A state prosecutor’s report released Monday concludes that 20-year-old Adam Lanza acted alone in planning and executing his horrific attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School, but offers no answer to the one-word question that has plagued Connecticut and the nation since the murders of 20 children and six women at the Newtown school Dec. 14, 2012: Why?
“Unfortunately, that question may never be answered conclusively, despite the collection of extensive background information on the shooter through a multitude of interviews and other sources,” wrote Stephen J. Sedensky III, the Danbury state’s attorney. “The evidence clearly shows that the shooter planned his actions, including the taking of his own life, but there is no clear indication why he did so, or why he targeted Sandy Hook Elementary School.”
Police found fictional writing on Lanza’s computer that described being attacked by babies, as well as material on pedophilia, a screenplay about a relationship between a man and a 10-year-old boy, a game called “School Shooting” and stories about mass murder. The prosecutor offered no assessment of the material’s significance.
Sedensky took pains to debunk conspiracy theories about a second shooter, detailing how arriving police detained four others outside the school, including a parent, two reporters who were briefly held at gunpoint, and a fourth man who was handcuffed and questioned. DNA evidence indicated no weapon fired that day was handled by anyone other than Lanza, and rumors of Lanza sharing his plans with others on the Internet were unfounded, Sedensky said.
The long-awaited report officially closes the investigation of an attack that left 28 dead: 20 first-graders and six educators at the school; Lanza’s 52-year-old mother, Nancy, whom he shot at their home; and Lanza, who took his own life with a single shot to the head with a 10mm-Glock, one of two handguns and a semiautomatic rifle he carried inside the school with nearly 20 pounds of ammunition.
Sedensky describes the educators as heroic and the police response as cutting short what could have been even a more devastating assault, given Lanza’s firepower and ammunition. The principal and school psychologist died confronting Lanza in the school foyer, and the other four women died in their classrooms with the children they were trying to protect.
But the document also is bound to provoke second-guessing about the response of Newtown police, who waited five minutes to enter the school after arriving, though it appears the first officers were confronted by a chaotic scene outside the school, including a man seen running with an object in his hand. It turned out to be a parent with a cellphone.
Parents were arriving at the school for a holiday event as Lanza began shooting, and some adults and children were outside running as police arrived. Police radio transmissions showed that officers questioned if a second shooter was outside the school.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who informed gathered parents that day that their children were dead, offered no comment on the contents of the report.
“My thoughts today are with the people who lost a loved one at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as they have been nearly every day since the tragedy. The release of this report will no doubt be difficult on them,” Malloy said. “But if there is one thing that I believe we must do, it’s that we must honor the lives that were lost by taking steps to protect ourselves from another horror like this. I hope that the information in this summary and in the supporting documents that will be released by the State Police takes us closer to that goal.”
While Sedensky pronounced the investigation closed, his 44-page report is only a summary. A State Police case report numbering several thousand pages also is complete, but it is now being screened for any material that must be redacted as a matter of law, not discretion, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice.
Its release is expected before the anniversary of the attack.
Lanza’s first murder on Dec. 14 was in his mother’s bedroom. As she lay in bed, he shot her four times in the head with a Savage Mark II .22-caliber rifle at their home in Newtown. The rifle was a bolt action, meaning that Lanza had to manually eject the spent casing and chamber a new round after each shot.
He then drove to the school he had attended as a child, Sandy Hook Elementary School. Arriving after the front doors were locked as part of the morning routine, Lanza shattered a plate glass window with multiple rounds from a Bushmaster XM15-E2S semiautomatic rifle that belonged to his mother.
The first call to 911 was at 9:35:39 a.m.
Lanza was dead less than five minutes later.
In between he raked two classrooms with semiautomatic rifle fire, killing himself as police swarmed to the school. He fired 154 rounds from the rifle, a version of the AR-15.
He had not been a student in either class.
Lanza shot himself 63 seconds after the arrival at 9:39 a.m. of the first officer, who was joined 13 second later by two others, who could hear gunshots. The last shot was fired at 9:40:03 a.m., and the first Newtown police contingent, a sergeant and two patrol officers, entered the school through a window at 9:44:47 a.m.
Sedensky does not address whether anyone other than Lanza was shot after the arrival of police.
An attached appendix includes transcripts of police radio transmissions.
“I’ve got bodies here,” an officer in front the school, who can see into the foyer, says on the radio. “Let’s, uh, get ambulances.”
