Nancy Lanza was remembered Saturday as a woman who enjoyed guns, craft beers, jazz and landscaping.
NEWTOWN, Conn. — She was “a big, big gun fan” who went target shooting with her children, according to friends. She enjoyed craft beers, jazz and landscaping. She was generous to strangers, but also high-strung, as if she were holding herself together.
Nancy Lanza was the first victim in a massacre carried out Friday by her son, Adam Lanza, 20, who shot her dead with a gun apparently drawn from her own collection, before driving her car to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed 26 people, 20 of them young children, officials said.
The family had been disrupted by divorce in 2008. Nancy Lanza split from Peter, her husband of 17 years, court records show, and he moved out.
Adam stayed with his mother. His former high-school classmates said they believed he had some type of developmental disorder.
Most Read Stories
Nancy Lanza also had an older son, Ryan, 24, who works as an accountant and lives in Hoboken, N.J.
News reports Friday suggested that Nancy Lanza had worked at the elementary school, but Saturday, the school superintendent said there was no evidence she had ever worked at the school as a full-time or substitute teacher, or in any other capacity.
The authorities said it was not clear why Adam Lanza went to the school.
Interviews with friends, neighbors and local residents, and an analysis of public records, revealed details of Nancy Lanza’s life and death. To some, she was a social member of the community. To others, she was a woman dealing with a difficult son and maintaining a public face “with uncommon grace.”
Many of those who knew her were at a loss to describe what she did for a living. (Her ex-husband is an executive at General Electric.)
Nancy Lanza, 52, often went to a local restaurant and music spot, My Place, where she sat at the bar, according to a manager there who gave her name only as Louise.
Nancy Lanza typically came to My Place alone, said another acquaintance, Dan Holmes, owner of Holmes Fine Gardens, a landscaping company in Newtown, who also met her at the bar.
At craft-beer tastings on Tuesdays, he recalled, she liked to talk about her gun collection.
“She had several different guns,” he said. “I don’t know how many. She would go target shooting with her kids.”
Law-enforcement officials said they believed the guns were acquired lawfully and registered.
Nancy Lanza also spoke often of her landscaping, Holmes recalled, and later hired him to do work on her home.
Last week, he sent a team to put up Christmas decorations at her house: garlands on the front columns and white lights atop the shrubbery.
Jim Leff, a musician, often sat next to her at the bar and made small talk, he said Saturday. Once Leff said, he had gone to Newtown to discuss lending money to a friend. As the two men negotiated the loan, Nancy Lanza overheard and offered to write the man a check.
“She was really kind and warm,” Leff said, “but she always seemed a little bit high-strung.”
He declined to elaborate, but in a post on his personal website, he said he felt a distance from her that was explained when he heard, after the shootings, “how difficult her troubled son,” Adam, “was making things for her.”
She was “handling a very difficult situation with uncommon grace,” he wrote.
She was “a big, big gun fan,” he added on his website.
Neighbors recalled Nancy Lanza as sociable, a regular at Labor Day picnics and “ladies’ nights out” for a dice game called bunco.
“We would rotate houses,” said Rhonda Cullens, 52, a neighbor since Lanza moved to Newtown with her husband and two children. “I don’t remember Nancy ever having it at her house.”
Cullens said Nancy Lanza had never discussed an interest in guns with her, but spoke often about gardening, exchanging the sorts of questions typical of the neighborhood: What can you plant that the deer would not eat?