The Sheltered Storm
The True Story of the Man-Made Disaster That Struck the Village of Sandy Hook, Connecticut on December 14, 2012
By Matthew Nolan
Early on a Friday morning, in a pale yellow house at the top of a hill, a young man with a gun creeps into his mother’s bedroom, and puts his plan into action.
Part I: Over the Horizon
Chapter 1: The Shooter
Stockton, California: In January 1989, a disturbed wannabe-soldier attacks his old elementary school, using a rifle that soon becomes the focus of controversy.
Chapter 2: Nancy
Nancy Champion’s upbringing in rural Kingston, New Hampshire, inspires her plans to start a family of her own with her high-school sweetheart, Peter Lanza.
Chapter 3: Assault Rifle
1989: California responds emphatically to the Stockton shooting. Shockwaves are felt in DC, in the gun industry, and in the NRA. President George HW Bush looks for a compromise.
Chapter 4: Human Animal
A deranged gunman attacks a Luby’s Cafeteria in Texas, setting a dark new record. Meanwhile, in DC, Congress reacts to the news mid-session — while debating a gun bill.
Chapter 5: Earth Day
Nancy’s troubled 2nd pregnancy leads to professional setbacks. But all concerns are secondary to the health of her young son: the boy who never wants to speak.
Chapter 6: Frontier
Nancy finds a friend in Marvin Lafontaine, and the Lanza boys join his scout troop. Nancy soon grows concerned, as her best efforts to socialize her son fail to bring him out of his shell.
Chapter 7: Dawn
Clinton takes office, and shortly signs the Brady Bill and Federal Assault Weapons Ban into law. The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre shares his visions of a “final war.” Connecticut wrestles with banning guns, against its own economic interests.
Chapter 8: Shangri-La
The school-shooting phenomenon suddenly returns in the mid-1990’s, as an apocalyptic meme that picks up dark, new traits each time it passes from one alienated teenage boy to the next.
Chapter 9: Grand Adventure
Nancy has doubts about her marriage, but when her husband lands a dream job, it brings the opportunity of moving to Sandy Hook, Connecticut, where her son can attend a school with a golden reputation.
Chapter 10: Snowdrop
A demented former boy scout leader attacks an elementary school in Dunblane, Scotland in 1996. The people of the United Kingdom respond, and gun culture in the UK is never the same.
Part II: Tide & Season
Chapter 11: The Village (a brief history of Newtown)
The settlement of Newtown appears in Connecticut in 1705, and grows throughout revolutions of faith, government, and industry, into the town that would greet the Lanza family.
Chapter 12: Yogananda
The Lanza family begins their new life in Sandy Hook, and Nancy’s 6-year-old son begins his public school experience, at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Chapter 13: The Ghost in the Cabin
The authorities finally identify Ted Kaczynski as the mysterious “Unabomber,” and lock him away in Supermax — but not before spreading his “manifesto” far and wide.
Chapter 14: Promised Land
Mayors across the US declare war on the gun industry, and in response, the country’s “other” gun lobby joins the fight: the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), from Newtown, Connecticut.
Chapter 15: Eagles Circle
Nancy sets down roots in Newtown, and reconnects with Marvin by email. One night, a passing comment about President Clinton sets her off.
Chapter 16: Revolution
In April 1999, two teenagers from Littleton, Colorado bring “Judgment Day” to Columbine High School.
Chapter 17: Cascade
As Newtown reacts to the Columbine attack, the facts of the event already start to blur with myth. Meanwhile, Nancy Lanza shares a shocking secret about her health.
Chapter 18: Wave of Evil
A month after Columbine, the nation’s political machinery struggles to close the “Gun Show Loophole.” But the copycat shootings have already begun.
Chapter 19: Radar
The FBI’s profilers take on a seemingly impossible task: the “profile” for a school shooter. When the Secret Service looks into the phenomenon, their agents sense something familiar.
Chapter 20: Distortion
The real secret about Nancy Lanza’s health turns out to be darker than anything she’s told even her closest friends.
