|An undated photo of the suspected gunman’s mother Nancy Lanza, according to a family member who gave it to ABC News. (Right) Her former husband, Peter Lanza. (Reuters)
Newtown, Dec. 16: 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 to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed 26 more people, the authorities said.
Nancy’s fascination with guns became an important focus of attention on Saturday as investigators tried to determine what caused Adam to carry out one of the worst massacres in America’s history.
Investigators have linked Nancy 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.
Nancy, 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home here with Adam, and had struggled to help him cope with a developmental disorder that often left him reserved and withdrawn, according to relatives, friends and former classmates.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 Nancy.
In a statement on Saturday night, her ex-husband, Peter Lanza, an executive at General Electric, said he was co-operating with investigators. “We are in a state of disbelief…,” he said. “We, too, are asking why.”
Nancy’s sister-in-law Marsha Lanza, who lives in Illinois, said Adam had been home-schooled for a time because his mother was not “satisfied with the school”.
Nancy 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 Nancy 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.
Nancy 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, Nancy 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, Nancy overheard and offered to write the man a cheque.
“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 Web site, 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.