Newtown, a little place in Fairfield, Connecticut is a quiet unassuming Eastern American town. It was bought from the Potatuck Indians by English colonists in 1705. Since then, it has grown sporadically and first gained recognition as the birthplace of the word game Scrabble. The town currently has four elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school.
Of the four elementary schools, Sandy Hook stands alone as the scene of the nation’s most devastating mass murders when, on the 14th of December 2012, a gunman entered and shot dead 20 children and six staff.
Prior to his arrival at the school at 9:35 a.m., gun enthusiast Adam Lanza, just 20 years old, had already shot and killed his mother Nancy Lanza at the home he shared with her. Once inside Sandy Hook, Lanza then killed 20 children between the ages of six and seven, as well as six adult members of staff. Before police could reach the scene, the murderer had turned the gun on himself and ended the carnage.
The Sandy Hook shootings were termed “the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history” and instantly renewed debate about gun control in the US. Within hours of the massacre, petitioning system We The People called for the White House to “immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress,” and President Barack Obama called for the Senate to “come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
A final November 2013 report by the Connecticut State Attorney’s office concluded that Lanza “acted alone and planned his actions, but no evidence collected provided any indication as to why he did so.” What went on at Sandy Hook that morning is still open to speculation; here we bring you 16 facts you didn’t already know.
16. The Lanza House
In 2015, Newtown Legislative Council voted unanimously to remove the house where Adam Lanza resided with his mother Nancy for 17 years. Complaints were heard across the board with it being “a constant reminder of the evil that resided there,” according to Associated Press. In the same year of the vote, the property was demolished and the land returned to its natural state on the proviso that “any proceeds, should the property ever be developed, would be for the benefit of the victims.”
Some townsfolk considered the return of the land to nature a perpetuation of the evil, suggesting that to have some newcomers bring fresh life to the house would be a better option. “Love and light that a new family would bring would help heal some of the very deep wounds we are still tending to,” a resident of Newtown said.
15. The Arsenal
According to a 2013 report by Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV), Lanza had been shooting since the age of four. Come December 2012, the Lanza home “was a virtual arsenal, with guns and ammunition everywhere. Law enforcement even found a gun safe in Adam’s bedroom.” It is widely known that a Bushmaster Model XM15-E2S .223-caliber semi-automatic rifle was his main weapon of choice, but he also carried with him an Izhmash Saiga 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun, a Glock 20 10mm semiautomatic handgun and a Sig Sauer P226 9mm semi-automatic handgun — the Glock he used to kill himself.
In addition to what he took with him, back at his home, Police found a Savage Mark II bolt-action .22-caliber rifle (which he used to kill his mother), an Enfield Albian bolt-action .323-caliber rifle and a Volcanic .22-caliber starter pistol. Incredibly, under Connecticut law at the time, the 20-year-old Lanza was old enough to possess the Bushmaster.
14. The Morning Of The Shooting
Reporting on the 2012 shootings only days afterward, The New York Times suggested that “the initial shots could be heard over the school’s public-address system,” which was being used for morning announcements. At the same time, around 9:35 a.m., the school’s Principal, Dawn Hochsprung and psychologist Mary Sherlach had sat down in the school’s conference room with other educationalists a few doors from the hall in which Lanza then stood when they thought they had heard gunshots. Hochsprung, Sherlach, and lead teacher Natalie Hammond rushed into the hall to find Lanza already firing on children. Some of those remaining in the conference room, and consequently survived the ordeal, remember distinctly the three women call out, “Shooter! Stay put!” by which “they saved my life and the life of four others who were at that meeting,” according to Becky Virgalla, quoted in the Huffington Post. The three teachers were shot and Hammond survived.
13. Vicki Soto Trademark
The Vicki Soto Memorial Fund which raises money for scholarships for aspiring educators was set up by Vicki Soto’s sister, Jillian, following the massacre in 2012. Vicky was one of six adults shot to death by Lanza. On hearing the gunfire from outside the classroom, Soto rushed to the door as she held her keys, ready to lock in herself and 16 children, but Lanza stormed the classroom and began firing. The Daily Telegraph reported that Soto then “put herself between the students and the shooter, who then fatally shot her.”
One month later, the family applied for trademark protection for her name. This was because as the weeks went on, various fake social media accounts were reportedly using Soto’s name to “promote conspiracy theories about the shooting.” Soto’s sister goes on to say, “Vicki did a heroic thing. . . . We don’t need anything negative to be tied to her name any longer.”