Chapter 21: Basement Tapes
In late 1999, the Columbine shooters’ messages from beyond the grave are revealed, and their contents shatter myths about “NBK.” Meanwhile, Nancy’s son’s development continues to falter at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Chapter 22: Smart Guns
The “Million Mom March” makes gun rights a major focus of the 2000 election. When the votes are finally counted in the controversial contest, the NRA and NSSF celebrate their candidate’s victory.
Chapter 23: The Ghost in the Cage
Inside Supermax, the Unabomber shares philosophy with Tim McVeigh. In Newtown, Nancy’s son struggles through 4th grade. On 9/11, the world changes, just before the Lanzas fall apart.
Part III: Thin Air
From the 1930’s to the 1990’s, the rise and fall of the nation’s state-run mental health care system is seen through the history of Fairfield State Hospital, in Newtown.
Chapter 25: Treegap
In the 5th grade at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Nancy’s son keeps a reading journal, and records some of his reactions to the existentially-themed children’s novel Tuck Everlasting.
Chapter 26: Bushmaster
A mysterious sniper brings terror to the nation’s capital in the fall of 2002. When they are finally brought to justice, the murder weapon brings a whole new batch of problems for America’s gun industry.
Chapter 27: The Big Book of Granny
Nancy’s son produces a homemade book, which doctors later suggest shows the ten-year-old was already “deeply troubled by feelings of rage, hate, and (at least unconscious) murderous impulses.”
Chapter 28: Shield
In 2003, the NSSF unveils their grand plan to stop gun lawsuits: the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). But in the wake of the DC Sniper shootings, the legislation faces a difficult path.
Chapter 29: On Time, On Budget
Nancy’s son moves to a new school for grades 5 and 6, while Homeland Security bulletins send Newtown scrambling to buy duct tape and plastic sheeting, as the 2nd Iraq war begins.
Chapter 30: Dusk
In 2004, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban expires, but CT still has its state law. In Newtown, Nancy’s son starts grade 7 at the middle school, and faces an intimidating environment.
Chapter 31: Nightmare
In 2005, the worst school shooting since Columbine strikes a native community in Minnesota, and shows that lockdown drills and active-shooter protocols won’t be enough to stop the phenomenon.
Chapter 32: Fantasy
Overwhelmed in the halls of Newtown’s huge public middle school, Nancy’s son experiences “issues.” To soothe his anxieties, she moves him to a small Catholic school. But nothing seems to work.
Chapter 33: Greater Love
In Tyler, Texas, a courageous “good guy with a gun” named Mark Wilson happens to be on the scene when a mass shooter attacks. Mark shoots back.
Chapter 34: Emergency
Nancy sends her son back to Newtown Middle School, for the start of the 8th grade. But his anxiety there is so overwhelming, she soon finds herself rushing him to the Emergency Room instead.
Chapter 35: Protection
The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act fares better on its 2nd attempt, and President Bush signs the NSSF”s “shield” into law, bringing an end to the legal war over gun liability.
Chapter 36: Shelter in Place
With the help of Dr. Fox, Nancy finally achieves “homebound” status for her anxious son, who then disappears from the outside world.
Chapter 37: Existences
In 2006, the Jefferson County Sheriff releases the journals left behind by the Columbine shooters. The grim documents are received by an online culture that has evolved dramatically since 1999.
Part IV: The Gathering Eye
The prison in Newtown experiences a violent and controversial first few years, but proves invaluable when Connecticut is overwhelmed with mentally-ill offenders. Over time, Garner evolves into the state’s largest mental asylum.
Chapter 39: Role Playing Game
On the first day of the 2006-2007 school year, a 19-year-old in North Carolina launches an attack on his old high school. But his actions portend something beyond another generation of Columbine “copycats,” and more like a cult.
Chapter 40: Daylight
Nancy’s son emerges from 36 Yogananda after nearly a year of seclusion, for his first day of high school. His father, unsatisfied with Dr. Fox’s care, seeks a second opinion.
