Read Newtown: An American Tragedy Online

Authors: Matthew Lysiak

Tags: #Nonfiction, #Retail, #True Crime

Newtown: An American Tragedy (7 page)

BOOK: Newtown: An American Tragedy
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Over time, Adam seemed to adapt to his new teacher and was a quick study with Latin. However, he was still uncomfortable and needed the assurance that his mother was nearby. Nancy obliged. She would wait in an empty room next door, reading a book while Adam had his lesson.

That was typical of Nancy, who continued to keep a close eye on Adam.

“It’s hard to imagine a more devoted mother,” said Novia. “She was so involved in her son’s life. Sometimes I would say, ‘Nancy, you
need to go home. Leave him,’ but it was hard for her to let him out of her sight.”

t the beginning of his sophomore year, the decision was made to try to move Adam from the private classroom into the main high school building. At first Nancy was hesitant. The nightmarish experience of eighth grade only two years earlier was still fresh in her mind. She wasn’t so sure her son was ready for all the noise and commotion that comes with joining a group of four hundred teenagers but, after receiving several assurances from the school staff that her son’s needs would be accommodated, she decided to give it a try.

For the faculty, who always kept an eye out for incoming students requiring special attention, Adam’s problems appeared more severe than most and they made sure they had protocols in place to handle his challenges. Among the fears now that Adam would be integrated into the main school was the reality that Adam could be an easy target for bullies. The school’s three security staffers were told to monitor him carefully and to report where he was, who he was with, and what he was doing at all times to their higher-ups. Adam was also assigned a high school psychologist who would check in with him and Nancy periodically, while teachers and counselors were also informed of his heightened sensitivities. An escort was assigned to walk him through the hallways when needed, and many of the faculty had Nancy’s number at their disposal if anything went wrong.

Nancy remained cynical, but was also encouraged. “The school
couldn’t be more helpful,” Nancy wrote a friend. “There might still be hope yet.”

On the first day of his sophomore year at Newtown High School, Adam made a fashion change, switching from the blue polo shirt he wore every day as a freshman to a green polo shirt. He would go on to wear it for the rest of the school year. In the classroom Adam’s odd behavior caused him to stick out to classmates. Unlike most teen boys his age, Adam did everything he could to avoid drawing attention to himself. His anxiety became apparent whenever the teacher called on him to answer a question. Feeling the eyes of the class looking in his direction, he squirmed and struggled to get the words out, but when he finally did utter his response, the answer was always right.

Adam followed a careful routine when having to navigate the hallway. He always sat near the door so he could readily slip out after the bell rang or he waited in his seat until the crowds had cleared. Then, slightly hunched over and walking with his shoulder against the wall and holding his briefcase out to protect himself, he moved swiftly through the corridors toward the exit. He always took the same route, and never deviated from it. At Excel Tutoring in Newtown, where Adam sometimes went for extra classes, it was also obvious that he had trouble sitting still and couldn’t stop fidgeting.

Adam did make one rare social connection during his sophomore year, with classmate Alan Diaz, a freshman. The two played video games together, but Adam remained withdrawn and rarely spoke. Nancy invited Diaz and the Tech Club over to her house on
one occasion in the hope that it might help her son engage with his peers. Adam appeared to enjoy himself as the group played
a war game set in space, and
Warcraft III.

Despite Adam’s continued troubles in adjusting, Novia continued to see small signs of progress. Adam began participating in an after-school program, helping to tape basketball games. He even let go of his briefcase, switching to a bag that carried his laptop.

“He felt safe. He started to come out of his shell,” said Novia. “Nancy saw the progress, too. It was exciting to see.”

As Adam finished his sophomore year he became increasingly interested in target shooting. Nancy, who continued to be concerned about his isolation, had been looking for any opportunity to connect with her son, especially in a way that would get him out of the house. The shooting range provided the perfect outlet.

“She’d take him to the range a lot. It was a way they could bond with each other,” her former landscaper Dan Holmes said. “Nancy was an enthusiast and she wanted to pass her passion along to her kids.”

