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Sandy Hook report answers some questions, but many still a mystery

Sandy Hook report, released Monday, concludes that shooter Adam Lanza ‘had a fascination with mass shootings and firearms,’ but displayed no ‘aggressive or threatening tendencies.’

A Connecticut state attorney’s report drew pointed conclusions about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School that shook the nation a year ago, saying Adam Lanza acted alone in killing 26 students and staff, that the attack was premeditated, and that police and school staff “acted heroically” in responding to the tragedy.

The report also pulled together details of Mr. Lanza’s reclusive lifestyle and his troubled interactions with others.

But in summing up a months-long investigation, Stephen Sedensky of the state’s Danbury district also left big questions unanswered.

The report said Lanza’s motive remains unclear. Lanza faced mental-health challenges, and had “a fascination with mass shootings and firearms, [but] displayed no aggressive or threatening tendencies,” it said.

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And the report does little to answer larger questions about how to avoid similar tragedies in the future. It focused instead on an investigation designed to bring perpetrators to justice, and it concluded that Lanza had no accomplices.

The shootings on Dec. 14, 2012, brought grief and soul-searching not only to the community of Newtown, Conn., but also to the nation. What more should be done to protect schools, to better control access to weapons such as semiautomatic rifles (Lanza used one), and to address mental-health problems that can contribute to violence?

The Sandy Hook tragedy involved a perpetrator who combined what the report called “significant mental health issues” with easy access to firearms and ammunition purchased by his mother, the only person with whom he seemed to have a close relationship, and whom he also killed that day. Lanza killed himself as police arrived on the scene.

Some details from the report:

  • He became progressively more isolated. “Over the years his mother consistently described the shooter as having Asperger’s syndrome,” which is considered a form of autism that includes difficulties with social interaction. Over time, he withdrew from sports and a school band. Contact with his brother appears to have ended in 2010. That was also the last year that his father saw him. The father and mother separated in 2001.
  • Lanza lived with his mother, but wouldn’t allow her into his room. She “took care of all of the shooter’s needs” such as food and laundry, but “one witness indicated that the shooter did not have an emotional connection to his mother.”
  • Daily routine, which appears to be particularly important to many people diagnosed with Asperger’s, may have seemed at risk. The report doesn’t put  it that way, but it notes that by late 2012, the mother, Nancy Lanza, had voiced plans to sell her home in Newtown and move to Washington State or North Carolina. “She reportedly had told the shooter of this plan and he apparently stated that he wanted to move to Washington,” where he might go to a “special school,” the report said. Whatever the reasons, Adam Lanza had evolved into a highly particular person, unwilling to sleep in a motel and insistent that “certain types of dishware could not be used for particular foods.”
  • The report found no evidence of drug use by Lanza, noting that he did not drink alcohol “and hated the thought” of taking drugs.
  • He was active in video gaming, including some violent games such as “Combat Arms” and “World of Warcraft.” But according to the report, he was most involved in “Dance Dance Revolution,” a game that involved standing on a platform and moving his feet as directed by a video. He played the game both at home and in public at a local theater – where his sessions could last for hours, a couple of times per week. According to the report those trips to the theater continued “up until a month before December 14, 2012.”
  • Lanza appears to have used or transported five different firearms on the day of the killings. On the morning of Dec. 14, the report concluded, he killed his mother using a Savage Mark II rifle. Then he drove to the elementary school, where he used a Bushmaster Model XM15-E2S semiautomatic rifle in the slaying of six administrators or teachers and 20 first graders. He used a Glock 20 semiautomatic pistol to take his own life. Another semiautomatic pistol (unfired) was found on his person and a semiautomatic shotgun (unfired) was found in the car he used.
  • His mother was an avid user of firearms and encouraged his interest. The five guns “were legally purchased by the shooter’s mother,” the report says, and “there is no evidence that the ammunition was purchased by anyone else” other than her. It said she “wanted to buy the shooter a CZ 83 pistol for Christmas.”
  • The report downplays bullying as a possible influence on Lanza. Although “the shooter’s mother and father indicated that the shooter was bullied growing up,” multiple other witnesses, including former teachers, contradict that view. The report drew on interviews with numerous people, including Lanza’s father and brother as well as former peers.