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Does the shooter's slain mother count as a victim?

  • Article by: KEVIN SULLIVAN
  • Washington Post
  • December 20, 2012 - 10:36 PM

NEWTOWN, CONN. - Twenty-six. Not 27.

When many people in Newtown count the victims in last Friday'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 shot four bullets into his mother's head as she lay in bed.

As this heartbroken town tries to process last Friday's horror, there is considerable anger toward Lanza's mother. Her name is noticeably absent from many of the impromptu shrines 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 on 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."

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.

Much remains unknown about Adam Lanza and his mother. But everyone here knows that Nancy, 52, was the legally registered owner of the 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?

© 2014 Star Tribune