NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — At the bar, everybody knew her name.
Nancy Lanza was the one who, if she heard you were short on cash, regularly offered to pick up the tab at My Place.
Two or three nights a week, Ms. Lanza — the mother of the gunman in Connecticut’s horrific school massacre — came in for carryout salads but stayed for Chardonnay and good humor. The divorced mother of two — still smooth-skinned and ash blonde at 52 — clearly didn’t have to work but was always glad to share talk of her beloved Red Sox, gardening and a growing enthusiasm for target shooting.
But while Ms. Lanza spoke proudly about her sons and brought them in for breakfast when they were younger, friends say she held one card very close: home life, especially its trials and setbacks, was off-limits.
Now, the secrets Ms. Lanza kept are at the center of the questions that envelop this New England town, grieving over the slaughter unleashed by her 20-year-old son, Adam, who investigators say killed his mother Friday with one of her own guns before murdering 26 children and teachers at a nearby school.
“Her family life was her family life. She kept it private when we were together. That was her own thing,” said Louise Tambascio, who runs the warmly lit pizzeria and bar with her own sons, and became a shopping and dining companion of Ms. Lanza‘s.
Friends had met Ms. Lanza‘s younger son, who stared down at the floor and didn’t speak when she brought him in. They knew he had switched schools more than once and that she had tried home schooling him. But while she occasionally expressed concern about his future during evenings at the bar, she never complained about anything at all.
“I heard her as a parent. I always said that I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes. But I thought, ‘Wow, she holds it well,’” said Ms. Tambascio’s son John.
California resident Ryan Kraft told KCAL-TV in Los Angeles that when he was a teenager he lived a few doors down from the Lanza family and used to baby-sit AdamLanza, then 9 or 10 years old. He said the boy “struck me as an introverted kid.”
“His mom, Nancy, had always instructed me to keep an eye on him at all times, never turn my back or even go to the bathroom or anything like that. Which I found odd, but I really didn’t ask; it wasn’t any of my business,” said Mr. Kraft, who lives in Hermosa Beach. “But looking back at it now, I guess there was something else going on.”
Despite the challenges, the trappings of Ms. Lanza‘s life in Newtown were comfortable. When she and then-husband Peter Lanza moved to the central Connecticut community in 1998 from southern New Hampshire, they bought a brand-new 3,100-square-foot colonial set on more than 2 acres in the Bennett’s Farm neighborhood. Ms. Lanza had previously worked as a stockbroker at John Hancock in Boston and her husband was a successful executive.
When the couple divorced in 2009, he left their spacious home to Ms. Lanza and told her she would never have to work another day in her life, said Marsha Lanza of Crystal Lake, Ill., Ms. Lanza‘s aunt. The split-up was not acrimonious, and Adam Lanza spent time with both his mother and father, she said.
Those who knew Ms. Lanza recall her as very generous, often giving money to those she met and doing volunteer work.
When a mutual friend sought a loan from an acquaintance, Jim Leff, and Mr. Leff asked for collateral, Ms. Lanza intervened.
“Nancy overheard the discussion and, unblinkingly, told him she’d just write him a check then and there,” Mr. Leff recalled on his blog in a post after Ms. Lanza‘s death. “While I’m far from the most generous guy in the world, it’s not often that I feel stingy. But I learned something from that. I should have just written him the check. She was right.”