On December 14, 2012, a lone gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and opened fire. When it was over, twenty-year-old Adam Lanza had murdered twenty children between the ages of six and seven, as well as six adult staff members. 

Details about the the shooter’s private life began to emerge in the days following the shooting. He lived with his mother, Nancy Lanza, who he had murdered that morning before driving to Sandy Hook Elementary School. In the Connecticut State’s Attorney’s Report released in November, 2013, almost a year after the tragedy, investigators reveal a complicated relationship between the two. At one point, the shooter only communicated with his mother via email, despite living in the same home. He also refused to leave the house, even when Hurricane Sandy came through in November of 2012, and left them without power.

Despite his increasing isolation and unusual behavior, which included an obsession with guns and mass shootings, Nancy Lanza never expressed fear her son posed a threat to her or anyone else. In fact, she was a gun enthusiast and legally purchased every weapon found in the house, including those used by the shooter to kill her and the children and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. 

The authorities and investigators, parents, teachers, and citizens of Newtown, Connecticut, spent years looking for a motive, this included Adam’s father Peter, from whom he was estranged. In a lengthy New Yorker interview, Peter Lanza details his son's murky mental health history. There was a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome in 2005, but many studies and literature in the mental health field have long proven Aspergers to have no relationship to violence. Then, when the shooter was 14, his parents took him to Yale’s Child Study Center for further diagnosis. There he was found to suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder and was prescribed Lexapro, which he stopped taking after only three days. He did not return for therapy. 

Divorced but civil and usually united in the shooter’s care, his parents accepted the diagnosis of Aspergers and this decision took them in two directions: Peter began to be pushed out of his son’s life, while Nancy slowly became a  prisoner to her son’s behavior. Peter believes this estrangement, while devastating to him at the time, may have saved his life. He told The New Yorker, “I know Adam would have killed me in a heartbeat, if he’d had the chance. I don’t question that for a minute. The reason he shot Nancy four times was one for each of us.”

The tragedy of December 14th, 2012, rocked the community of 28,000, as more than two dozen families walked away that day without their loved ones. In the years that followed, parents and survivors, some of whom are featured in the following pages, have turned their worst tragedy into advocacy and helping others. As Abbey Clements, a second-grade teacher who lived through that day writes in her following story, “...the aftermath of such tragedy is larger and darker than you might imagine. I had to do something to be part of the solution.”  

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