NEWTOWN, Conn. — His hair is unchanging through the years, a little boy’s simple bowl cut. His eyebrows do not arch or smile. His lips are neither pursed nor puckered but always flat, giving nothing away. His eyes, year after year, pop out from the snapshots, open wide, connecting with no one.
This is what Adam Lanza’s pursuers are left with. In violent death as in isolated life, he gave away little. The 20-year-old who on a bright Friday morning killed 26 people at the elementary school he had attended, as well as his mother and himself, destroyed one promising key to his unspoken passions, hammering his computer’s hard drive into digital silence. He left no note, confided in no friend. His mother, the one person he was known to have spoken to in anything more than monosyllabic responses, he shot in the head, four times, while she was in bed, in her pajamas.
Like Jared Loughner in Arizona and James Holmes in Colorado, Lanza stares out at us, bug-eyed and disconnected, in the grainy snapshot that is our first window into his soul. Mass shooters, almost always loners, often look the part, meaning that the publicly available images of them portray them in no social context, looking but not seeing, seen but not known.
In the desperate search for motive where madness has prevailed, the Lanza case is more frustrating than most. For a young man who spent most of his waking hours at a computer, he appears to have left behind an astonishingly small online footprint — no Facebook page, no Twitter account.
The Connecticut State Police, assisted by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has poured everything it has into the Newtown shootings investigation, but “we don’t have any smoking gun to say this is why it occurred, at least not yet,” said Lt. J. Paul Vance, a department spokesman. “We are looking at several months before we really have our arms wrapped around this.”
Investigators have learned through interviews with friends of Lanza’s mother that he spent his days in the windowless basement of the family’s $600,000, 3,100-square-foot house, sitting in front of a screen, anonymously playing violent video games with people he did not know. Lanza’s devotion to the games, rather than to the people playing them, was so single-minded that, across dozens of online gaming sites, his disappearance after thousands of hours of play has left no ripples, no community of people asking what happened to their former competitor.
From the narrow view of the outside world, Adam slipped through the years like sand through an hourglass. He went to a local hair salon occasionally but always in the company of his mother, who answered the hairdresser’s questions for him. He moved from school to school, leaving so little impression that classmates can’t recall which years he was with them. His mother had friends who adored her and saw her frequently, yet they had never been to her house, never met the son she spoke of so warmly.
But inside 36 Yogananda St., Nancy Lanza had grown progressively more worried and frustrated as her younger son withdrew ever more completely from the world, her friends said. She devoted more than a decade to trying to reach him, start him off, cater to his needs, pull him out of himself. By the end, she had realized she wasn’t getting anywhere.
Not known as hostile
Decades later, elementary school teachers tend to remember their students frozen in time, each child a collection of moments, sweet and savory. From Adam Lanza’s time in second grade, Carole MacInnes remembers an intelligence almost lost in silence.
“He was a little boy in my class in second grade” at Sandy Hook Elementary, said MacInnes, who taught in Newtown for 22 years before retiring three years ago. “A thin little fellow. He was very quiet. There was a quiet depth to him that I couldn’t penetrate.”
The distance was unusual for a second-grader, but Adam was not yet debilitated by his withdrawal. “He didn’t need that much from me,” MacInnes said. “Some kids coming in from first grade need more attention, but academically he was fine. Socially, he got along with the others. I don’t remember him as hostile.”
Nancy Lanza visited MacInnes at parent-teacher conferences, and the sessions were unremarkable; the mother had no special concerns.
But Lanza’s worry about her son was already evident, said Wendy Wipprecht, whose son, Miles Aldrich, was invited, along with the rest of their first-grade class, to Adam’s birthday party — duckpin bowling at Danbury Duckpin Lanes. Miles and his mother were happy to be invited, in part because Miles, who had autism and a teaching aide devoted to him, was not always included in class social events.
At the party, Nancy Lanza approached Wipprecht, evidently worried about her own son.