December 23, 2002
Construction Site off Wasserman Road — Newtown, Connecticut
Two days before Christmas, Dr. John Reed toured the campus of the new intermediate school, off Mile Hill Road. He had retired over the summer, capping a 20-year career in Newtown, and though he had visited this site often over the past few months, it had just been a work-in-progress then. Now, he was finally seeing his vision brought to life.
The 170,000 square-foot facility was built into the side of the hill, with the school’s entrance and shared areas at the top, and with two symmetrical wings — “houses,” as the architect called them — extending down the slope, connected at an angle around a triangular courtyard. One house held the 5th grade classrooms, and the other the 6th grade. The simplicity of this layout, the town hoped, would help the intermediate school serve its function as a half-step, between the elementary and middle school systems.
The man who would be replacing Dr. Reed as superintendent, 46-year-old Evan Pitkoff, had been meticulously maintaining his “punch lists” all year, as the contractors steadily completed each step in the new school’s preparation; finally, the only major piece that the school was still missing was a name. Then, in October 2002, John Reed learned that the school would be named in his honor; the traditional hand-carved, wooden sign, painted white and facing Mile Hill Road, would be directing the town’s school buses to “Reed Intermediate School.” The first day of class was scheduled for January 6, 2003.
Sandy Hook Elementary School
Something truly unexpected happened in Adam’s fifth grade year: he made a friend. With his shyness, this alone would have been positive news, but even better, his new friend happened to live right in the neighborhood.
The other boy’s mother, when asked about Adam years later, would remember her son’s classmate well. She says that Adam and her son would ride bikes around Sandy Hook, and do “boy stuff” together. When the school assigned a team project, the two would inevitably pair up, and she remembers Adam coming over to visit for several homework sessions. She thought him to be a “normal and polite” boy — and at least once, she even sent her own son over to 36 Yogananda, where the boy met Nancy; when he returned home, the boy did not report seeing anything out of the ordinary during his time in the yellow house.
* * *
Years later, a peculiar document would be recovered, from an unspecified location inside 36 Yogananda. It is a custom-made, spiral-bound book, with a purple cover, bearing a title “The Big Book of Granny” across the top. At the bottom is Adam’s name, and that of his friend — the authors. In the middle, there is a crude MS Paint-style drawing of a human figure with a bell-shaped torso, her hair in a bun, her face in an angry expression, and holding her cane out to the side by its handle, as if the cane were a gun. This is, clearly, “Granny.”
Above the drawing, the boys added some fine-print:
Granny is a trademark symbol of [REDACTED] the creator. Adam Lanza holds all rights to all of the following content. [REDACTED] is the creator of the Granny Picture and holds all rights to it.
When investigators eventually opened the Big Book of Granny, years after it was printed, they were shocked at what they found. The homemade book is, in the words of the Child Advocate, “a very dramatic text, filled with images and narrative relating child murder, cannibalism, and taxidermy.” Their reports would repeatedly emphasize the book’s excessively graphic content: “Clinical reviewers of this work have noted that the violence depicted far exceeds that typically found in the drawings and creative writing of boys of this age.”
* * *
As cataloged into evidence, the Big Book of Granny is divided into four sections.
The first section of the book is three pages long, and consists of 85 “Granny Jokes” — each of them a “degrading statement beginning with ‘Granny!’”
The second section appears equally innocuous: a list of advertisements for “Granny Products of the Future,” such as “Granny Action Figure” and “Granny Oats,” complete with prices for each product, and a phone number for ordering.
The third section of the book is labeled as “Granny’s Clubhouse of Happy Children.” It consists of “typed dialog from an imaginary TV show,” starring the character of Granny, her son who uses the stage name “Bobolicious,” and “several children.” The premise of the show appears to be that the “Granny” character is so aged that her speech is unintelligible, but the reader/viewer can infer what she is saying from the reactions of other characters, who are able to understand her. It’s a comic setup somewhat reminiscent of Han Solo and Chewbacca — but the similarities end there. In the world of The Big Book of Granny, all of the child characters hate and torment Granny, and Granny is a cruel person who uses her gun to shoot at seemingly anyone who appears on the show.
