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Nancy Lanza, Gunman's Mother: From 'Charmed Upbringing' To First Victim

Nancy J. Lanza, mother of suspected mass shooter Adam Lanza, was one of the 26 victims of the mass shooting on Friday.
Courtesy of family of Nancy Lanza via Getty Images
Nancy J. Lanza, mother of suspected mass shooter Adam Lanza, was one of the 26 victims of the mass shooting on Friday.

Before he forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday and began a rampage that would leave 20 children and six adults dead, police say, 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother at their home in Newtown, Conn.

Who was Nancy Lanza, 52?

A picture is emerging.

The Washington Post, which says it has done "interviews around the country with friends and family" and has examined the divorce papers that separated Nancy Lanza from Adam's father, Peter Lanza, reports that:

"Nancy Jean Champion — or Beanie, as her high school yearbook calls her — had a charmed upbringing" in Kingston, N.H. "Her mom was a school nurse. Her brother became a town police officer. And after she married her sweetheart in 1981, becoming Mrs. Peter J. Lanza, the couple built a house next door to her childhood home. ...

After the Lanzas moved to Newtown, "time passed, the family fractured and broke apart. Around the time of the divorce, Ryan Lanza [Adam's brother] graduated from college and moved to work in New York. Adam stayed with Nancy Lanza, and her life took on strange habits. She didn't let visitors into their home. She collected powerful weapons. And she began to bring her increasingly troubled son to 'multiple shooting ranges,' officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Monday, to practice using those guns together."

The gun used to kill her, and those used in the attack on the school, may all have been registered to Nancy Lanza.

Her interest in guns, according to friend Mark Tambascio, grew in recent years. "She took it up as a hobby about three years ago, target shooting," Tambascio told the New Haven Register. "She didn't talk much about it to me. Just, 'Oh, I went shooting today,' you know. Nothing else."

The Register adds that Tambascio "and his brother John insist she wouldn't have left her weapons unlocked or otherwise available for the taking."

According to The Hartford Courant:

"The trappings of Lanza's life in Newtown were comfortable. When she and then-husband Peter Lanza moved to the town in 1998 from southern New Hampshire, they bought a new colonial on more than 2 acres in the Bennett's Farm neighborhood. Nancy Lanza had previously worked as a stock broker at John Hancock in Boston and her husband was a successful executive.

"When the couple divorced in 2009, he left their spacious home to Nancy Lanza and told her she would never have to work another day in her life, said Marsha Lanza of Crystal Lake, Il., the gunman's aunt. The split-up was not acrimonious and Adam Lanza spent time with both his mother and father, she said.

"Those who knew Nancy Lanza recall her as very generous, often giving money to those she met and doing volunteer work."

The Associated Press writes that:

"Nancy Lanza was the one who, if she heard you were short on cash, regularly offered to pick up the tab at My Place.

"Two or three nights a week, Lanza — the mother of the gunman in Connecticut's horrific school massacre — came in for carryout salads, but stayed for Chardonnay and good humor. The divorced mother of two — still smooth-skinned and ash blonde at 52 — clearly didn't have to work, but was always glad to share talk of her beloved Red Sox, gardening and a growing enthusiasm for target shooting.

"But while Lanza spoke proudly about her sons and brought them in for breakfast when they were younger, friends say she held one card very close: home life, especially its trials and setbacks, was off limits."

The AP adds that:

"Friends told NBC's Today show on Monday that Lanza was a devoted mother, especially to her son Adam, and that shooting guns was simply a hobby for her. Russell Hanoman said Adam Lanza was 'clearly a troubled child.'

"Hanoman said Nancy Lanza told him she introduced guns to Adam as a way to teach him responsibility. 'Guns require a lot of respect, and she really tried to instill that responsibility within him, and he took to it. He loved being careful with them. He made it a source of pride,' Hanoman said."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.

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