12. A Close Call
Like something out of a horror movie, school nurse Sarah Cox hid terrified in her office after hearing the gunshots. Little did she know that the gunman, who had just killed Principal Hochsprung and psychologist Sherlach, had already visited the main office in his search for targets. He then walked along the corridor leading to Cox’s office as she was called by school secretary, Barbara Halstead, who told her what was happening. Cox then hid under her desk. “I just dove under my computer desk,” she told The New York Post back in 2012.
Within seconds, the door opened and Cox could see from Lanza’s feet that he was facing her desk just 20 feet away. Looking back at the ordeal, the 60-year-old recalls how terrified she was at the prospect of being found and certainly killed. “The person was there just a few seconds,” Cox said. “I was frozen in fear.”
11. Bypassed Rooms
Three years after the massacre, first-grade teacher Kaitlin Roig told World News how she shuffled her 14 students into a nearby toilet area and barricaded the door with a bookcase. The 29-year-old then recalled how she had tried to keep the children quiet: “We have to be absolutely quiet; there are bad guys out there now and we have to wait for the good guys to come.”
The Hartford Courant, an online newspaper, suggested that Lanza bypassed Roig’s room believing it to be empty but was also put off by a piece of black paper blocking the window. Following a lockdown drill a few weeks prior to the shootings, Roig had forgotten to take down the piece of paper which was there to prohibit someone from looking into the classroom. The Courant speculates that “Lanza may have assumed that Roig’s classroom was empty because the door was closed and the window covered.”
10. The Library
Using their initiative and remembering a recent lockdown practice, library staff Yvonne Cech and Maryann Jacob took 18 children into a sectioned-off part of the school library and began to hide them behind a bookcase against the wall “where they can’t be seen.” However, discovering the door to that area wouldn’t lock which presented an opportunity for Lanza to enter, they decided to get the children into a nearby storage room. Luckily, the storage room was safe and had enough coloring pens and paper to keep the children calm and quiet. In conversation with The New York Times shortly after the massacre, Jacob remembers, “They [the children] were asking what was going on. We said: we don’t know, our job is just to be quiet.” However, Jacob had a pretty good idea of what was going on having spoken to the main office only moments before.
9. The Crime Scene
Around five minutes after shooting his way through the glass panel next to the locked front entrance doors, the Newtown police were on scene. The police radio transcription includes the firing of a final single shot at 9:40 a.m., which police later believe was the sound of Lanza shooting himself in the lower rear portion of his head. Lanza was found in Vicki Soto’s classroom dressed in various military clothing but not wearing a bulletproof vest.
According to the police report, he wore “a pale green pocket vest over a black polo shirt, over a black T-shirt, black sneakers, black fingerless gloves, black socks, and a black canvas belt.” Some other items were discovered nearby including the Glock with which he used to kill himself; there was also a black boonie hat (a type worn by some armed forces) and thin frame glasses. A post mortem examination carried out over the next few days yielded no evidence of cocaine, opiates, or alcohol in Lanza’s blood.
8. Inadequate Security
In January 2015, MSNBC reported on the filing of a case by the parents of two of the first-graders who had died. Jesse Lewis and Noah Pozner filed against the city of Newtown and the Newtown Board of Education citing poor security at the school as a contributory factor to the devastating outcome of the massacre. According to the report, it was alleged that Sandy Hook Elementary School had implemented security policies and procedures “that teachers weren’t able to follow” on the day of the killings. The only way to lock classroom doors was from the outside with keys — certainly no electronic locking devices — which of course made teachers vulnerable. Additionally, the front of the school wasn’t fitted with bulletproof glass and questions were also asked about the “lack of security in the parking lot.”
7. The Emergence Of Evil
According to the New York Daily News, Lanza had “made a phone call to a college radio station in Oregon” just one year before the Sandy Hook shootings. Using the name “Greg,” he had likened a recent shooter to Travis the chimpanzee, an animal actor that was shot dead after attacking its owner’s friend. Additionally, Lanza is also said to have discussed the possibility of going on the radio show in an instant messaging conversation, although this is not confirmed by police.
What’s more, a year after the incident, ABC highlighted Lanza’s fascination with mass shootings, especially the Columbine High School massacre and the Northern Illinois University shooting of 2008. His room was off-limits to anyone and everyone, including his mom, and the windows were taped over with black bin bags. Additionally, “a document entitled ‘Selfish,’ about the inherent selfishness of women, was found on Lanza’s computer after his death,” according to ABC.
