25. Treegap

Fall 2002

Sandy Hook Elementary School

The class passed a grey T-shirt from desk to desk, along with a red magic marker. Each pupil signed their name on the front of the shirt, steadily forming a roll-call of all of the 5th grade class, under the logo SANDY HOOK SCHOOL. When the shirt stopped at Adam’s desk, he signed it in tiny, careful, cursive.

They weren’t long into the school year then, in the Fall of 2002, but many of the names Adam saw surrounding his own, he would have recognized from as far back as the first grade — when they crowded around the Culture Corner together, in Mrs. Lavelle’s class. The elementary school in Sandy Hook had been the most lasting element of stability in Adam’s young life, a period when both his family and the school’s staff put great effort into getting him acclimated to society. It was were where he learned to speak — when he wanted to.

His classmates from SHES would remember him as the quiet kid in the room, an “extremely introverted” presence. Dan Lynch, another name scribbled on the t-shirt, would recall to USA Today that Adam was “really skittish, always anxious and nervous.” One memory in particular stood out: the fifth grade was when Newtown scheduled sex-ed classes for their students, and during the class’s viewing of an educational video on the miracle of life, the Lanza kid suddenly stood up from his desk, said that he was “about to throw up,” and rushed out of the room.

Dan never saw Adam getting bullied, though; for himself, he thought well of his quiet classmate: “A nice kid when he did talk to you.”

In their class photo, Adam appears somewhat frightened, standing rigidly with his arms at his side, his shoulders slouched. He is wearing a striped polo shirt, several sizes too big. Once again, the teacher has positioned him immediately within arm’s reach.

The Child Advocate would find that the school’s records from this year documented that Adam had “exhibited good effort” and was able to apply all of his grade-level concepts and skills by himself. Socially, he showed appropriate classroom behavior, but his teachers felt he “struggled initiating conversation with anyone.”

* * *

The class all kept reading journals that year. A section of Adam’s journal shows his thoughts, over a series of handwritten pages, as his class read Natalia Babbit’s 1975 classic children’s novel, Tuck Everlasting.

The book tells the story of a ten-year-old girl named Winnie Foster, who lives in the bucolic pastoral village of Treegap, sometime in the 1880s. One day, for the first time, she ventures out beyond the fence line of her home and into a secluded forest, where she happens upon a young man, pitching stones into a spring. As it turns out, the spring is an actual “fountain of youth,” and the young man, Jesse Tuck, has been immortal ever since he drank from it eighty years before (hence, the story’s title). The rest of the Tuck family soon discovers that Winnie knows the secret of the magic spring, and they take the frightened girl back to their farm, hoping to keep her away from Treegap long enough for them to explain why she should learn from their mistake — and never, ever drink from the Treegap spring.

The Connecticut State Police would later bookmark a section of Adam’s reading journal, from the day he read Chapter Twelve of Tuck Everlasting: a scene in which Angus Tuck, the patriarch of the family, takes Winnie out on his rowboat.

Drifting along the surface of a forest pond, its waters calm, Angus shares his beliefs about the fundamental principles of life on earth: “It’s a wheel, Winnie. Everything’s a wheel, turning and turning, never stopping. The frogs is part of it, and the bugs, and the fish, and the wood thrush, too. And people. But never the same ones. Always coming in new, always growing and changing, and always moving on. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s the way it is.” The only exceptions, then, were the Tucks, who drank the water from the spring.

As they drift further down the river, and Angus shares more of his philosophy on mortality, it is enough to bring Winnie to the brink of an existential crisis:

“We ain’t part of the wheel no more. Dropped off, Winnie. Left behind. And everywhere around us, things is moving and growing and changing. You, for instance. A child now, but someday a woman. And after that, moving on to make room for the new children.”

Winnie blinked, and all at once her mind was drowned with understanding of what he was saying. For she — yes, even she — would go out of the world willy-nilly someday. Just go out, like the flame of a candle, and no use protesting. It was a certainty. She would try very hard not to think of it, but sometimes, as now, it would be forced upon her.

She raged against it, helpless and insulted, and blurted at last, “I don’t want to die.”

The elder Tuck acknowledges Winnie’s fears. He understands the burden she is working through; he also knows that drinking the water will not make it go away. “It’s something you don’t find out how you feel until afterwards,” he says. “If people knowed about the spring down there in Treegap, they’d all come running like pigs to slop. They’d trample each other, trying to get some of that water. That’d be bad enough, but afterwards — can you imagine? All the little ones little forever, all the old ones old forever. Can you picture what that means? Forever?”

