“I got into a long talk with his mother,” Wipprecht said. “She was concerned about Adam. He was obviously very bright and very shy. She was worried he wasn’t doing as well as he should be.”
Wipprecht was surprised by the level of Nancy’s concern. “I didn’t see autism there,” she said.
Several years later, when the boys entered middle school, Lanza took her son out of the public system and put him into St. Rose of Lima, a Catholic school, because “she thought he would do better in smaller classes,” Wipprecht said.
The two women did not stay in touch after the boys finished elementary school. Their boys did not see each other again until 10th grade at Newtown High School, where Miles remembers Adam being “very, very quiet,” Wipprecht said.
Somewhere along the way, Adam was given a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, a developmental disorder related to autism that usually involves impaired social skills, difficulty communicating, and repetitive and fixated behavior. H. Wayne Carver II, Connecticut’s chief medical examiner, said his office is consulting with geneticists in a search for “any identifiable disease associated with” Adam, noting that “Asperger’s is not associated with behavior patterns that are violent.”
At St. Rose — although the Lanzas were Catholic, they were not religious and did not belong to the church, friends and relatives said — Adam “wasn’t interested in what normal, average 13-year-olds were interested in,” said Nicholas Martinez, a classmate who is now a student at Seattle University. “He didn’t like contemporary music” but listened to classic rock from the 1950s.
Students who knew Adam at St. Rose school said he was distant but not entirely unreachable. “He wasn’t an outcast, but he didn’t fit in either,” Martinez said.
“You would say ‘hi,’ and he would say ‘hi’ back, but he didn’t give you a lot to work with,” said Kate Leen, now a student at Hofstra University.
In ninth grade, Adam returned to public school, but his difficulty relating to people was obvious even to those who had only casual contact with him. Newtown High, one of the largest schools in Connecticut with 1,750 students, reflects the town’s affluence — the median family income is $104,000 — with 87 percent of students planning to attend college and test scores well above the state average.
A high school classmate who was on the honor roll with Adam in 10th grade saw his photo after the shootings and didn’t recognize the young man. Then she saw an older picture, from Newtown High’s tech club, which is where she came to know Adam.
“I knew exactly who it was,” she said, talking on the condition of anonymity.
Lanza was the only kid at Newtown High who dressed as he did — Dockers, polo shirts, something like “business casual,” said the classmate. Adam’s shirt was often untucked. His clothes never quite fit, hanging off him, “loose. They were nice clothes but ill-fitting. It made for a funny picture. It would look strange.”
Adam carried a briefcase every day. No other students did.
Newtown High was a cold place for a kid like Adam, according to his peers and their parents. He was alone and apart from the school’s intricate social circles and the swirl of teenager politics.
The classmate said she, too, was nerdy and had a tough time with the popular kids. “No one went out of their way to include me,” she said. “Anyone who was different didn’t fit in. If you let it get to you, it would destroy you.”
She would see Adam in the cafeteria, sitting near her small group of friends, invariably surrounded by people but never saying a word to any of them.
“This is a person you would have had to watch and care for and protect him from the other students,” said Richard Novia, who was security director for the Newtown schools for 16 years. “This is a boy who always had a buttoned shirt right to the top button.”
Adam was not only “a quiet, shy child, small in stature . . . and challenged to make friends,” but also regularly had episodes in which “he’d just shut down and pull within himself,” Novia told the Associated Press. “He would avoid verbal or physical contact with just about anyone if he could. Getting him back out of that would be challenging.”
On such occasions, the school would contact his mother, whom Novia saw as “an excellent parent,” and she could coax her son out of his shell.
Novia also knew Adam through the high school’s tech club, which brought together teens who played computer games and wrote programming code.