While a true motive is proving hard to come by, a report by Connecticut State Police in 2013 may hint at some underlying issues for Lanza. The report — which includes investigative files, call transcripts, crime scene reports and photos, weapons, dashcam video, and audio files — closed with the police investigation finding any motive inconclusive.
However, it quotes an unnamed witness who suggests that Lanza “may have targeted the nearby school because his mother Nancy had once worked there.” If true (the suggestion was swiftly denied by the school superintendent after the massacre), it could prove a valuable clue in the search for reasons for such an atrocity. According to NBC, the report also quotes the witness as saying, “Lanza hated his mother and Sandy Hook because his mother worked there. Lanza apparently felt that his mother loved the students more than him.”
5. Mothering Issues
Shortly after the shooting, nymag.com ran a column about Nancy Lanza. She owned an arsenal of guns, including the Bushmaster, which was used to such devastating effect. She reportedly took her sons to firing ranges, teaching them how to shoot from an early age, and a friend of hers, Jim Leff, described her as a “big, big gun fan.” Former sister-in-law of Nancy, Marsha Lanza, said of her, “[Nancy] had turned her home into a fortress; [she] had a survivalist philosophy which is why she was stockpiling guns. She had them for defense.”
There is also evidence to suggest that Nancy was not scared of her son in any way and didn’t believe that he would use her weapons against her. Despite Adam being obviously troubled in mind with hinted-at schizophrenia, Nancy slept with the door open, and the guns were easily accessible.
4. Access To Guns
Following on from what we know of Nancy Lanza, it’s hardly surprising that in March of 2015, a lawsuit was filed by parents of children and teachers killed in the shootings against the estate of Nancy Lanza. The suit related to the claim that Lanza’s firearms were not properly secured, nor were they out of reach of her son. What’s more, with the knowledge that Lanza had, at 13 years old, been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and was exhibiting early onset of schizophrenia, it can be plainly seen that Nancy Lanza’s lack of security was irresponsible and may be regarded as contributing indirectly to the massacre. The attorneys that represented the families claimed Lanza had house insurance worth more than $1 million; they sought compensation based on that, according to Eye Witness News.
3. Chris Manfredonia
As well as police suspicions about co-accomplices, the press ran with a story that a second shooter had escaped into the woods surrounding the school. This primarily arose from footage from a TV helicopter at the time, which showed a man running through the woods and away from the school and also some eye-witness reports that claim they saw a second man being led from the woods in handcuffs. The truth is the “accomplice” was Chris Manfredonia, a parent of one of the children at Sandy Hook who had run around the perimeter of the school after hearing gunshots. Yes, he was arrested, “tackled, and held until our class came out and his daughter called him daddy,” according to witness reports, but held only for a brief time and released without charge. He was on his way to the school to make gingerbread houses with the first-graders when he heard Lanza’s gunfire.
Web site Snopes (oldest and largest fact-checking site on the internet) listed what was reportedly farewell notes from two children trapped inside the school on that fateful day. The notes, which were assumed genuine at the time, appeared to have been written by two children, namely Brian and Ellie. Their arrival in the public arena was a source of renewed torment for those affected by the killings.
However, the notes were leaked to the public domain even before the deceased had been taken to the morgue, which threw a question up about their validity. So, too, was it soon discovered that no children named Brian or Ellie were victims of Lanza’s killing spree. The letters are therefore regarded as something of a hoax and join the various other conspiracy theories relating to the mass murders.
1. Sandy Hook Promise
In a recent interview with Vogue, Nicole Hockley, the mother of one of the victims of the shootings, is described as going “from a stay-at-home suburban mother to one of the leading voices in the politically fraught movement for gun reform.” Her 6-year-old son, Dylan, was killed by Lanza while being held by one of the support staff, and although her other son, Jake, survived, Hockley is quoted as saying it was the day Jake “discovered some monsters are real.”
Four years later, Hockley is a spokeswoman and activist for the co-founded Sandy Hook Promise, an organization that aims to prevent gun violence. She met President Obama last year at the announcement of his executive action on gun licensing and, speaking of Donald Trump, told the magazine, “I don’t get deterred very easily at all because my motivation, my “why” for doing this, is incredibly strong.”