NEWTOWN, Conn. — Two or three nights a week, Nancy Lanza — the mother of the gunman in the Connecticut school massacre — came in to My Place restaurant for carryout salads but stayed for Chardonnay and good conversation.
The divorced mother of two was always glad to share talk of her beloved Red Sox, gardening, and a growing enthusiasm for target shooting.
But while Lanza, 52, spoke proudly about her sons and had brought them in for breakfast when they were younger, friends say she held one topic very close: her home life, especially its trials and setbacks, was rarely talked about.
Now, that home life is at the center of the questions that envelop this town, grieving over the slaughter unleashed Friday by her 20-year-old son Adam.
‘‘Her family life was her family life. She kept it private, when we were together.,’’ said Louise Tambascio, who runs the restaurant and bar with her own sons, and became a shopping and dining companion of Nancy Lanza.
While mental health specialists say it is too soon to draw conclusions about Adam Lanza’s psychological disorders, the case highlights the importance of seeking out early advice and treatment when there are signs of a problem.
Friends at My Place recall meeting Adam, who stared down at the floor and didn’t speak when his mother brought him in. They knew he had switched schools more than once and that she had tried home schooling him. But while she occasionally expressed concern about his future during evenings at the restaurant, she never complained.
‘‘I heard her as a parent. I always said that I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes. But I thought, ‘Wow. She holds it well,’ ’’ said Tambascio’s son, John.
Friends told NBC’s ‘‘Today’’ show on Monday that Lanza was a devoted mother, especially to Adam, and that shooting guns was simply a hobby for her.
Russell Hanoman said Adam Lanza was ‘‘clearly a troubled child.’’ He 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.
California resident Ryan Kraft told KCAL-TV that when he was a teen he lived a few doors down from the Lanza family and used to baby-sit Adam, then 9 or 10 years old. He said the boy ‘‘struck me as an introverted kid.’’
‘‘His mom Nancy had always instructed me to keep an eye on him at all times, never turn my back or even go to the bathroom or anything like that. Which I found odd but I really didn’t ask; it wasn’t any of my business,’’ said Kraft. ‘‘But looking back at it now, I guess there was something else going on.’’
Life in Newtown was comfortable. When Nancy and then-husband Peter moved there in 1998 from southern New Hampshire, they bought a new, 3,100-square-foot Colonial set on more than 2 acres in the Bennett’s Farm neighborhood. Nancy Lanza had previously worked as a stockbroker at John Hancock in Boston and her husband was a successful executive.
When the couple divorced in 2009, the split was not acrimonious and Adam spent time with both his mother and father, according to Marsha Lanza of Crystal Lake, Ill., Adam Lanza’s aunt.
Investigators said Nancy Lanza and her son visited shooting ranges. While the hobby gave Lanza an outlet, she faced continual challenges raising a son with intractable problems.
At Newtown High School, Adam Lanza was often having crises that only his mother could defuse.
‘‘He would have an episode, and she’d have to return or come to the high school and deal with it,’’ said Richard Novia, the school district’s head of security until 2008, who got to know the family because both Lanza sons joined the school technology club he chartered.
Novia said Adam Lanza would sometimes withdraw completely from whatever he was supposed to be doing. “He could take flight, which I think was the big issue, and it wasn’t a rebellious or defiant thing,’’ Novia said. ‘‘It was withdrawal.’’
The club gave the boy a place where he could indulge his interest in computers. His anxieties appeared to ease somewhat, but they never disappeared. When people approached him in the hallways, he would press himself against the wall or walk in a different direction, clutching tight to his black briefcase.
Marsha Lanza described Nancy Lanza as a good mother. ‘‘If he had needed consulting, she would have gotten it,’’ she Lanza said. ‘‘Nancy wasn’t one to deny reality.’’
But friends and neighbors said Lanza often expressed her hopes that even with his problems, Adam would find a way to succeed.