Later, when Winnie goes fishing with Jesse’s brother, Miles, a mosquito lands on her knee. She slaps at it, then thinks to herself, the gravity of the Treegap situation becoming clearer: “If all the mosquitoes lived forever — and if they kept on having babies! — it would be terrible. The Tucks were right.” With that, she decides to keep the magic spring’s powers a secret, for the good of the planet.

Sitting in the classroom at Sandy Hook, with these themes on his mind (as well as the English nursery rhyme Death and Burial of Poor Cock Robin), Adam picked up his pencil and wrote a poem:

No frogs, No birds.

too many ants are coming

Ants overpopulate.

Ants dig dirt.

dirt grows plants.

Cock Robin died.

Bees die.

ants feed bees to babies.

Ants will overtake to win.

One baby died.

3 eggs won’t hatch

Adam continued reading Tuck Everlasting as the weeks went past. It turned out that when the Tucks had revealed the secret of the Treegap spring to Winnie, and brought her back to their cottage, that a mysterious “Man in a Yellow Suit” had been secretly following them, listening.

In Chapter 19, the man suddenly appears on the Tuck family’s doorstep, and announces that he is taking Winnie back to her family, who have promised to sell him the land in Treegap in return. The Man in the Yellow Suit proudly announces to Winnie and the Tucks, “I’m going to sell the water,” and “not just to anybody. Only to certain people who deserve it. And it will be very, very expensive. But who wouldn’t give a fortune to live forever?”

The Man in the Yellow Suit then sets out to collect his bounty, taking Winnie harshly by the arm. Suddenly, Mae Tuck, the family’s matriarch, moves to stop the sinister man, swinging the butt of the family shotgun at his head — and inflicting a blow that soon proves fatal.

On a Friday in December, Adam wrote in his journal about Chapter 19. In the photos released by forensic investigators of these pages, one section is illegible, but it is clear that Adam agreed with Mae’s actions:

Dec/6/02

I think Mae was justified to hit the man in the yellow. The world was in her hands, because if everyone drank the water, the world would be overpopulated but no one would think of that at first, they would just rush to buy the water and drink it. This was [xxxxxxxxx] if you are mad at someone, it would be immortality and some people could abuse that ability. Actually the Man in the Yellow Suit is the real kidnapper. Winnie wanted to go with The Tucks but did not with the man. I would have done the same thing Mae just did.

On the opposite page, Adam drew a picture of the scene. At the bottom, he scribbled a small diagram depicting the cottage, with five stick figures (each of the Tucks, and Winnie). He filled the leftover majority of the page with an arresting drawing: the Man in the Yellow Suit, standing in the cottage doorway and announcing to the Tucks:

I’m

coming

in

your

house

now!

Later entries in his reading journal cover other books: Adam drew a Venn diagram sorting the characters from the 1976 novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry into “good,” “bad,” and an overlapping grey. On another page, he documented the plot to Dragonslayer, a novelization of the 1981 Disney fantasy film.

Then, in a page-and-a-half essay, his clumsy block-handwriting details an event from China’s military history — the “Battle of Wan,” as chronicled in the 14th century historical legend, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The scene he describes is one of the more violent from the wartime narrative, as a king’s lone bodyguard fends off an entire army, racking up a staggering body count in the process — a detail that particularly caught the ten-year-old’s attention:

When the castle was about to be raided, Lord Dian Wei stood in front of the enemy’s army and attacked. He had two halberds to hold them off when they got chopped in half he pulled out his sword and when that shattered something [xxx] happened. He actually picked up two corpses and swung them around like his halberds. When he was killed, the enemy’s army still did not dare to pass the castle gates because of all the damage this one man did.

Back home at 36 Yogananda, the Lanza family owned several copies of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. (Adam was even playing video games based on the same source material at this time, including an entry in the Dynasty Warriors series that depicts this exact battle, among many others.) And scraps of childhood artwork suggest that Adam’s fixation on ancient Chinese military history indeed had deep roots: drawings of warriors, each labeled with names from the legends, each of them wielding a giant sword.

Newtown High School

On the other side of Interstate 84, Newtown High School’s security director, a man named Richard Novia, was inspecting the school’s brand-new, 23-camera surveillance system, just installed at a cost to the town of $40,000.

The cameras were positioned to show both the hallways and exterior areas of the school, and from his security post, Mr. Novia could pan and zoom each viewpoint individually, to see anywhere in the school where there might be trouble. Mr. Novia had been in his role at NHS for over a decade, and had often claimed that there were cameras in the ceilings — but the fall of 2002 was the first time he would not be bluffing.

Among the new faces passing by on the screens that year would be Adam’s brother Ryan, walking past the spot where the weeping red cherry tree and the columbine flowers were planted, for the first day of his Freshman year.