Adam Lanza is recalled as a ‘rambunctious kid’ with family problems

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Nancy Lanza, the mother of gunman Adam Lanza, was a kindergarten teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. That information was provided by law enforcement officials. On Saturday, officials said that Nancy Lanza, who was killed at her nearby home, had no connection to the school. An earlier version of this article also incorrectly said that many of the children killed were kindergartners. All were in the first grade. The incorrect information was provided by law enforcement officials speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was in its initial stages. This version has been updated.

December 14, 2012

Adam Lanza was his name.

Adam P. Lanza, 20, obscure in life, infamous in death.

A really rambunctious kid, as one former neighbor in Newtown, Conn., recalled him, adding that he was on medication. He was the son of an accountant. A family member told investigators that he had a form of autism, a law enforcement official said.

And he will long be remembered.

On Friday morning, police say, he shot and killed his mother in their home. And then, carrying firearms and an abundance of ammunition, he drove to Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School and started shooting. By the time he turned one of the guns on himself, police say, he had killed 20 children, all of them first-graders, and six more adults.

David Fahrenthold with details on the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. (The Fold/The Washington Post)

Adam Peter Lanza — a new addition to a dreadful list, the roster of killers who targeted students: Seung Hui Cho at Virginia Tech (32 dead); Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine High in Colorado (13 dead), Charles C. Roberts IV at a little Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania (five dead). The litany of massacres goes on.

As scores of investigators worked Friday to piece together what happened at the school and why, the barest details of Lanza’s life began to emerge.

His parents, Nancy and Peter Lanza, separated about a decade ago, and his mother remained in the family’s home with her sons, Adam and Ryan Lanza, according to Ryan Kraft, 25, who was a neighbor.

The separation hit the children hard, Kraft recalled.

When Nancy Lanza would go out to dinner with friends, she sometimes relied on Kraft to watch Adam Lanza, who was too boisterous for Ryan Lanza to manage. “He would have tantrums,” Kraft said. “They were much more than the average kid [had].” Yet he was not prone to violence, Kraft said.

“The kids seemed really depressed” by the breakup, Kraft said of the Lanza brothers. Ryan Lanza, 24, now lives in Hoboken, N.J. Police questioned him Friday, but law enforcement officials said he was cooperating and is not suspected of having anything to do with the shootings.

For several hours Friday, authorities and the news media misidentified the shooter as Ryan Lanza, who, like his father, is an accountant, a law enforcement official said.

The Wall Street Journal quoted a friend of Ryan Lanza’s as saying that Lanza works for Ernst & Young. “He [is] a little shy, but very nice and sweet,” the friend, Katie Colaneri, 24, of Hoboken, told the Journal.

Nancy Lanza put the best face possible on her domestic troubles, the former neighbor said. “Nancy was really pleasant,” Kraft said. “She would come by the house and have a glass of wine with my mom.” The couple’s divorce was finalized in 2009, according to court records.

Beth Israel, who lived for a time on the same street as the Lanzas, recalled Adam Lanza as withdrawn but not threatening in any way.

“Overall, I would just call him a socially awkward kid, I don’t know, shy and quiet. Didn’t really look you in the eye,” Israel said in a telephone interview Friday night. “Just kind of a weird kid, maybe. I can’t tell you any specific incidents why [I thought so],” she said.

At a vigil in Newtown, a man of about Adam Lanza’s age was visibly distraught. “I knew Adam in high school,” he said, declining to give his name. “He always seemed like a quiet type. He was never really sociable. When you try to communicate with him, he would just kind of like have one- or two-word responses.

“He was a wicked smart kid, he excelled in everything,” the man said. “He graduated high school three years early.”

The man defended Adam’s mother and objected to some reports about her. “I know her. My family knew her. She was a respectable collector [of guns]. She used them responsibly. It’s not her fault that any of this happened.”

At the vigil, Catherine Urso said her son went to high school with Adam Lanza, who “was very remote, reclusive.” Lanza and his friends, she said, “always gathered alone in a corner in the school.”

A law enforcement official — who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is far from finished — said Adam Lanza fatally shot his mother in her home, then drove in her car to Sandy Hook Elementary.

He had two semiautomatic pistols and a .223-caliber rifle, law enforcement officials said. He apparently used only the handguns, which were later found in the school. The rifle was found in the vehicle.

Peter Lanza, a vice president and tax specialist at GE Energy Financial Services, is remarried and lives in Stamford, Conn., according to the Stamford Advocate. When he arrived home Friday and was approached by a reporter, the paper reported, he appeared “surprised and horrified” and declined to comment on the massacre.

A woman who is a close friend of Peter Lanza’s became highly emotional in a brief telephone interview Friday. “His son was doing wonderfully,” she said of Adam Lanza. “This is inconceivable. Peter adores his children. His son was doing so well.”

Lynch reported from Newtown, Conn. Sari Horwitz and Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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