The choice of this mother-son bonding pastime struck some as strange. When his old classmate Alan Diaz, who by then had lost touch with Adam, ran into Nancy and asked her how his friend was doing, he was surprised by the response.

“He’s good. He started going to the shooting range with me,” Nancy explained.

Adam? At the shooting range?
Diaz thought.
That’s weird. I never really imagined Adam as the type to hold a gun.

On March 29, 2010, Nancy Lanza went into Riverview Gun
Sales in East Windsor, Connecticut, and purchased a Bushmaster XM15 rifle. A year later she purchased the SIG Sauer 9-millimeter pistol on March 16, 2011, at the same store. On the ATF 4473s, the firearms transaction forms that she was required by law to fill out, she checked the box yes on both forms to the question, “Are you the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s) listed on this form?”

The forms warn that if you are buying the firearm on behalf of another person, “the dealer cannot transfer the firearm(s) to you,” and that it is a federal crime to give a false answer. She checked the box for no on both forms to the question, “Have you ever been adjudicated mentally defective (which includes a determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that you are a danger to yourself or to others or are incompetent to manage your own affairs) OR have you ever been committed to a mental institution?”

Some of the weapons Nancy bought she kept. Others she gave to Adam.

Besides the gun range, the only other place Adam traveled to was the local video game store, GameStop, where he would enter, get what he needed, and leave. But it was within the safe confines of his home that Nancy could see her son’s behavior really changing. Adam’s frequent bouts of panic and tantrums kept getting worse. He was acting oddly, making more strange drawings, and had begun muttering to himself.

Overall, Adam’s struggles in social interactions continued to be apparent to everyone who crossed his path. Even a haircut proved a harrowing experience. Every few months the routine played out.
Nancy walked in, with Adam following closely behind, and instructed Adam as to where exactly to sit. As he was cutting his hair, Bob Skuba, the stylist, tried every trick in his book to get the teenager to laugh or acknowledge him, but always failed.

“I’d always make jokes and try to talk to him but he looked at me like I was invisible. He just wouldn’t say a word,” Skuba recalled. “Adam would stare down at the tiles. He would never make eye contact.”

At the end of the haircut, Skuba would say, “You’re all set, Adam.” But he wouldn’t get out of his chair—not “until the mother came over and grabbed him by the arm and would say, ‘All right, you are done. You can go now, Adam.’ The only time he moved or made any kind of response in any way was when his mother told him to,” Skuba said.

Without saying a word, Adam would walk straight out the door with his mother in close pursuit. “It was obvious that he was different. Something was wrong with him.”

Adam’s older brother, Ryan, obviously noticed the severity of his brother’s differences but dismissed them more nonchalantly. “My brother has always been a nerd,” he explained when he was once asked what was wrong with his younger brother.

But just as it appeared Adam was beginning to slowly adjust to the routine at Newtown High School, right before beginning his junior year, Nancy learned that Richard Novia would be leaving the school. Wary of the rest of the Newtown administration and faculty, Nancy knew the only person she could trust to look out for her troubled son was leaving and decided to take Adam out of the school.

Novia heard the news and pleaded with Nancy to keep Adam in school, believing that removing him could “send him in a tailspin.”

“I told her that Adam was making progress and that taking him out of school could send him in reverse. He had a support network. Without the school, he would fall back into isolation. He would lose all of his interactions. Everything would be stripped from him. He would get worse.”

Nancy wouldn’t budge. “If you are not going to be there, I’m taking him out,” Nancy told Novia in a phone call. “I don’t trust anyone else.” Her intense anger at and distrust of the school overwhelmed any arguments to the contrary and she insisted that Adam be taken out.

“She didn’t trust anyone else. She had a lot of anger at the school administration. She was very unhappy with the entire district,” said Novia. “Nancy didn’t believe Adam would get the attention he needed without me there.”

Novia also noted: “There was just no pleasing Nancy. She wanted Adam watched one hundred percent of the time. She wanted every faculty member to be just as dedicated to her son as she was. She directed her anger at the special ed teacher, the guidance counselor, the administration.”

The school had failed her son, Nancy believed. Adam was angry with the school, too. With no social life or friends, school was all he had and now that was gone.

