40. Emergence

August 2006

Newtown High School

NHS’s Latin teacher waited alone in a portable classroom, one of several such units that a truck had dropped off in the parking lot over the summer. The portables were an emergency measure, to alleviate crowding at NHS while the town figured out a long-term solution. But that only made the arrangements the Latin teacher had received for that class period all the more strange: she was going to be teaching a class of exactly one student.

She heard a car parking outside. Then, in walked Nancy Lanza; she knew Nancy already — having taught foreign languages to her son Ryan all through his years at NHS — but she had never met the younger son before.

He came in close behind his mother, taller than Nancy by several inches, and the teacher noticed the teenager walked stiffly, staring at the ground. He was wearing what she would come to recognize as his uniform over the next few months: khaki pants, and an oversized blue polo shirt, usually topped off with an even baggier grey hoodie. His wardrobe was so consistent, his teacher would privately suspect that he had five sets of the same exact outfit back at home.

Nancy introduced them, and he barely made a sound.

He had a briefcase with him — not a book bag, but an adult’s briefcase — and when Nancy stepped into the other room to leave them alone for the instruction period, the first thing Adam did was open the briefcase, take out a bottle of sanitizing gel, and spread a dollop of it all over the top of the desk, disinfecting the entire surface before he would touch it.

The Latin teacher found Adam to be smart, like his brother. She thought that he had a natural “Latin mind,” in the sense that that the language was so orderly and structured. It seemed to fit him.

He sure didn’t like to talk, though. And that might have presented a problem for a language class; but the teacher knew the IEP that Newtown had signed off on for him left a lot of room for creative solutions. Adam was special.

* * *

Nancy took her son for a pediatric checkup that September. The intake form confirmed that he had been diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Anxiety, and Asperger’s Syndrome, and that he was to seek (or was already seeking) psychiatric care “in the community.” This was a reference to Dr. Fox, still the only doctor that Nancy was permitting to see her son.

Nancy and the IEP team were hopeful. NHS was a new school for Adam, and another chance to get it right. But after what happened at the middle school, Adam’s team knew they couldn’t just throw him in with the regular student population; he had displayed extreme anxiety in social situations ever since arriving in Newtown, and now it had been nearly a whole year since he had even set foot in a school. As long as it got him out of the house, they were prepared to accommodate him in any way they needed to.

For the dreaded passing periods, they had a plan: on days when all the portable classrooms were already in use, his classes would be held off in one of the special education rooms whenever possible. Since they were right next to each other, he shouldn’t need to travel very far indoors. And when he did have to take to the halls, they had arranged for him to leave a few minutes early or late, to avoid the crowds as much as possible.

And there would be one familiar face out there, every day, looking out for him: Richard Novia. He was one of the few people Nancy had grown to trust with her son, primarily through the Tech Club tag-alongs. Now, Adam was directly within Novia’s sphere of protection, as the head of security. Adam could even participate in the Tech Club as a full member — but they decided to hold off on that, for now. Everything in the plan was designed around one objective: don’t overload Adam. Let him re-adjust to the outside world. As his Latin teacher remembers, “He didn’t want to be around people. Our goal was to get him back in the building.”

* * *

Despite these accommodations, there was no hiding the reality: Newtown High School was a very crowded place. And so there were whispers, here and there: friends telling friends about how they could’ve sworn they saw that Adam Lanza kid, the one they thought had moved away. He was back, and weirder than ever.

Several longtime classmates all remember catching a glimpse of same scene in the hallway, at one time or another that year: Adam, off to the side of the foot traffic, with his briefcase clutched to his chest, frozen in fear as the crowds bustled past. One of those watching was the girl who lived on his block in Sandy Hook, and who had come home crying after seeing his “hand poem” when they were little. She remembers that at NHS, he “always seemed to be wearing clothing that was too large and had a kind of unkempt look to him.”

And he was always alone. From all available documentation, the closest that he had come to a real friendship in his life so far had still been back at Sandy Hook Elementary, with the boy who made the Big Book of Granny with him — even if their bond really was as limited as the other boy now says it was.

That former classmate had since moved, out of the school district; but he would remember hearing from one or more of his friends back in Newtown around this time, about a classmate named Adam Lanza who was a “weird kid.” When he asked what they meant, they said something to the effect that he “would sit by himself on the other side of the room and would not talk or associate with anybody else.” And he always had a briefcase.

36 Yogananda — Sandy Hook, Connecticut

The family routine started to set in: coming home from class, Adam liked to go straight to his room, and stay there. He’d be on his computer late into the night, playing WoW and browsing the net; there was a new video-sharing website, called YouTube, that he especially took a liking to.

Nancy came and went, off to My Place on many evenings. One of her bar friends was a guy who owned a computer repair business. He knew Ryan from the 18-year-old’s time busing tables at the restaurant, and Nancy shared that her older son was now heading off to get his accounting degree. The bar friend ended up hiring Ryan a few times to take care of the paperwork for his business, in between classes at Quinnipiac University. The friend thought Nancy’s oldest was “bright, and a great kid.” He never got to meet the other son.

Ryan left over the summer, moving into on-campus housing 20 miles away in the town of Hamden, and leaving the basement at 36 Yogananda pretty much as it was: with a bed off in one corner, and a couch in front of the TV in the old game room, his rows of “Gundam” anime models lining the shelves on either side. The way it was furnished, a visitor might even think that someone still lived down there. But from then on, it was just Adam and Nancy in the pale yellow house; visitors would be rare.

Morgan Street — Stamford, Connecticut

Peter didn’t think that Dr. Fox was helping his son enough — if at all. Peter barely even knew the man. (Interviews with the Child Advocate record that Peter “had little direct involvement with [Dr. Fox],” and though Adam’s father kept many of the records from his son’s care over the years, when these documents were eventually catalogued, none were found that had originally been sent from Dr. Fox’s office.)

Peter was an independent parent now, and he chose to go his own way; early in Adam’s freshman year, he contacted the Employee Assistance Program that General Electric provided as part of their benefits package. The program’s intake rep wrote that the caller wanted to obtain “evaluation and treatment for his son’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.”

In an ensuing email exchange, the program’s staff tried to get a handle on what, exactly, Peter’s situation was.

They asked if the Lanza family would be willing to travel in order to get help for Adam; Peter said yes, within the state, “if there [was] a program/therapist to help their son, and them, as his disorder [was] significantly impacting the family as well.” Peter told them that he wanted a “specialist,” specifically one who had solid experience in working with children diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome.

The staff told Peter they were going to schedule a meeting, for his son to go see a Dr. Robert King, at the Yale Child Study Center. Perhaps there was something that the boy’s mother, and her trusted community psychiatrist, had missed; maybe the staff at the old Collegiate School could identify it.