In Newtown, Nancy Lanza a subject of sympathy for some, anger for others

 

Newtown, Connecticut

Twenty-six. Not 27.

When many people in Newtown count the victims in last week's massacre, they tally 20 children in Sandy Hook Elementary School, plus six adult faculty and staff members. Few count shooter Adam Lanza's first victim: his mother, Nancy. Police said that before he attacked the schoolhouse, Adam Lanza pumped four bullets into his mother's head as she lay in bed.

As this heartbroken town tries to process Friday's horror, there is considerable anger toward Lanza's mother. Her name is noticeably absent from many of the impromptu shrines, memorials and condolence notes placed around town.

At the foot of the street leading to Sandy Hook Elementary, 26 Christmas trees stand to honor the dead at the school, each bearing the name of a victim, but no Nancy Lanza.

Outside the Newtown Convenience and Deli in the town center, 26 small plastic Christmas trees with twinkling blue and purple lights stand next to a sign that says, "In loving memory of the Sandy Hook victims."

The University of Connecticut honored the shooting victims Monday with a ceremony before a men's basketball game, with 26 students standing at center court holding lighted candles.

"I am feeling that there is more anger toward the mother than there is toward the son," said Lisa Sheridan, a Newtown parent.

"Why would a woman who had a son like this, who clearly had serious issues, keep assault rifles in the house and teach him how to shoot them?" she said. "To deal with that, there's a feeling here that we're just going to focus on the 26 innocent people who died at the school."

Emotions in Newtown are painfully raw. A half-dozen more funerals and remembrances were held Wednesday, creating almost nonstop funeral processions during the day. Black hearses and limousines drove through the streets, led by police escorts. Nearly 50 police motorcycles, from departments all over the state, were parked outside St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, waiting to escort the next funeral.

Firefighters and police in formal dress uniforms lined the church driveway as a funeral procession arrived. A man in jeans and a flannel shirt watched from a nearby Starbucks parking lot, wearing a green-and-white ribbon in honor of the Sandy Hook colors.

Men in black suits filed out of the funeral, many of them wearing white shirts and green ties. Women wept as they walked out of funeral services for yet another child.

Nancy Lanza apparently broke no laws and suffered a violent, tragic death. People who knew her — those who played in her regular dice game and those who saw her at her regular restaurant — said she was devoted to her son and kind and generous to others. They see her as a victim like any of the others.

But for some, how to refer to her — and what to think of her — is a subject of much conversation. While there are some who call her the first victim, many feel she bears at least some of the blame.

"Maybe somewhere there is a deep thought that the shooter's mother could be responsible for leaving the guns available," said Himansu Patel, the Newtown Convenience and Deli owner, who decided to leave Nancy Lanza out of his memorial to the victims.

"How could he reach those guns?" Patel said. "If she had kept them in a safer place, this thing might not have happened."

Police have not said where they believe Nancy Lanza stored her guns or how her son gained access to them.

When President Obama came to Newtown this week and spoke at an interfaith memorial service, he went out of his way to mention the names of all 26 students, faculty members and staff members who died at the school. He never mentioned Nancy Lanza.

As Obama spoke, people gathered in respectful silence to watch on television at the bar in My Place, a Newtown restaurant where Nancy Lanza was a regular. They heard the president say, "We gather here in memory of 20 beautiful children and six remarkable adults."

"Seven," a woman at the bar was heard saying under her breath, referring to her lost friend.

Much remains unknown about Adam Lanza and his mother. But everyone here knows that Nancy, 52, was the legally registered owner of the powerful .223-caliber, military-style Bushmaster rifle that was used in the nation's second-deadliest mass shooting. And they have heard that federal investigators have determined that mother and son visited numerous shooting ranges together.

It is also known that Adam Lanza had psychological or emotional problems that made the most basic elements of daily life — such as school and social settings — challenging for him. The state medical examiner said he had been advised that Adam had Asperger's syndrome, a developmental disorder that is not associated with violence.

Those facts have left questions hanging over Newtown. Did Nancy Lanza do enough to keep her guns out of her son's hands? Should she have helped a young man with psychological problems learn how to shoot?

Alexander Isgut, a Newtown pediatrician, said his daughter bought Nancy Lanza's house in Kingston, N.H., where she lived before moving to Newtown in 1998. He said his daughter still lives in the house and is friends with Nancy Lanza's brother, who lives next door.

Isgut said he never met Nancy Lanza. But he said many parents in Newtown, some of whom he has been treating for stress, cannot understand how Adam Lanza gained access to his mother's guns, which also included several semiautomatic handguns.

"If you are going to have an army, you have to be responsible for it," he said. "Nobody else but you should have access to it."

Nancy Lanza had another son, Ryan, 24, with her husband, Peter, from whom she was divorced. She has a large extended family in New Hampshire.

H. Wayne Carver II, the state's chief medical examiner, said Nancy Lanza's body, and her son's, were not claimed until Tuesday, four days after the killings. He said the funeral home that claimed them asked not to be identified and planned to transport them "discreetly."

- - -

Washington Post staff writers Tim Craig and Peter Hermann contributed to this report.

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