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Authors: Matthew Lysiak

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BOOK: Newtown: An American Tragedy
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“That would be it. He would never get over it if he knew I went through his things,” she told Durant. “He would be lost forever.”

Nancy expressed hope that a change of scenery might help him. She told friends she was preparing to move with Adam to Washington state and had already started looking into colleges in the Northwest. Perhaps he could channel his passion for the armed forces into a degree in military history, she said. At first Adam seemed receptive, even scrolling through online college catalogs with her. But in the last few days he had become unresponsive to the idea and had “shut down.”

She had researched his condition and read several books in the hope of understanding how to help. Switching doctors, medications, and his schools had all failed. Nancy now felt as if she was running out of options.

“It’s as if he’s stuck so far deep down inside himself that he has lost touch with the world,” she explained. “I’m worried I’ve lost him.”

Her cell phone rang. Nancy excused herself to take the call. Durant overheard her rambling on to a friend about an upcoming
antiques show. No, she would not be going; she would be out of town. The conversation had lasted less than ten minutes before she casually put her phone away and returned to the table. Then, just like that, Nancy Lanza was back to her normal, bubbly self. She smiled reassuringly. “Sorry to be a buzz kill. I’m sure everything will be fine. Really.”

Durant tried to reassure Nancy that everything with Adam would be all right. It was no use. Nancy wasn’t looking for advice. She just wanted to vent. He sensed that there was more she wanted to say, but he thought,
Another time.
She looked exhausted. Tonight was not the night.

The stress over Adam’s increasingly odd behavior had evidently been taking its toll on Nancy’s physical health. She was suffering from debilitating migraines, throbbing joint pain, and insomnia from the incessant worrying. Before she left My Place that evening, she confided in Durant that Adam wasn’t the only one who was sick. Nancy had recently found out that she had an incurable autoimmune disease and if she didn’t find a way to relax, her health would wane. He was taken aback. At the age of fifty-two, Nancy appeared the perfect picture of health.

Before parting ways in the parking lot that night, Nancy mentioned to Durant that she had booked two nights at a luxury spa resort in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. She said she needed the rest. “I’ll be back Wednesday night sometime,” Nancy said as she walked toward her car. “Let’s talk Thursday.”

“I
need a change of scenery, I think we both do,” Nancy texted a friend on December 10, 2012, right before her trip to the spa, referring to herself and Adam. “We can all use a good cleansing of mind and soul from time to time!”

This change of scenery would be Nancy’s second trip away from home in the past month, and her fourteenth that year. She had tried to get Adam to join her on these getaways before, but it was always a struggle. So she was not surprised when he turned down yet another opportunity to leave town.

When asked earlier that year by a friend if her son would be going with her when she went to New Orleans to see a concert, “No,” she replied, “Adam doesn’t like to go anywhere.”

Eventually, Nancy stopped asking. But she desperately needed the steady stream of vacations for her own sanity and well-being. Not only that, but she was concerned about how much time she had left before her illness would limit her mobility. Nancy believed she had multiple sclerosis.

Nancy first noticed symptoms of MS in the late 1990s. In an email thread dating back to late 1999, she first revealed her grave health fears to a friend: “I am carrying the gene for this type of self-destruct,” she wrote. “My diagnosis was not good. I was going under the premise that I had a limited time left . . . about enough to get the boys settled in . . . At one point I was trying to deal with the time frame of about 12 months.”

In another email from the same time period, she wrote: “They found another lesion on my brain. I just spent the last two weeks having tests . . . some excruciatingly painful. Any hope I had that things
were going to be OK or that I could be in any kind of a permanent remission are gone. There is this mad scurry to find out if anything can be done. I look at my boys and think about what will happen to them. I have put on this big brave face to my family, but I am terrified.”

But the diagnosis hardly seemed to slow Nancy down. She appeared to be full of energy and rarely complained about her health. Most of her friends and family continued to believe she was the picture of health.

But in December 2012, she wrote another dramatic email about her deteriorating health to a close friend: “I’ve been living with a ticking time bomb inside of me for several years now and I fear it is about to go off. My grandfather suffered from the same condition. It wasn’t pretty. It comes on very sudden and when it does there is nothing left to do.”

MS was taking its toll on Nancy’s body as much as Adam’s condition was taking a toll on her mind. She hoped a few days’ respite at the luxury Omni Mount Washington Resort would provide precisely the temporary relief she needed before Christmas. She checked into the New Hampshire hotel on Tuesday, December 11, at 12:10
P.M.
and headed straight for the 25,000-square-foot spa room, purchasing a $450 deluxe package that included a manicure, a fifty-minute facial, a fifty-minute body treatment, and a fifty-minute massage.

Between the scent of aromatic candles and the scenic views of the White Mountain National Forest, Nancy finally found some peace. When a friend inquired as to how her trip was going, she messaged back with one word: “heavenly.”

After spending the day in the spa, Nancy ate dinner in the hotel’s restaurant with its menu chockful of New England “farm to plate specialties.” Clearly enjoying her brief getaway, she sent a message to a friend on Facebook from the restaurant, describing the finely dressed tattooed couple sitting nearby.

“A shimmery evening dress looks less formal with daggers and skulls poking out,” Nancy quipped, always one to invoke a bit of humor when the opportunity presented itself.

“Be forewarned,” she added. “Tattoo girl has talked me into a dragon tattoo.”

Later that night she called home to check on Adam. As she expected, he did not answer. She probably figured he was in the basement playing video games as usual. When he was gaming, Adam was in his own world and wouldn’t pick up the phone, answer the door, or even take his eyes off the screen in front of him.

It didn’t matter. She would be home the next day.

