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Police hope computer that killer tried to destroy will yield clues

WASHINGTON — Important clues about what drove Adam­ Lanza to mass murder probably sit on the computer the reclusive, technically minded 20-year-old used as one of his main contacts with the world, authorities said.

Lanza attempted to destroy his computer’s hard drive, the device that stores and retrieves data, before the killing rampage in Newtown, Conn. Police have declined to provide information on damage to the drive, but investigators remain hopeful that it can be repaired. Specialists, however, said any effort to recover data may be thwarted if the drive’s magnetic platters are shattered. If the damage is less severe, or if there are multiple platters, investigators may be able to glean information. Such efforts are slow and costly.

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The computer was taken to the Connecticut State Police computer crimes unit, which has more than a dozen technicians focused on gathering digital forensic evidence.

The FBI has offered to help.

Authorities know that Lanza was the shooter but are pursuing the case as an active murder investigation until they understand what happened and why. At least three search warrants have been filed. Two can be unsealed Dec. 28, and one can be unsealed Dec. 30.

The computer search will include obvious things like websites visited and photos downloaded. Other data include every location a laptop has been used, the timing of activity, and technical ‘‘artifacts’’ computers maintain as a matter of course. Even some deleted material can be retrieved with relative ease if the damage to the hard drive is not too severe.

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