Kingston, N.H., Police Chief Donald Briggs Jr. knew Nancy Champion Lanza from high school and worked with her brother, James Champion, a longtime Kingston police officer who retired in 2011 as a captain.
“She was a wonderful, caring, bubbly person,” Chief Briggs said of the former stockbroker at John Hancock in Boston who always was happy to talk about her beloved Boston Red Sox. “Heart of gold.”
Mrs. Lanza, a 1978 graduate of Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, was the first of 27 people killed in the Newtown massacre Friday — shot by her son four times in the head, according to police, who said Adam Lanza, 20, then went on to kill 20 young children, six adults and himself during a shooting rampage at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Police said Mrs. Lanza was found dead on her bed still clad in her pajamas.
It was Mrs. Lanza who had taught her son how to shoot at a local area target range, and, divorce records made public on Monday, show she had the authority to “make the final decisions” regarding Adam Lanza’s upbringing.
Friends said they often heard her talking about the weapons she had collected, and the fact that she had taken up target shooting with them. Police said all three weapons Adam Lanza took with him to Sandy Hook were owned and legally registered to his mother — two handguns and a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle.
Her sister-in-law, Marsha Lanza, told the Chicago Sun-Times that Mrs. Lanza wanted guns for protection. “She prepared for the worst,” Marsha Lanza told the newspaper. “I didn’t know that they [the guns] would be used on her.”
Married in Kingston in 1981, Mrs. Lanza and her husband, Peter, were divorced in 2008, but their relationship reportedly remained cordial.
Mr. Lanza has declined to talk with reporters, but said in a statement: “We too are asking why. We have cooperated fully with law enforcement and will continue to do so. Like so many of you, we are saddened, but struggling to make sense of what has transpired.” A neighbor said he had recently remarried.
Mrs. Lanza, according to the records, told a divorce mediator, Paula Levy, she didn’t like to leave Adam alone and she would care for him as long as he needed it. During their meetings, Mr. and Mrs. Lanza told Ms. Levy that Adam had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, an autismlike disorder.
“The only two things I remember them saying is that she really didn’t like to leave him alone and I know they went out of their way to accommodate him,” Ms. Levy told The Associated Press, adding that the couple was very respectful of each other and equally concerned about their son’s needs.
“They worked together about it,” she said. “The mom, Nancy, pretty much said she was going to take care of [Adam] and be there as much as he needed her, even long term. These people are soft-spoken, gentle, both of them saying, ‘What can we do to help him?’ “
Asperger’s is a milder variant of autistic disorder. Those affected are characterized by social isolation and eccentric behavior in childhood, specialists said, adding that those with the disorder have difficulty in two-sided social interaction and nonverbal communication. Specialists said there is no connection between the disorder and violence.
The divorce records show that Mrs. Lanza was ordered to attend a parenting education program conducted by Family Centers Inc., which certified that she “satisfactorily completed the program” in June 2009.
The Lanzas had moved from Kingstown to Newtown in 1998, when their two sons, Adam and Ryan, were 6 and 10. They bought a new 3,100-square-foot colonial house on 2 acres in the Bennett’s Farm neighborhood — the home in which she later was found fatally shot.
Friends and neighbors told The New York Times that Mrs. Lanza, blonde and attractive, was active in her community, liked craft beers and jazz, and was generous to strangers. She often was seen at a local restaurant known as My Place Pizza & Restaurant, a family-friendly, neighborhood restaurant located in the center of Newtown — particularly at the Tuesday night beer tastings. If friends were short of cash, they said she often would pick up the tab. She loved the restaurant’s carry-out salads.
A neighbor, Rhonda Cullens, described the 52-year-old single mother of two as a “very nice lady … just a regular person.” Mrs. Lanza put up Christmas lights every year and enjoyed gardening, she said.
“She used to give me a hard time, you know, because I put out all these Christmas lights, and she said, ‘I put out mine, too, but you can’t even see them,’” said Mrs. Cullens, explaining that the Lanza house was set back from the street.
Mr. Lanza is a vice president of taxes for GE Energy Financial Services, with an annual salary of $445,000. He lives in Stamford, Conn. The divorce records say the marriage “has broken down irretrievably and there is no possibility of getting back together,” although there is no indication of anger or bitterness between the couple in the documents. The court records also show that Mr. Lanza made provisions to take care of Adam’s education and medical insurance. She received $289,800 in alimony this year.