NEWTOWN, Conn. — Nancy Lanza loved guns, and often took her sons to one of the shooting ranges 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 often talked about her gun collection.
One of those guns was apparently used to take her life on Friday. Her killer was her son, Adam Lanza, 20, who drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed 26 more people, 20 of them small children, authorities said, then himself.
Nancy Lanza’s fascination with guns became a focus of attention Saturday as investigators sought to determine what caused Adam Lanza to carry out one of the worst massacres in the nation’s history.
Investigators have linked Nancy Lanza to five weapons: two handguns, a semi-automatic rifle and two traditional hunting rifles. Her son took the two handguns and the semi-automatic rifle to the school. Law enforcement officials said they believed the guns were acquired lawfully and registered.
The Lanza family had been disrupted by divorce in 2008. Nancy Lanza split from her husband of 17 years, court records show, and he moved out. Adam stayed with his mother.
In a statement on Saturday night, the father, Peter Lanza, said he was cooperating with investigators. “We are in a state of disbelief and trying to find whatever answers we can,” he said. “We, too, are asking why.”
He added: “Like so many of you, we are saddened but struggling to make sense of what has transpired.”
Nancy Lanza lived in a large colonial home with her son and had struggled to help him cope with a developmental disorder. He was often reserved and withdrawn, relatives, friends and former classmates said.
At some point, he had dropped out of the Newtown school system. An older son, Ryan, did not live with them.
Nancy Lanza’s sister-in-law, Marsha Lanza, said Adam Lanza had been home-schooled for a time because his mother was not “satisfied with the school.”
His former classmates described Lanza as nervous, with a flat affect.
“He was always different – keeping to himself, fidgeting and very quiet,” said a classmate, Alex Israel.
“By the time high school came around he did sort of disappear,” she added. “I’d see him in the halls walking quickly with his briefcase he carried, but I never had a class with him and never saw him with friends. I was yearbook editor and I remember he declined to be photographed or give us a senior quote or baby picture.”
News reports on Friday suggested that Nancy Lanza had worked at the elementary school, but at a news conference on Saturday, the school superintendent said there was no evidence that she had ever worked at the school in any capacity.
Authorities said it was not clear why Adam Lanza went to the school.
Whatever problems Nancy Lanza’s son had, she herself was sociable and active in the community, friends said. Lanza, 52, was a slender woman with blond shoulder-length hair who enjoyed craft beers, jazz and landscaping. She was generous to strangers, but also high-strung, they said, as if she were holding herself together.
She often went to a local restaurant and music spot, My Place, where at beer tastings on Tuesday evenings, she often talked about her gun collection, recalled an acquaintance, Dan Holmes, 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.”
In a statement on Saturday, other members of the Lanza family called Nancy Lanza a “kind, considerate loving young lady,” but did not answer questions about her guns or about her son.
“On behalf of Nancy’s mother and siblings,” the statement said, “we reach out to the community of Newtown and express our heartfelt sorrow for the incomprehensible and profound loss of innocence that has affected so many.”
Many of those who knew Lanza were unable to describe what she did for a living. Louise Tambascio, owner of My Place, said Lanza had not been working full time but volunteered occasionally in the community.
“She stayed with Adam,” Tambascio said, adding that, as a younger child, he “couldn’t get along with the kids in school.”
Jim Leff, a musician, often sat next to her at the bar and made small talk, he said Saturday.
“She was really kind and warm,” Leff said, “but she always seemed a little bit high-strung.”
In a post on his personal website, 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,” Leff wrote.
Lanza’s sister-in-law, Marsha, struggled to make sense of events.
“I just don’t have an answer,” she said, starting to cry. “I wish I had an answer for you. I wish somebody had saw it coming.”