By all accounts, Nancy Jean Champion — or Beanie, as her high school yearbook calls her — had a charmed upbringing. Her mom was a school nurse. Her brother became a town police officer. And after she married her sweetheart in 1981, becoming Mrs. Peter J. Lanza, the couple built a house next door to her childhood home.
“They were very nice people,” said the owner of the local pizza shop here. “They are from a lovely family.”
In 1988, the couple welcomed a baby boy, Ryan. Four years later, another baby boy arrived: Adam. Nancy, who worked in the Boston financial district to put her husband through college, became a stay-at-home mother increasingly focused on the challenges of her youngest.
Last week, Adam shot his mother four times in her bed, authorities said, killing her. Next he gunned down 26 other people, most of them not much older than he was when he bounced around the grassy family homestead as a little boy.
While investigators don’t know or haven't said why Adam Lanza went on a horrific killing spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., a clearer portrait of the family that raised him is emerging through interviews around the country with friends and family and in divorce documents sealing the end of the Lanza’s marriage three years ago.
From the outside, the Lanza family portrait was one of wealth and privilege, of jobs landed at marquee corporations — he at General Electric, she briefly at John Hancock. They moved to a hilltop home in Newtown, a village exurb of New York City.
But it was their difficult second son who came to dominate the family’s time and collective psyche, especially Nancy’s. He had few friends, had trouble in schools and had difficulty reaching the steppingstones of normal teenage life. At age 20, he had only recently begun to drive.
As time passed, the family fractured and broke apart. Around the time of the divorce, Ryan Lanza graduated from college and moved to work in New York. Adam stayed with Nancy Lanza, and her life took on strange habits. She didn’t let visitors into their home. She collected powerful weapons. And she began to bring her increasingly troubled son to “multiple shooting ranges,” officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Monday, to practice using those guns together.
“She wasn’t afraid to be there for her kids,” Marsha Lanza, who is married to Peter Lanza’s brother Michael, said at her home in Crystal Lake, Ill. “She was involved. That’s why, when I heard that he shot her, that floored me. That just didn’t make sense to me, because your mom did all this stuff for you. What the hell were you thinking? Why did you take your revenge out on her? What did she do?”
Nancy and Peter moved to Newtown in 1998. Peter commuted to New York City to work as a vice president for GE. Nancy had health problems — multiple sclerosis — for which she sought treatment in New York, according to her former sister-in-law.