Adam Lanza was fascinated with chimpanzees because of their capacity for empathy, but he could show little or none himself.
He could write stories that struck horror into a teacher’s heart, then turn around and craft a poem so beautiful it moved listeners to tears.
As a kid growing up in Connecticut, he rode bikes, played baseball and saxophone, and kept hamsters. As a man, he taped black garbage bags over his bedroom windows, retreating into a world of violent video games, guns and statistics on mass murder.
Despite the release Friday by Connecticut state police of thousands of pages of interviews, photographs and writings, the man who gunned down 20 first-graders and six adults at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, remains an enigma.
Some of the most tantalizing evidence of the inner workings of the 20-year-old Newtown man’s brain appears to be contained in writings that the police chose not to release.
An eight-page document titled simply “Me” is described in a police inventory as “detailing relationships, ideal companion, culture, voting, personal beliefs, describes doctors touching children as rape.” Another, named “Tomorrow,” apparently contains details about the author’s “desires, list of the benefits of being thin and negative connotations associated with being overweight, list of goals … ”
What the files do show is a deeply troubled young man, living with a single mother who was either unable or unwilling to accept the depths of his illness.
The picture most people have of Adam Lanza is the skeletal, blank face from photographs released by police following the massacre. Childhood photos show a smiling boy who could look into a camera, but signs of trouble – if not violence – emerged early.
In his preteen years, Lanza had difficulty with speech and was “being followed medically for seizure activities,” according to investigators.
“In preschool, his conduct included repetitive behaviors, temper tantrums, smelling things that were not there, excessive hand washing and eating idiosyncrasies,” prosecutors said in one report.
But Lanza’s real problems appear to have begun after his parents’ separation in 2001, when he was 9 years old.
Adam had attended Sandy Hook Elementary. In fifth grade, he turned in a cute story about a “chicken tree” whose hen fruit “contains everything you ever will need to live like calcium and water.”
“It spits out seeds every four hours by using its long chute,” he wrote in a slanted, choppy block script. “The vines that holds the chicken is very soft and very strong.”
That same year, Lanza produced a more disturbing work.
According to a boy who worked on it with him in class, “The Big Book of Granny” was supposed to be a “comic-style book” in the vein of “Calvin & Hobbes.” It was far from it.
In a section of the book labeled “Granny’s Clubhouse of Happy Children,” typed as dialogue from an imaginary television show, Granny and her son, “Bobolicious,” terrorize a group of children. In one episode, Bobolicious tells the children they’re going to play a game of “Hide and go die.”
Granny uses her “rifle cane” to kill people at a bank, hockey game and Marine boot camp. She also goes back in time and murders the four Beatles, according to a police synopsis.
The book also contains several chapters with the adventures of “Dora the Beserker” and her monkey, “Shoes” – a clear knockoff of the popular children’s show “Dora the Explorer.”
When Granny asks Dora to assassinate a soldier, she replies: “I like hurting people … Especially children.” In the same episode, Dora sends “Swiper the Raccoon” into a day care center to distract the children, then enters and says, “Let’s hurt children.”
In the real kids’ show, Dora has a backpack that contains a talking map. In Lanza’s perversion, the group carries a bag stuffed with an AK-47, an M-16, a shotgun, a musket and a rocket launcher.
The boy who drew the cover illustration – showing Granny firing her cane gun – thought the book was turned in, but that remains unclear.
He told investigators that Lanza was “weird” and “would sit by himself on the other side of the room and would not talk or associate with anybody else.” Lanza also came to school with a briefcase, he recalled.
By seventh grade, a teacher told investigators, Lanza’s writing was “so graphic that it could not be shared” – except with the principal. The teacher said Adam’s parents were not “upfront” about his mental abilities.
Adam would write essays “obsessing about battles, destruction and war,” said the teacher, whose name and gender were redacted. “In all my years of experience, I have known … boys to talk about things like this but Adam’s level of violence was disturbing.”
But when the teacher asked Adam to submit something else to share with the class, he produced a lovely poem.
“Adam shared his poem in public with his father present, who was in tears,” the teacher told police.
Peter Lanza has declined to speak publicly about his son. But in interviews with investigators, he said that his son’s life appeared to take a turn after his 11th birthday.
He seemed “less happy, stressed and frustrated,” his father said, but he never exhibited any “outward signs of anger or aggression.” He told people he “did not think highly of himself and believed that everyone else in the world deserved more than he did,” according to investigators.