Chapter 41: Solstice
In the fall of 2006, another dark wave rises, with attacks at a college in Montreal, a high school in Colorado, and even an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. Newtown double-checks its security procedures, vigilant against the threat.
Chapter 42: Prosthetic Environment
Nancy brings her son to the Yale Child Study Center for an evaluation, but is resistant when their recommendations include medication. At home, the teenager finds a new website — and a new obsession.
Chapter 43: Contagion
In 2006, the House tries to repeal the “Dickey Amendment,” and fix a peculiarly American problem: that a nation so dedicated to protecting its access to guns had also banned itself from studying the consequences of gun ownership.
Chapter 44: The Fear That Paralyzes
Peter notices that his son’s emotional state finally seems to be improving, after visits with a nurse from Yale. But when the nurse convinces the Lanza parents to medicate their child, things immediately go bad.
Chapter 45: Blacksburg
Virginia Tech becomes the site of the worst mass shooting in American history, in April 2007.
Chapter 46: Caves
In the days after the Virginia Tech shooting, the gunman is posthumously unveiled as the latest Columbine disciple, while his message is broadcast nationwide. From his computer, Nancy’s son absorbs the spectacle.
Chapter 47: Lost in the Wild
For the 10th grade, Nancy’s son demands to be in “mainstream” classes, with no special treatment. Nancy and her team hatch a plan of their own: to trick him into thinking that’s what he got.
Chapter 48: The Ghost in the Machine
A Columbine follower strikes in Finland, and leaves behind a Unabomber-like “manifesto.” In Sandy Hook, Nancy’s son hosts a LAN party, but has trouble keeping up with his mainstream classes.
Chapter 49: Static
The mental health history of the Virginia Tech shooter is brought to light, as the federal government tries to patch the holes in its background-check system for gun buyers.
Chapter 50: Trinity
Another wave of attacks hits in the wake of Virginia Tech, striking at a shopping mall in Nebraska, a church in Colorado, and a college in Illinois.
Chapter 51: Pressure Drop
An incident at the high school suddenly puts Mr. Novia, the only staff member Nancy trusts, in peril of losing his job. At the same time, her son’s condition worsens — and his obsession deepens.
Chapter 52: Law of the Land
The US Supreme Court finally settles the issue of gun ownership for self-defense, in their DC vs Heller ruling. Then, with the election of Barack Obama, gun manufacturers see a spike in sales unlike anything the industry has ever seen.
Chapter 53: Pale Yellow House
A bad night at 36 Yogananda finds Nancy dwelling on the past, and exchanging tense e-mails with her teenage son — even though he’s right upstairs.
Chapter 54: Travis
A woman in Stamford is conflicted over what to do about her domesticated pet chimp, who grows bigger and stronger every year. One day in February 2009, the situation comes to a violent resolution.
Chapter 55: Undertow
The Lanzas fret as their son breaks down once again, right as his high school graduation is in sight. Online, a new identity emerges from 36 Yogananda, with a dark focus.
Part V: Landfall
Chapter 56: The Void
A middle-aged man in Pennsylvania goes online to document his frustrations in trying to date young women over the last year of his life — and his plan to get even.
Chapter 57: Black Plastic
From his cave at the top of the stairs, Nancy’s son monitors the aftermath of the LA Fitness shooting, and absorbs the shooter’s online journal. In another window, he starts making a list.
Chapter 58: Modern Sporting Rifle
With gun sales finally returning to normal after the “Barack boom,” the NSSF invests in a bold new PR campaign for the industry: a re-branding of the AR15.
Chapter 59: Catalog
Over the winter of 2009, while his parents delicately try to explain to him that he is never going to be an elite soldier, the internet user at 36 Yogananda completes his secret research project.
Chapter 60: L534858
Nancy brings home a brand new Bushmaster AR-15 rifle for her son, for his 18th birthday. Online, he communicates anonymously with strangers, while carefully avoiding forging any bonds.
