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Conn. files: Gunman's mother loving but bewildered

Saturday - 12/28/2013, 12:20pm  ET

This December 2012 photo released by the Connecticut State Police on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, shows what the evidence report describes as Mrs. D'Amato's Grade 1 classroom inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Adam Lanza gunned down 20 first-graders and six educators with a semi-automatic rifle at the school on Dec. 14, 2012, after killing his mother inside their home. Lanza committed suicide with a handgun as police arrived at the school. (AP Photo/Connecticut State Police)

Associated Press

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) -- Thousands of pages of documents from the Newtown shooting investigation help fill out the picture of the gunman's mother as a dedicated and loving, if bewildered, parent who acknowledged her son appeared to be spiraling downward but was not aware to what extent.

Nancy Lanza told a lifelong friend about two weeks before the massacre that her 20-year-old son, who lived with her, was becoming increasingly despondent. Adam Lanza hadn't left his room in three months and was communicating with her only via email. When Hurricane Sandy blew through Connecticut in late October and cut power to the Lanza home, the documents say, it "put Adam over the edge." She couldn't persuade him to stay at a hotel or in an RV.

When Nancy Lanza asked her son whether he would feel bad if something happened to her, he replied no, she told her friend, who was not identified in the documents. Still, "Nancy never expressed any concern about fearing for her safety while alone with Adam," the report said.

About two weeks later, Adam fatally shot his mother in the head while she was in bed, gunned down 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in one of the worst mass shootings in the nation's history, and killed himself with a handgun as police closed in.

Connecticut police released the documents Friday from their investigation into the Dec. 14, 2012, massacre, providing the most detailed and disturbing picture yet of Nancy Lanza's relationship with her son; his fascination with violence; and school employees' brave and clear-headed attempts to protect the children.

"In the midst of the darkness of that day, we also saw remarkable heroism and glimpses of grace," wrote Reuben F. Bradford, commissioner of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, in a letter accompanying the files.

The documents supplemented a previously released summary based on the same findings, and their release marked the end of the more than yearlong investigation. Authorities have said a motive may never be known, and though the paperwork, photos and videos aren't conclusive and many are heavily redacted to protect the names of children and withhold some of the more grisly details, they nevertheless overflow with painful and visceral details.

Among them: Responders found more than a dozen bodies, mostly children, packed "like sardines" in a bathroom. And the horrors inside the school were so terrible that when police sent in paramedics, they tried to select ones capable of handling what they were about to witness.

"This will be the worst day of your life," police Sgt. William Cario warned one.

Teachers heard janitor Rick Thorne try to get Lanza to leave the school. One teacher, who was hiding in a closet in the math lab, heard Thorne yell, "Put the gun down!" An aide said she heard gunfire and Thorne told her to close her door. Thorne survived.

Teacher Kaitlin Roig told police she heard "rapid-fire shooting" outside the school, near her classroom. She rushed her students into the classroom's bathroom, pulled a rolling storage unit in front of the bathroom door as a barricade, and then closed and locked the door.

She heard a voice say, "Oh, please, no. Please, no." Eventually, police officers slid their badges under the bathroom door. Roig refused to come out and told them that if they were truly police, they should be able to get the key to the door -- which they did.

Police Lt. Christopher Vanghele said he and another officer found what appeared to be about 15 bodies, mostly children, packed in a bathroom. So many people had tried to cram inside the bathroom that the door couldn't be closed, and Lanza gunned them all down, Vanghele surmised.

Vanghele also recalled another officer carrying a little girl in his arms and running for the exit. Vanghele ran with him through the parking lot as the officer repeated, "Come on, sweetie; come on, sweetie." The girl didn't survive.

Investigators were gentle in their questioning of children, interviewing youngsters only if they or their parents requested it. Some of the parents thought that talking openly about the shooting and getting accurate information out would help their children heal.

After the interviews, the children were given a copy of the children's book "A Terrible Thing Happened" to help them cope.

Bradford, the emergency commissioner, wrote that much of the report was disturbing but that it also showed teachers trying to protect the children, law enforcement officials putting themselves in harm's way, and dispatchers working calmly and efficiently.

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