School Climate & Safety

Newtown Report: Shooter Acted Alone With No Clear Motive

By Evie Blad — November 25, 2013 3 min read
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A much-anticipated report on the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School officially confirmed details that had already been widely reported since the Dec. 14, 2012 massacre at the Newtown, Conn., school and provided some new insights. But the report did not answer definitively the key question of why the gunman planned and carried out the attack.

Gunman Adam Lanza acted alone when he gunned down 26 people in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school last year, the summary report released Monday said. He used weapons and ammunition that were legally purchased by his mother, the report concluded.

Lanza, 20, shot and killed his mother with a .22 caliber Savage Mark II rifle in the home they shared before going to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he fired 154 shots with a Bushmaster Model XM15-E2S rifle, killing 20 children and six adults. He then shot himself with a Glock 20, 10 mm pistol as first responders reported to the scene.

The report, a 48-page summary of the complete investigative report by State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky III, found no clear motive, but it did note findings that suggest Lanza had a fascination with mass killings, including a computer game called School Shooting investigators found in his home.

The obvious question that remains is: 'Why did the shooter murder twenty-seven people, including twenty children?' Unfortunately, that question may never be answered conclusively, despite the collection of extensive background information on the shooter through a multitude of interviews and other sources. The evidence clearly shows that the shooter planned his actions, including the taking of his own life, but there is no clear indication why he did so, or why he targeted Sandy Hook Elementary School."

The report, released nearly a year after the shootings, is the first official information about the police response to the massacre to be made public. The report detailed the short time span of the shootings:

The response to these crimes began unfolding at 9:35:39 a.m. when the first 911 call was received by the Newtown Police Department. With the receipt of that call, the dispatching and the arrival of the police, the law enforcement response to the shootings began. It was fewer than four minutes from the time the first 911 call was received until the first police officer arrived at the school. It was fewer than five minutes from the first 911 call, and one minute after the arrival of the first officer, that the shooter killed himself. It was fewer than six minutes from the time the first police officer arrived on SHES property to the time the first police officer entered the school building. In fewer than 11 minutes 20 first-grade pupils and six adults had lost their lives."

Police who cleared the school acted as if there may have been an additional shooter, treating people located in the wooded areas surrounding the school as suspects, the report said. Investigators, however, concluded that Lanza was the only shooter and that he did not conspire with others to plan the events.

“Based on a painstaking investigation it is determined that there will be no arrests or prosecutions,” Sedensky said in a statement.

Lanza had “significant mental health issues that affected his ability to live a normal life and to interact with others, even those to whom he should have been close,” the report said, but mental health professionals who treated him “did not see anything that would have predicted his future behavior.”

He had a familiarity with and access to firearms and ammunition and an obsession with mass murders, in particular the April 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. Investigators however, have not discovered any evidence that the shooter voiced or gave any indication to others that he intended to commit such a crime himself."

The report also depicted the brave actions of staff and teachers throughout the school.

Throughout the rest of the school, staff and students hid themselves wherever they happened to be at the time they became aware of gunfire. The staff used various ways to keep the children calm, from reading to having them color or draw pictures. Those hiding in rooms closest to the shooter kept silent. Some people were able to escape out of the building prior to the police arrival and went to Sandy Hook center, nearby residences, or received rides from parents going to the school or from passersby."

Newtown district leaders have been bracing for the report’s release, fearing that the emergence of new details related to the shootings would further traumatize children and families connected to the attacks. Newtown Interim Superintendent John Reed wrote parents last week to provide advice from the National Trauma Stress Network on how to discuss the report with their children, the Newtown Bee reported. Additional police officers patrolled Newtown schools Monday in anticipation of the report’s release and a related influx of national media in the small town, Reed said in a follow-up letter to parents.

Sedensky has said the scale of the investigation, which involves two crime scenes and a large number of victims, made a fall release of the report “well within what would be expected from this type of investigation.”

But the state’s attorney’s office has been criticized for slow release of information related to the shootings and for its efforts to keep the Sandy Hook 911 calls private. The Associated Press is fighting in court for the release of those recordings. A superior court judge said Monday he would review the recordings before deciding if they should be released, the Associated Press reported.

And others are taking Sedensky to task for releasing a summary report instead of the full file of evidence related to the Sandy Hook shootings, the AP reported.

Dan Klau, a Hartford attorney who specializes in First Amendment law, said the decision to release a summary report before the full evidence file is a reversal of standard practice and one of the most unusual elements of the investigation. 'What I found troubling about the approach of the state's attorney is that from my perspective, he seems to have forgotten his job is to represent the state of Connecticut,' Klau said. 'His conduct in many instances has seemed more akin to an attorney in private practice representing Sandy Hook families.' "

Sedensky said the full report will be released before the Dec. 14 anniversary of the shootings.

The extensive Connecticut State Police case report, which numbers several thousand pages on this tragic case, is completed. The process of redaction is underway: that is, any information contained in the report that is required by law to be redacted must be removed prior to the release of the document. The process will be completed as quickly as possible. The State Police are expecting to complete the redaction process before the anniversary of this tragedy."

Media access has been an issue following other school shootings. Some records from the school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, such as depositions from the parents of shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, remain sealed and off-limits to the media, Education Week previously reported.

Photo: Connecticut State Police lead a line of children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., after Adam Lanza’s shooting rampage at the school that left 26 students, teachers and administrators dead on Dec. 14, 2012. (Shannon Hicks/Newtown Bee/AP-File)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.