners of My Place, a warm, Cheers-esque bar in Newtown center. "There's gotta be another Lanza."
Ryan Lanza, Adam's older brother, worked at My Place for about two years during high school. Nancy was enough of a regular at the bar that the Tambascios -- Mark, his brother John, and their mother Louise -- say they'll dedicate a barstool in her honor. Nancy would occasionally bring Adam to My Place for dinner.
"He was very quiet and reserved," Mark Tambascio said. "Tough to communicate with. It wasn't like he couldn't speak. He didn't have a speech impediment. He was just a highly intelligent kid."
Louise Tambascio, too, described Adam as the polar opposite of his older brother. Both boys were "very, very brilliant," but that's where the similarities ended.
"Ryan is outgoing, he socialized with the customers," Louise said. "Adam wouldn't socialize. He was different. He was shy. We knew he had a problem. He didn't want to talk. You couldn't have a conversation with him."
Adam was so smart, the Tambascios say, that he finished high school two years early. He was also homeschooled for a time, they say. But Nancy clearly struggled with her youngest son.
"It was really tough on her,"Mark Tambascio said. "She'd say, ‘I have to bring him here; I can't go here because of that; I can't do this because of that; I have to be with Adam.' Stuff like that. She couldn't do a lot of things because she had to care for him."
Those who knew Nancy say Adam's "condition" -- several patrons who knew Nancy described it as Asperger's Syndrome, and were careful to remind that Asperger's shouldn't be causally linked to his shooting rampage -- obviously weighed heavily on her at times, but she wasn't one to burden others with her problems.
Russ Hanoman, who first met Nancy at My Place a "long time" ago, says she was one to live in the moment. At the bar on Sunday, he shared a photo of her from his 2008 birthday party, a boat ride in Newport, R.I. In the photo, Nancy's eyes are closed, and the beginning of a smile is spreading across her face.
"Being on the water, the wind in her hair, just being happy," Hanoman said. "That's the kind of person she was. She loved to celebrate the moment."
Hanoman also described her as outgoing and elegant, with a love of good restaurants and classical music. Another friend described her laugh, and the way she'd snort if you got her laughing hard enough.
Nancy's friends are discouraged by reports that she was a "big, big fan of guns," a detail that many news outlets lifted from Newtowner Jim Leff's blog. He and Nancy weren't friends, he wrote, just "ex-changed greetings whenever we crossed paths." The owners and bar regulars at My Place say Nancy only recently took an interest in shooting.
"She took it up as a hobby about three years ago, target shooting," Mark Tambascio said. "She didn't talk much about it to me. Just, ‘Oh, I went shooting today,' you know. Nothing else."
He and his brother John insist she wouldn't have left her weapons unlocked or otherwise available for the taking. They said they weren't sure whether she ever invited her sons to a firing range.
Those who know her say Nancy didn't work, other than her philanthropic involvement with charities. She and her sons' father, Peter Lanza, divorced in 2008 according to Connecticut courts records. Peter is an tax executive for General Electric, according to his LinkedIn profile. With their divorce came some alimony payments -- more than $240,000 annually, several news outlets reported.
"He had a good job and she had an accident a while ago," Mark Tambascio said. "She had a car accident where she wore leg braces for many years. We never talked about any [financial settlement] that happened with that."
Public records show Nancy and Peter once jointly owned the house where Nancy's body was found on Friday, but Mark says Peter never lived there. The two were "definitely" not together when the Nancy and her sons arrived in Newtown some 17 years ago, he said. Neither Peter Lanza or Ryan Lanza returned requests for interviews, but Peter issued this statement Saturday night:
"No words can truly express how heartbroken we are. We are in a state of disbelief and trying to find whatever answers we can. We too are asking why."
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