NEWTOWN, Connecticut: Nancy Lanza loved guns, and often took her sons to one of the shooting ranges here in the suburbs northeast of New York City, where there is an active community of gun enthusiasts, her friends said. At a local bar, she sometimes talked about her gun collection.
It was one of her guns that was apparently used to take her life on Friday. Her killer was her son Adam Lanza, 20, who then drove toSandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed 26 more people, 20 of them small children, before shooting himself, the authorities said.
Lanza’s fascination with guns became an important focus of attention on Saturday as investigators tried to determine what caused Lanza to carry out one of the worst massacres in the nation’s history.
Investigators have linked Lanza to five weapons: two powerful handguns, two traditional hunting rifles and a semiautomatic rifle that is similar to weapons used by troops in Afghanistan. Her son took the two handguns and the semiautomatic rifle to the school. Law enforcement officials said they believed the guns were acquired legally and were registered.
Lanza, 52, had gone through a divorce in 2008 and was described by friends as social and generous to strangers, but also high-strung, as if she were holding herself together. She lived in a large Colonial home here with Adam Lanza, and had struggled to help him cope with a developmental disorder that often left him reserved and withdrawn, according to relatives, friends and former classmates.
At some point, he had dropped out of the Newtown school system. An older son, Ryan, did not live with Lanza.
In a statement on Saturday night, her ex-husband, Peter Lanza, an executive at General Electric, said he was cooperating with investigators. “We are in a state of disbelief and trying to find whatever answers we can,” he said. “We, too, are asking why.”
He added: “Like so many of you, we are saddened but struggling to make sense of what has transpired.”
Lanza’s brother James Champion, a former police officer who lives in Kingston, N.H., said on Saturday that agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation had questioned family members on Friday night.
Champion would not discuss whether Adam Lanza had a developmental disorder or mental illness.
“On behalf of Nancy’s mother and siblings, we reach out to the community of Newtown to express our heartfelt sorrow for the incomprehensible loss of innocence that has affected so many,” Champion said in a statement.
He said Lanza had grown up and lived in Kingston with her husband and sons before they left in 1998. He said he had not seen Adam Lanza in eight years.
Lanza’s sister-in-law Marsha Lanza, who lives in Illinois, said Adam Lanza had been home-schooled for a time because his mother was not “satisfied with the school.”
Former classmates here described him as nervous, with a flat affect.
“He was always different — keeping to himself, fidgeting and very quiet,” said a classmate, AlexIsrael. “But I could always tell he was a supersmart kid, maybe just socially awkward, something just off about him. The same went for when I went to his house. His mother was always nice to me; she was a kind, typical suburban mom as far as I remember. As time went on, he continued to keep to himself and I branched out more, so not much contact with him after middle school.
“By the time high school came around, he did sort of disappear,” she added. “I’d see him in the halls walking quickly with his briefcase he carried, but I never had a class with him and never saw him with friends. I was yearbook editor and I remember he declined to be photographed or give us a senior quote or baby picture.”
Some former classmates said they had been told that Mr. Lanza had Asperger’s syndrome, which is considered a high-functioning form of autism.
News reports on Friday suggested that Lanza had worked at the elementary school where the shooting occurred, but on Saturday the school superintendent said there was no evidence that she had ever worked there.
The authorities said it was not clear why Lanza had gone to the school.
Lanza was a slender woman with blond shoulder-length hair who enjoyed craft beers, jazz and landscaping. She often went to a local restaurant and music spot, My Place, where at beer tastings on Tuesday evenings, she sometimes talked about her gun collection, recalled an acquaintance, Dan Holmes, the owner of a landscaping company in Newtown.
“She had several different guns,” Holmes said. “I don’t know how many. She would go target shooting with her kids.”
Many of those who knew Lanza in Newtown were at a loss to describe what she did for a living. Her brother in New Hampshire said she had not been working, but had once been a stockbroker.
Louise Tambascio, owner of My Place, said Lanza volunteered occasionally.
“She stayed with Adam,” Tambascio said, adding that, as a younger child, he “couldn’t get along with the kids in school.”
Lanza spoke often of her landscaping, Holmes recalled, and later hired him to do work on her home.
He recently dispatched a team to put up Christmas decorations at her house — garlands on the front columns and white lights atop the shrubbery.
After the work was complete, Lanza sent Holmes a text: “That went REALLY well!”
Jim Leff, a musician, often sat next to her at the bar and made small talk, he said in an interview on Saturday.
On one occasion, Leff said, he had gone to Newtown to discuss lending money to a friend. As the two men negotiated the loan, Lanza overheard and offered to write the man a check.
“She was really kind and warm,” Leff said, “but she always seemed a little bit high-strung.”
He declined to elaborate, but in a post on his personal website, he said he felt a distance from her that was explained when he heard, after the shootings, “how difficult her troubled son,” Adam, “was making things for her.”
She was “handling a very difficult situation with uncommon grace,” he wrote.
She was “a big, big gun fan,” he added on his Web site.
There are many gun enthusiasts in this area, residents said.
When some people who live near the elementary school heard the shots fired by Lanza on Friday, they said they were not surprised.
“I really didn’t think anything of it,” said a resident, Ray Rinaldi. “You hear gun shots around here all the time.”
Neighbors recalled Lanza as a regular at Labor Day picnics and “ladies’ nights out” for a dice game called bunco.
“We would rotate houses,” said Rhonda Cullens, 52. “I don’t remember Nancy ever having it at her house.”
Cullens said Lanza spoke often about gardening — exchanging the sorts of questions typical of the neighborhood: Is maintenance worth the trouble for a house like the Lanzas’, scarcely visible from the street?
But for many of those on Yogananda Street, where the Lanzas lived, the recollections about Lanza were incomplete.
“Who were they?” said Len Strocchia, 46, standing beside his daughter as camera crews came through the neighborhood. “I’m sure we rang their door bell on Halloween.”
He looked down the block, then turned back to his daughter. “I’m sure of it,” he said.
Lanza’s sister-in-law Marsha Lanza also struggled to make sense of events. “I just don’t have an answer,” she said, starting to cry.