As the imaginary show begins, Bobolicious introduces himself to the audience of children. He tells the children he hears a noise, and one of them suggests it was “Billy’s flatulence.” But then another of them says they hear it getting closer:
Bobolicious: …You hear a noise too!? What is it!?
Bobolicious: It’s Granny! That’s right! Let’s say that in Spanish! To say Granny in Spanish, say dumbo!…. Say it with me! Dumbo! That’s right! Good Spanish! …Granny…..Granny! Dont point that at the children! Granny! Granny! No! Don’t pull that trigger! No!
Billy: No, Granny! Don’t throw that match so close to me! (Boom)!
Bobolicious: Are all you little blood-sucking demons okay!?
In the next “episode,” Bobolicious tells the children, “Remember last time when everyone was slaughtered!? Well…You bread-brain leeches gave me 75 years of prison for that so called ‘tragedy’! I was having fun!”
The “game” section of the show then begins, and a new character named “Dora the Beserker” (a take-off on the Nickelodeon TV character Dora the Explorer) is introduced:
Bobolicious: Hi, Granny! What are we going to play today!?
Bobolicious: Hide and go Die!? How do you play!?
Dora the Beserker: All you do is hide, children! When I find you, you’ll get a treat!
The children go to their hiding spots.
Dora the Beserker: Granny! Shoot them!
Granny: AARQU! (Bang Bang Bang)
Bobolicious: Hey! You’re killing the children, which makes *me* go to jail! …Can I help?
Once the “game” is over, as the boys write, “every child that’s still alive” comes out of their hiding places. One of these is the recurring character “Mommy’s Boy,” who had been searching for his mother throughout the story:
Mommy’s Boy: I…I…I FOUND MY MOMMY!
Mommy: Shut up, kid! I’ve been trying to run away from you this whole time! You’re such a loser! I hate you and just want you to go away forever!
Mommy’s Boy: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! IT CAN’T BE TRUE!
Mommy: I hope I never see you again!
The final section of the Big Book of Granny is entitled simply “Adventures of Granny.” There are eight chapters, all of which involve a dialog between Granny and “Granny’s Son” (now without the “Bobolicious” stage name), with other characters dropping in and out.
In chapter one, Granny and Granny’s Son rob a bank. During the robbery, Granny shoots people with her rifle-cane, as depicted on the book’s cover, before a character “Steinbrenner” (apparently a portrayal of the famed Yankees coach) appears:
Steinbrenner: I am outside with a stick of dynamite! I will throw it in and everyone will die! …But I need a match… Yes! I found the one in my pocket that I was going to use to light the dynamite which I will use to kill everyone. Bye-Bye, Granny! (He throws the dynamite in).
Mayor: Oh no! That is dynamite! (Boom)
Granny’s Son: Granny! Everyone is dead except you and me! …Let’s take the bank’s money! (They take all the money).
Granny and her son then go back home, and take naps. When Granny wakes up, she shouts for her son to fetch the shotgun, to protect her from Steinbrenner, but Granny’s Son becomes annoyed with her:
Granny’s Son: Shut up! I’ll give you one more chance!
Granny’s Son: What has more brains than Granny with a shotgun to its face!? The wall behind it!
(He shoots Granny).
Granny’s Son: I told you you couldn’t catch a bullet in your teeth!
In the second chapter, Granny and Granny’s Son go on a boat ride. Granny falls out of the boat, so Granny’s Son throws her a flotation device; it’s made of concrete, and Granny sinks to the bottom of the ocean.
In the third chapter, Granny and Granny’s Son abduct “Mommy’s Boy,” and then attempt to stuff him, to put on their mantle. A struggle ensues, and Granny kicks the boy into the home’s fireplace, where he begins to burn. The boy jumps out of the fire, and then Granny punches him in the face, and shoots at him three times with her rifle cane, missing each time. Finally, Granny throws out one of the Granny Action Figures from the beginning of the book; with the boy distracted, the action figure comes alive and shoots him. Granny’s Son says “Yay! Now we can hang it!”