Chapter 61: The Patient
A young woman with an eating disorder, and a history of suffering abuse, starts to worry that she is developing a crush on her therapist… but Dr. Paul Fox promises not to hurt her.
Chapter 62: Anarchy
The user at 36 Yogananda shares one of his most fringe beliefs, with a select few online acquaintances: that society’s rules for protecting children are actually causing them harm… and that pedophilia should not be seen as wrong.
Chapter 63: Of Rulers
When an assassination attempt turns into a mass shooting in Tucson, it becomes fuel for debate around the country. At a video arcade in Connecticut, one particularly dedicated player is becoming a local fixture: “DDR Guy.”
Chapter 64: In the Abyss
A politically-motivated attack in Norway in 2011 sets a shocking new record, and is enough to draw “Smiggles” back to the Columbine forum, where he demonstrates mastery over his field of study.
Chapter 65: Legacy
The phenomenon of school shooting attacks in America is traced back to its origins, showing the waves that have passed over half of a century, and gathering clues toward solving the looming mystery: “Why?”
Chapter 66: Savage
Wandering the internet and obsessing over mass shootings, Nancy’s son latches onto the case of Travis the Chimp. At the arcade, his marathon DDR sessions lead to making a real-life friend.
Chapter 67: Emerald Dream
One night in late 2011, the recluse at 36 Yogananda picks up the phone and calls a radio show, to broadcast his theory about Travis the Chimp, and what he believes the animal’s fate reveals about human society.
Chapter 68: Fading
In the summer of 2012, Nancy’s son severs the few, tenuous social bonds he has in life, and withdraws further into his cave.
Chapter 69: Aurora
A brain researcher in Colorado documents what he claims were his efforts to cure his own violent impulses, before launching an attack on a midnight movie premier in July 2012.
Chapter 70: Calm
The internet user at 36 Yogananda connects with the mass-murderer fandom community on Tumblr, while downstairs, his mother catches up with old friends on Facebook.
Chapter 71: Vortex
A powerful Superstorm Sandy makes landfall in late-October 2012, and plunges Newtown into darkness.
Chapter 72: High Ground
When the lights turn back on at 36 Yogananda, Nancy seems to realize that a change is long overdue, and starts making plans for her and her son to move away from Newtown.
Nancy leaves for a three-day retreat at a resort in New Hampshire, on December 11, 2012. Her son stays behind at 36 Yogananda, and awaits her return.
* * *
Sandy Hook, Connecticut: In December 2012, a disturbed wannabe-soldier attacks his old elementary school, using a rifle that soon becomes the focus of controversy.
Part VI: Still Waters
Chapter 73: After
In the aftermath of the shooting, as Sandy Hook Elementary School is searched, secured, and evacuated, the scope of the man-made tragedy starts to sink in.
Chapter 74: Darkness
Police raid 36 Yogananda, and discover the environment that spawned the Sandy Hook shooter, along with a second crime scene.
Chapter 75: Strangers
The shooter’s surviving family members learn of the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School — and that one of them has been named as the suspect.
Chapter 76: Specimen
Investigators dissect the Sandy Hook shooter’s life, and trace his digital footprints, in search of a motive for the man-made disaster.
Chapter 77: Winter
The shockwaves from Sandy Hook register throughout American society, eliciting diverse reactions. President Obama promises bold action on gun reform, while the NSSF and NRA set about moving that goal even further from his reach.
Chapter 78: Homecoming
Family and friends gather in New Hampshire, to lay Nancy Champion to rest.
Chapter 79: Fall
Another wave of mass shootings hits, as Newtown tries to move on after the Sandy Hook attack, and battle lines are drawn for the next fight over gun rights in America.
Chapter 80: Light
The village comes to a decision on what the final fate of the pale yellow house at 36 Yogananda Street will be.
* * *
Epilogue: New Horizon
From 2015 to 2019, the phenomenon of mass violence in America continues to grow in strength, and change in form, as it spreads across the globe.