Sandy Hook probe: What a search of Adam Lanza's home revealed

Court documents made public Thursday list items police found – guns, ammunition, books on mental conditions – at the home of Sandy Hook school shooter Adam Lanza. They reinforce an image of a troubled young man and a family struggling to help him.

By , Staff writer , Staff writer

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    The home of Nancy Lanza and her son Adam in Newtown, Conn., Thursday.
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Police search warrants for the home of Sandy Hook Elementary School gunman Adam Lanza, made public 3-1/2 months after the tragedy, reveal a family struggling with what to do about a troubled young man who clipped newspaper articles about school shootings and played hour upon hour of violent video games. The documents also show a family with a high degree of enthusiasm for guns and ammunition.

State Police had requested the search warrants within hours of the shootings at the school in Newtown, Conn. The courts released them Thursday, with some parts blacked out. The documents also include a list of some items officials seized from the Lanza home after conducting the search.

Though the picture remains partly obscured, the documents give a more complete view of Lanza and his mother, Nancy, whom he apparently killed before going on the Dec. 14 shooting spree that resulted in the slaughter of 20 6- and 7-year-olds and six school employees.

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One indication of how much guns appeared to mean to 20-year-old Lanza: One item discovered at the Lanza home was a holiday card with a check from his mother to buy another weapon.

The state's investigation into the shooting is ongoing, particularly into Lanza's motive. Here's some of what police found at the home, as well as information gleaned from the search warrant.

• An arsenal of ammunition and guns at the residence. Some of the items were in a gun safe: a Planters can loaded with .22 caliber and .45 caliber bullets, eight boxes of Winchester Windcat .22 caliber bullets (50 rounds per box), a box of 30 Magtech rounds, shotgun shells, and boxes of rounds for rifles.

• Books that may indicate what the Lanza family was going through, including “Look Me in the Eye – My Life with Asperger's” and "Born on a Blue Day – Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant.”

• A New York Times newspaper clipping of an article about a shooting at a university in northern Illinois.

• A redacted portion of an FBI interview with someone almost immediately after the shooting. The individual, whose name is blacked out, tells the FBI that Lanza “rarely leaves his home,” is an avid gamer who plays Call of Duty, among other games, and went to Sandy Hook Elementary School. "The school was his 'life,' ” the interviewee told the FBI.

The information was released the same day that President Obama, in a bid to breathe new life into his legislative proposals to tighten gun laws, held an emotional press event with parents who had lost children to gun violence.

“We have moms on this stage whose children were killed as recently as 35 days ago,” said Mr. Obama, at a White House event. “I don't think any of us who are parents can hear their stories and not think about our own daughters and our own sons and our own grandchildren.”

Also on Thursday, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, organized gun-control events at 120 different venues. The group also released a new television ad, which debuted in the Hartford, Conn., market and features families who lost their children at Sandy Hook. The state legislature in Hartford is currently debating gun-control legislation.

Included in the list of items law enforcement officials found at the Lanza home is a "certificate" from the National Rifle Association. On Thursday, the NRA denied that either Adam Lanza or Nancy Lanza were members. “Reporting to the contrary is reckless, false and defamatory,” said the NRA in a statement on its website. NRA certificates are issued, by the NRA or other gun-training outfits, to people who complete education and training courses on guns.

Experts contacted after the release of the search warrants say the documents point to a troubled young man who was collecting weapons, learning to shoot guns, and reading up on previous mass shootings. The information “is consistent with a certain percentage of mass shooters. It becomes a bit of a competition: people trying to make their mark in the world somehow,” says Ronald Schouten, director of the Law & Psychiatry Service at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Schouten helped investigate the case of Steven Kazmierczak, a former student at Northern Illinois University who shot and killed five and injured many others on the campus in 2008 before killing himself. The newspaper clipping found in Lanza’s home was about that incident. 

Schouten suggests that Lanza may have been exhibiting a condition known as Herostratus syndrome, named for a Greek who in 356 BC burned the temple at Ephesus and, when he was captured, said it was to make a name for himself.

On Dec. 20, the Connecticut Post, in an exclusive, reported that Lanza told his mother he wanted to join the Marine Corps but that his mother nixed the idea.

If you combine Lanza's interest in the military and weapons "with someone … who is disgruntled … who starts thinking and fantasizing about how he or she might exact revenge against society, and [who has] the means to do it,” Schouten says, and the pieces are in place for that individual at some point to carry out a murderous plan.

It remains unclear why Lanza targeted his elementary school, especially if it "was his life," as the source told the FBI. There's a possible parallel in the Kazmierczak case, Schouten says. “One of the things that perplexed us about Steven Kazmierczak is that he went back to Northern Illinois [University] where life was good for him; he went back and attacked a place that had been one of the most positive places in his life…. Perhaps going back to elementary school … is a parallel for Adam Lanza,” he says.

Lanza, like Kazmierczak, killed himself at the scene.

Although the Lanza family had a lot of weapons, so do many families, that in and of itself is not the biggest concern, Schouten says.

“It is how they interact with their weapons, how they think about their weapons.… Do they use those weapons for emotional release?… It’s more the availability of those weapons when other risk factors are present, such as the sense of resentment, deteriorating mental condition, the desire to exact revenge, et cetera,” he says.

The books police found in the Lanza home may spark a renewed national dialogue about mental-health issues, which some observers say has faded as gun-control issues have taken center stage since the Newtown shooting.

Thursday’s news comes on the heels of documents about Jared Loughner, who killed six in a shooting that targeted and injured then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011 in Tucson, Ariz. In both cases, people who were aware of the shooter’s mental-health troubles "seemed to be at their wits’ end about what to do,” says Christopher Ferguson, a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M International University.

One reason mental health hasn’t received as much attention, Dr. Ferguson suggests, is that “people want someone to blame.” Gun-control advocates like to point to the NRA, others like to blame violent video games. Ferguson doesn’t absolve shooters of their responsibility, but notes that when the discussion is about getting people more help for mental-health problems, “it’s like no one is to blame.”

In schools, violence-prevention programs, counselors, and psychologists are often the first to be cut during bad budget times, says Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services in Cleveland.

With the Lanza case, he says, “the elephant in the living room here is mental health – not only of the child, but … there are some mental-health issues with the mother if she’s supporting these firearms purchases for a child that has special needs,” Mr. Trump says.

Andrew Solomon, author of "Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity," which includes interviews with the parents of Columbine High School shooter Dylan Klebold, draws some contrasts between that family and what he has read about Adam Lanza’s home situation.

“While Tom and Sue Klebold never dreamed that there were guns in their house, Nancy Lanza had actively collected firearms and taught her son to shoot,” he writes in an e-mail to the Monitor. “Dylan Klebold kept up the appearance of normality and hid his weapons carefully; Adam Lanza was known to be off kilter and the weapons were all over the house.… The Klebolds were ignorant of their son's capacity for violence; Nancy Lanza was ignorant about the fact that her son's propensity for violence could claim her as a target.”

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