In chapter four, Granny and Granny’s Son go to a hockey game. Granny goes onto the ice, punches one of the players, and then shoots him with her rifle cane.
In chapter five, Granny goes to a Marine boot camp, and meets a returning character:
Dora the Beserker: I’m Dora the Beserker! I love hurting children!
Swiper the Racoon: And I’m swiper the Racoon.
Mommy’s Boy: Mommy! I thought that their names were Dora the Explore-
Snitch: I’m telling you! You’re going to have such a law-suit!
Translator: Granny wants to know if you would assassinate Soldier Larry at the stroke of midnight, Dora.
Dora the Beserker: Of course!
Soldier Larry: Ahh! Now I know I’m gonna die! (Soldier Larry jumps over-board).
Translator: She says nevermind.
Dora the Beserker: Oh…But…I like hurting people…Especially children…
When Granny escapes boot camp and goes home to Granny’s Son, she tells him that she left boot camp “because she killed the entire Marine legion.”
Chapter six begins with a group of characters, many with “fatty” in their name, discussing where to go eat. Much of the dialogue in this chapter suggests a preoccupation with body image, and nutrition:
Old Fatty: Say, would you all like to go to that brand new Chinese restaurant in the Restaurant Mini-Mall?
Old Fatty: I.. I beg your pardon! I am certainly not addicted to food! I have never been overweight and never will! You and your little son of yours put together are 3 times heavier than I am!
Later, Dora the Beserker is driving, when she comes upon Granny, and Granny’s Son, on the side of the road. Dora picks them up, and tells Granny that they must go to the daycare center. When they arrive there, Dora hatches a plan with Swiper the Raccoon:
Dora the Beserker: Now, Swiper. You give me the ‘thing’, and run in. You be the distraction. Then, I’ll run in… We’re here. Go!
(Swiper runs into the daycare center).
Swiper the Racoon: Follow me to the front of the room, children!
Swiper the Racoon: Now!
Dora the Beserker: Let’s hurt children!
Mary: Oh no. We be doomed…
The scene soon changes to a mall food court, where another familiar hazard returns: “Ahh! Let’s get out of here! The fat is expanding! It’s pushing out the walls! […] Get away from me, atomic fat!”
In chapter seven, Granny and Granny’s Son go to visit Dora the Beserker, and they all go on an adventure to find someone named, simply, “Drunk.” During the search, they battle a rooster, and have to call upon a bag full of weapons, with each one specified: “A handgun, AK-47, M16 rifle, rocket launcher, musket and shotgun.”
In chapter eight, Granny and Granny’s Son gain the use of a time machine. They go to the past, and meet the members of The Beatles. Granny then murders each one, and says that she “kills every bug she sees.” At the conclusion of the Big Book of Granny, the authors note that the characters Granny and Granny’s Son had been arrested for their crimes, and “sentenced to 75 years in jail for killing The Beatles.”
* * *
There are conflicting accounts regarding the circumstances behind the Big Book of Granny’s creation. The state police write vaguely that the book was “related to a class project,” and the way it was printed and bound shows the creators had access to the same kind of equipment that the Newtown School District did indeed own, and had made available for elementary school assignments at the time. Still, it is not clear if the book itself was ever turned in — or, if the two boys instead created it by themselves, outside of the Sandy Hook school curriculum. There are only clues.
The text contains several meta-jokes, in which the characters censor themselves, in a manner suggesting that the authors wrote it to be shared. One instance appears in the sequence where Granny and Granny’s Son have kicked a boy into their fireplace:
Mommy’s Boy: Oof! Wahhhhhhhh! Mommy! I’m burning! Where are you!?
Granny’s Son: Granny! It jumped out! Punch it in the face!
Granny’s son: You’re right! We would be banned from being read if you did that in detailed performance!
Meanwhile, a sub-section of the document, titled “Granny learn how to write,” does appear to be in the context of a class assignment, perhaps having started with a template: it lists the various forms of english sentences, along with “Granny” lines as examples — such as “Declarative: Granny’s shades are black.”