An inventory of recovered evidence makes clear that Lanza was prepared to keep shooting: He had 253 rounds of ammunition in his vest and cargo-pants pockets. A loaded 30-round magazine for the Bushmaster was found on the floor under his body. Left in a car outside the school was a shotgun fitting with a high-capacity magazine or drum.
Sedensky describes Lanza as increasingly withdrawn in the months and years before the attack. The windows of his room were covered in black plastic, and he had communicated with his mother only by email for three months, despite living under the same roof. For two years, he had refused to answer phone calls from his father, Peter, who lived in Stamford, and his older brother, Ryan.
Lanza amassed a collection of news clips and other information about mass shootings, but he left behind nothing to indicate he harbored a special grievance or reason for attacking his former elementary school.
“No evidence suggests that he did. In fact, as best as can be determined, the shooter had no prior contact with anyone in the school that day. And, apart from having attended the school as a child, he appears to have had no continuing involvement with SHES,” Sedensky wrote. SHES is the report’s shorthand for Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Again, the report gives no clear fix on Lanza, other than concluding he was obviously disturbed. It cites no overt signals missed by educators or mental-health professionals, no overlooked incidents that foreshadowed his intent to carry out the most lethal attack on a U.S. elementary school in history, even as friends of the Lanza family noted an accelerating pattern of abnormal behavior.
“More generally, those who knew the shooter describe him in contradictory ways. He was undoubtedly afflicted with mental health problems; yet despite a fascination with mass shootings and firearms, he displayed no aggressive or threatening tendencies,” Sedensky wrote. “In some contexts he was viewed as having above-average intelligence; in others below-average. Some recalled that the shooter had been bullied; but others – including many teachers – saw nothing of the sort.”
The report refers to treatment by mental health professionals without offering details, such as the duration, extent and type of treatment.
It also refers without comment to the discovery of digital evidence that Lanza had read materials about pedophilia and the advocacy of rights for pedophiles. On his desktop computer, police recovered a screenplay called “Lovebound” about a relationship between a 10-year-old boy and a 30-year-old man. It also had a file marked “babies” with fictional stories about being attacked by babies and defending against them.
The desktop also had pictures of Lanza holding firearms to his head.
Lanza is described in the report as increasingly compulsive, rigid and withdrawn as he grew older. He did not celebrate holidays and refused to let his mother place a Christmas tree in the house. He moved with his parents to Newtown from New Hampshire in 1998. His parents separated in 2001 and later divorced, the father remarrying in 2011.
“In 2005, the shooter was diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder and was described as presenting with significant social impairments and extreme anxiety,” Sedensky wrote. “It was also noted that he lacked empathy and had very rigid thought processes. He had a literal interpretation of written and verbal material. In the school setting, the shooter had extreme anxiety and discomfort with changes, noise, and physical contact with others.”
Lanza seemed enthralled with video games, both violent and benign. A favorite was Dance Dance Revolution, a game he played in the lobby of a local theater. But he also possessed a game called “School Shooting,” which allowed the player to control a character that enters a school and shoots children.
It is unclear what other digital materials Lanza may have had, as he smashed a hard drive.
In the 5th grade, he produced a story he called the “Big Book of Granny,” featuring a character who has a gun in her cane and shoots people, including children. Sedensky wrote there was no indication the paper was handed in at school.
Lanza graduated from Newtown High School after a combination of classes, home schooling and tutoring.
Sedensky passes no judgment on Nancy Lanza, who legally purchased the firearms her son used in his assault, including the rifle he used to shoot her. She had written a check to buy him a handgun for the Christmas neither lived to see. The report does not address whether the mother should have removed firearms from her home, better secured them or intervened more aggressively as her son locked himself off from the world.
“Over the years his mother consistently described the shooter as having Asperger’s syndrome. She had a number of books in the home on the topic,” he wrote. “She also described the shooter as being unable to make eye contact, sensitive to light and couldn’t stand to be touched. Over time he had multiple daily rituals, an inability to touch door knobs, repeated hand washing and obsessive clothes changing, to the point that his mother was frequently doing laundry.”
Sedensky reported that Nancy Lanza noted marked changes in her son’s behavior around the seventh grade.
“Prior to that, he would ride his bike and do adventurous things such as climbing trees or climbing a mountain. He had stopped playing the saxophone. He had been in a school band but dropped out. He had withdrawn from playing soccer or baseball which he said he did not enjoy,” he wrote.
Sedensky concluded in his report that Lanza’s “mental status” would have been no defense for the attack, noting the degree of planning, including bringing yellow earplugs to protect from the loud sound of gunfire in a confined space, the halls and classrooms of Sandy Hook Elementary.