Nancy pulled her son out of Newtown High School after his junior year and enrolled him at Western Connecticut State University, hoping that Adam would thrive in a more adult environment where there would be less chaos. After passing his GED test in the
summer of 2008, he took a total of seven classes and earned a 3.26 GPA his first year. He took Website Production, Visual Basic, Data Modeling, American History since 1877, and Introduction to Ethical Theory, a course in which he got a C.

But signs of his mental instability were always present. When asked on his college application to indicate a gender, Adam wrote: “I choose not to answer,” followed by the question, “How do you describe yourself?” Even his university ID photo—his brown eyes bulging, his face seemingly devoid of emotion—suggested to some that something about him was off.

Adam always sat alone, toward the back of the class, often wearing a hooded sweatshirt. He never spoke. At Western Connecticut State University, Adam, who was several years younger than his classmates, again didn’t fit in. If a classmate greeted him, Adam acted nervous and avoided eye contact. After an Introduction to German class in spring 2009, two girls asked Adam if he wanted to join them for a drink.

“No, I can’t. I’m seventeen,” he responded.

Still, Nancy had hopes that her son would excel in a more adult environment and didn’t entertain the possibility of enrolling him back at Newtown High School. “Newtown [school] is dead to me,” she told a friend.

ealing with her son’s condition wasn’t the only issue Nancy had to deal with domestically. Her marriage, which had been acrimonious for years, was finally over. On September 23, 2009, she and Peter finalized their divorce. Whatever their marital problems, the divorce
was by all accounts amicable, the main concern of both being the welfare of Adam. The couple agreed that Adam, then sixteen, would live primarily with his mother, but that his father would have “liberal visitation and vacations.” True to his word, Peter continued to see his sons weekly, taking them skiing, hiking, rock climbing, to coin shows, and on overnight stays at his Stamford apartment until 2010, when Adam broke off contact with his father after Peter began seriously dating again. He also severed ties with his brother, Ryan, and his uncle James, whom he had been close to as a child.

The agreement also meant that Nancy would be financially taken care of for the rest of her life, which worked to the family’s advantage—both Nancy and Peter knew that she could never take on a full-time job and still care for their son. At the time of their divorce, Peter earned $8,556 a week. In 2010, he agreed to pay an annual alimony of $240,000, with increases each year. By 2012, he was paying $289,000, and after 2016, Nancy would receive an annual cost-of-living increase based on the 2015 alimony payment of $298,000 per year until he retired.

Peter and Nancy were also required to attend a parenting-education program, a standard practice in Connecticut. Both parents successfully completed the required sessions. In working through the terms of their divorce, they spent a considerable amount of time talking about how to provide for Adam’s well-being, said Paula Levy, a mediator who worked with the couple. During their meetings, Paula said they appeared to be on the same page regarding how to best address his needs.

“The mom, Nancy, pretty much said she was going to take care
of him and be there as much as he needed her, even long term. She was very concerned about Adam, [but] both parents were very attentive to his needs. The [one] thing I remember them saying is that they really don’t like leaving him alone,” Paula said.

According to the divorce settlement approved by Judge Stanley Novak, Nancy would have the final say concerning any aspect of Adam’s upbringing. Peter agreed to pay the entire cost of his sons’ college and graduate school educations, and also agreed to purchase a car for Adam. Nancy was to cover the car insurance and cost of maintenance. The now divorced couple also agreed to divide their season Red Sox tickets; Nancy would get two tickets for five games in odd years and four games in even years. Peter moved to the affluent Stamford suburb of Westover and the family home at 36 Yogananda Street went to Nancy, who was to live there with Adam, as Ryan had gone off to college.

Then in 2010, Peter remarried. His second wife was Shelley Cudiner, a reference librarian and business liaison at the University of Connecticut’s Jeremy Richard Library. Nancy occasionally dated, but remained largely unattached. She was an independent woman who throughout her life had become accustomed to taking care of herself and depending on no one else. “Who has time for a serious relationship?” she’d said to a friend recently. “Besides, I have to be there for Adam. You always have to be there for your kids.”

BOOK: Newtown: An American Tragedy
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