At the end of this section, Granny herself appears one last time, to deliver a strange commentary on the value of writing in sentences:
The importance of a sentence is the fact the we have the perennial ability to communicate amongst ourselves. Without sentences, the world would have billions of neandrathals even dumber than the gorillas in 2001: A space Oddysey before the monolith was planted by the extra terrestrials. With sentences, we can buy items from places, talk on our 1970’s cellphone, and even read this right now!
~Granny breathes loudly and falls over
Whatever the case, Adam’s parents were aware of the book at the time, if not its exact contents; Peter Lanza would later give a lengthy interview to writer Andrew Solomon, and would tell him that Adam “tried to sell copies of the book at school and got in trouble,” while the Child Advocate would claim in their own report that Adam “may have attempted to ‘sell’ the book to peers for 25 cents, and that a school administrator spoke to Mrs. Lanza about the matter.” (Also among the documents later seized from 36 Yogananda, along with the Big Book of Granny, is an undated holiday card, which includes a hand-drawn depiction of the same “Granny” figure — this time wishing Nancy a happy Mother’s Day.)
Even to Connecticut’s team of seen-it-all child psychologists in 2014, the book would stand out, “a text marked by extreme thoughts of violence that should have signified a need for intervention and evaluation.” But if indeed a school official had ever looked at the Big Book of Granny, there’s no sign that they brought it to the attention of the school psychiatrist at Sandy Hook, nor any other mental health professional.
It is difficult, in retrospect, to quantify exactly what level of concern would have made a difference; the book’s contents may have been interpreted in any number of ways. But to the doctors working with the Child Advocate’s office, the book showed “a boy who is struggling with disturbing thoughts of extreme violence that seem to have poured out in the form of stories and visual images of a caregiver and child-like character who are alternately victimized by and victimizers of each other.” This suggests that “on some level,” by age ten, Adam Lanza was “deeply troubled by feelings of rage, hate, and (at least unconscious) murderous impulses.”
* * *
Eventually, in 2013, the authorities would track down the co-author of the Granny book. The boy (now a young man) appeared to have a quite detailed memory of the day he and Adam began writing the Big Book of Granny: he said that the book had been created as part of a “group” assignment, involving several other students, all pitching ideas to Adam for inclusion in the story. The co-author remembers that they had all agreed to write the story in a “Calvin and Hobbes style,” and that he drew the cover art himself. In his memory, the book was turned in, an actual assignment — the school did the binding, and he and Adam each received a grade.
The co-author sharply deviated from his own mother’s testimony, in a major aspect: he had never, he claimed, been to Adam’s house, and Adam had never been to his. They were not friends, and never rode bikes together — they never interacted outside of school at all. He simply could not account for his mother’s markedly different recollections about his friendship with the boy in the yellow house.
This 2013 interview would be conducted at the former student’s assigned probation office; the book’s co-author had experienced his own problems since those days in 2002, and he was now living “in a group home under constant supervision,” having been diagnosed with a mental illness as the result of an unrelated case, involving unspecified “motor vehicle charges.”
* * *
When Adam and his friend signed their names on the t-shirt passing around Sandy Hook Elementary, it was not just a commemoration of their last class together: theirs would be the very last fifth grade class ever at Sandy Hook Elementary. And they weren’t even going to finish the school year there; with the completion of Reed Intermediate School, they, like all of the town’s fifth and sixth grade students, would imminently be transferred to their new school, right after winter break. And while Adam and his friend would thus still be attending the same school together, the class lists had already been announced: they had different teachers. Whatever level their friendship had truly reached, after the winter break, it was over. Adam was alone again.
Late in December of 2002, Adam finished his last day as a student at Sandy Hook Elementary. The school’s psychologist — who had personally overseen each meeting of his Planning and Placement Team, and thus communicated with Nancy many times — may not have had much face-to-face interaction with the boy. If she did give him any thought, as he walked out the school’s front entrance for the last time, she probably assumed that they would never cross paths again.