A
t 12:27 
P.M
. on Thursday, December 13, Nancy checked out of the Omni and began the five-hour trek back to Newtown. Normally she arrived home from trips to find the house virtually unchanged. Rarely was there even a dirty plate in the sink. The only real sign of life in the house would be a pile of soiled clothes in the hamper.

“Adam is like a ghost,” she once told Durant. “He doesn’t even leave footprints.”

In a message to a friend in September 2012, Nancy had mentioned an ominous dream that now reads like more of a premonition. It began with her outside with her son enjoying a flawless
blue-sky day when suddenly the clouds grew dark and a large gust of wind began lifting Adam up into the sky.

“All of a sudden he was being lifted up into the air and I was grabbing on to his ankles with both hands trying to keep him connected to the ground, but the harder I pulled the harder the wind kept blowing him away from me,” she wrote. “Suddenly I couldn’t hold on anymore and he lifted up into the sky. I stood there helplessly and watched as he got smaller and smaller.”

She felt hopeless. Her whole life, Nancy had always felt the pressure to protect her son against the world, but in recent months her life’s work, raising her son, felt like a lost cause.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m the only thing that anchors him to reality and without me he would be gone, gone gone.”

CHAPTER 7

THE PUBLIC SERVANTS

I
t was a typical Friday morning on Primrose Street. As December 14 kicked into gear, the smell of coffee wafted through the spacious hallways of the Newtown Town Hall and the offices bustled with the sound of small-town government hard at work.

Situated in a large majestic building that was formerly Bridgeport Hall, part of Fairfield Hills State Hospital, the town hall had become a one-stop gathering place for locals to pay bills, apply for permits, and visit their highest-ranking public official, Newtown First Selectman Patricia Llodra.

It had been a long winding path that had turned the seventy-one-year-old grandmother into one of the most prominent public figures in Newtown. Growing up with seven siblings at her family farm in South Hadley, Massachusetts, Patricia first became interested in civic duty when she went traveling during the summers of 1958 and 1959. In Jackson, Michigan, she worked beside her uncle,
Carl M. Saunders, who was editor of the town’s local newspaper, the
Jackson Citizen Patriot
.

By then, Saunders had already begun making a name for himself as a journalist. On May 16, 1948, as Cold War tensions were building, he wrote an editorial under the headline, “Suppose All America Prayed for Peace.” The article called on all religions to unite in common prayer, saying: “A troubled Christian nation should turn to prayer. Its people should lift their voices as from a single throat in supplication to the Divine Architect of our destinies, remembering always, ‘Thy will be done.’ ”

The editorial spurred a national debate leading to a national day of prayer and was later awarded a Pulitzer Prize, but the takeaway for Patricia was how one editorial from one small town could affect change on a national level.

“I was taken aback by the influence he had. It was just amazing,” Patricia later recalled.

She took that experience home to Massachusetts and went on to earn a place at the University of Bridgeport, becoming the first person in her family to go to college. Her education was interrupted when she married Robert M. Llodra in 1963. Within the next few years the couple had three children, Michael, Sharon, and Beth, and began looking for a town with a good school system.

“We visited Sandy Hook Elementary before we decided to buy a house in Newtown and we couldn’t have been more impressed,” Patricia said. “It was a big part of the reason we moved to Newtown. We wanted our kids to go to the Sandy Hook Elementary School.”

The young family moved into an old farmhouse on Riverside
Drive, close to the school, and seventeen years after dropping out of school, Patricia went back to earn her degree. She received praise for her roll-up-the-sleeves no-nonsense management style as she worked through several jobs, including waitress, bartender, teacher, principal, and executive coach, until eventually making the leap into politics.

Patricia was first elected to Newtown’s Legislative Council in 2005, and easily won reelection in 2007. In 2009, she ran on the ballot for first selectman, running on a platform of disciplined spending, and defeated Gary Fetzer, who served on the local board of selectmen, by 1,672 votes. Two years later, Patricia campaigned for a second term, espousing the continued need to get Newtown’s fiscal house in order. The town overwhelmingly voiced their approval and she defeated William Furrier, a candidate on the Independent ballot, by 3,600 votes.

A
s Patricia sat at her desk on Friday morning, December 14, she turned on her computer and opened up her schedule to decide how to best manage the challenges of the day ahead. The second week of December had been a busy one full of long meetings and lots of number crunching for Newtown’s chief executive and administrative officer. Next year’s budget still hadn’t been finished and an urgency had set in about completing the task before the upcoming Christmas break.

Then the phone rang. It was Maureen Will, the director of communications.

“The schools are going into lockdown,” she said. Maureen hung up, promising to get more information to her as soon as it became available.

This is serious,
Patricia thought, waiting by her phone for more information.

She wouldn’t be waiting long.

A
cross the hall, the deputy director of land use, Rob Sibley, was sitting in a meeting opposite Donna Culbert, the public health director. They were discussing the pending approval of a residential sewer when Rob’s pager went off. He decided to ignore it and continue with the meeting. Debbie Aurelia, the town clerk, had also stopped by the office, and now the three found themselves talking nonchalantly about the bone-chilling weather that morning.

Like most people who came to Newtown, Rob Sibley and his wife, Barbara, chose the town because of the affordable country living and small-town lifestyle all within a commutable distance to New York City—and, of course, because of the fantastic reputation of Sandy Hook Elementary. In 2004, their first child, Daniel, was born, and three years later Barbara gave birth to twin boys. In Newtown, Rob was able to indulge his lifelong dream—he had always wanted to be a firefighter—and become an EMT at the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company in addition to his government job, while Barbara continued working in advertising and began a freelance writing career.

BOOK: Newtown: An American Tragedy
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