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Shooter’s Background

Mother of Conn. school killer was ‘gun fan’

Nancy Lanza did not work at the school where her son killed 26 people.

ABC NEWS VIA GETTY IMAGES

Nancy Lanza did not work at the school where her son killed 26 people.

NEWTOWN, Conn. — She was ‘‘a big, big gun fan’’ who went target shooting with her children, according to friends. She enjoyed craft beers, jazz, and landscaping. She was generous to strangers, but also high-strung, as if she were holding herself together.

Nancy Lanza was the first victim in a massacre carried out Friday by her son, Adam, 20, who shot her dead with a gun apparently drawn from her own collection, then drove her car to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed 26 people, 20 of them young children, officials said.

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Their 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.

His former high school classmates said they believed that he had Asperger’s syndrome or another developmental disorder.

Nancy Lanza had an older son, Ryan, who did not live with them.

News reports 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 as a full-time or substitute teacher, or in any other capacity.

The authorities said it was not clear why Adam Lanza went to the school.

Interviews with friends, neighbors, and local residents, and an analysis of public records, revealed details of Nancy Lanza’s life and death.

To some, she was a social member of the community. To others, she was a woman dealing with a difficult son and maintaining a public face ‘‘with uncommon grace.’’

Many of those who knew her were at a loss to describe what she did for a living. (Her former husband is an executive at General Electric.) Nancy Lanza, 52, often went to a local restaurant and music spot, My Place, where she sat at the bar, according to a manager there who gave her name only as Louise.

Nancy Lanza typically came to My Place alone, said another acquaintance, Dan Holmes, owner of Holmes Fine Gardens, a landscaping company in Newtown, who also met her at the bar.

At craft beer tastings on Tuesday evenings, he recalled, she liked to talk about her gun collection.

‘‘She had several different guns,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t know how many. She would go target shooting with her kids.’’

Law enforcement officials said they believed that the guns were acquired lawfully and registered.

Nancy Lanza spoke often of her landscaping, Holmes recalled, and later hired him to do work on her home.

Last week, he dispatched a team to put up Christmas decorations at her house — garlands on the front columns and white lights atop the shrubbery.

After the work was complete, Nancy Lanza sent ­Holmes a text: ‘‘That went ­REALLY well! Two people took care of the gardens and gutters and one decorated. Very efficient and everything looks great! Thank you!’’

Jim Leff, a musician, often sat next to her at the bar and made small talk, he said in an interview Saturday.

On one occasion, Leff said, he had gone to Newtown to discuss lending money to a friend. As the two men negotiated the loan, Nancy Lanza overheard and offered to write the man a check.

‘‘She was really kind and warm,’’ Leff said, ‘‘but she always seemed a little bit high-strung.’’

He declined to elaborate, but 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,’’ he wrote. She was ‘‘a big, big gun fan,’’ he added.

Neighbors recalled Nancy Lanza as sociable, a regular at Labor Day picnics and ‘‘ladies’ nights out’’ for a dice game called bunco.

‘‘We would rotate houses,’’ said Rhonda Cullens, 52, a neighbor since Lanza moved to Newtown with her husband and two children. ‘‘I don’t remember Nancy ever having it at her house.’’

But for many of those on Yogananda Street, where the Lanzas lived and where the police had cordoned off much of the block on Saturday, the recollections about Nancy Lanza were incomplete.

‘‘Who were they?’’ said Len Strocchia, 46, standing beside his daughter as camera crews came through the neighborhood. ‘‘I’m sure we rang their door bell on Halloween.’’

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