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Sandy Hook shooter Lanza left little for investigators to trace

Published: Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012 9:44 a.m. CDT

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(MCT) — HARTFORD, Conn.—After a week of intensive investigation following the slaughter of 20 first-graders and six women at an elementary school in Newtown, normally promising lines of inquiry have turned up little if anything to shed light on what motivated Adam Lanza, the reclusive, 20-year old gunman, to kill.

A preliminary examination of his cellular telephone showed that he had made or received few, if any calls, investigators and others familiar with the matter said. No information has yet emerged from investigators on any possible text messages he may have sent or received.

Lanza appears to have spent much of his time during the weeks before the shooting in the basement of the home he shared with his mother Nancy, playing violent video games on his computer, investigators believe based on interviews. His X-Box, an electronic game playing device that might have led investigators to Lanza’s game playing partners across the Internet, apparently was not used.

And the thin, withdrawn, young man — a computer tech club member while in high school — destroyed his home computer in a fashion that experts believe may have left it worthless to forensic examiners, as if he had set out to erase clues to his thinking, or who he may have communicated with, before he set out to commit mass homicide.

Before shooting his way into the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, investigators and others familiar with the matter said Lanza also repeatedly shot his mother Nancy, killing the only person with whom he is believed to have been socially engaged.

“He killed the only person who really knew him well and knew what made him tick, so figuring out the why here is going to be difficult,” a law enforcement official said.

State police detectives returned to the home on Yogananda Street home he shared with his mother Wednesday night. They have been combing the 4,000 square-foot house since moments after the gunfire stopped inside the school.

Lanza had two bedrooms in the house, including one in the basement in which he kept his computer, his computer video games and other possessions. Lanza had thousands of dollars worth of video games as well as an X-Box, although it appears he rarely if ever used it, preferring to play violent video games on his computer with other anonymous gamers investigators were told.

The basement also is where Nancy Lanza, a gun enthusiast and target shooter, kept her collection of weapons in a locked box. She had at least five weapons — two handguns a semi-automatic rifle, a .22 caliber rifle and a shotgun. Lanza had all the weapons except the .22 with him when he drove to the school.

By destroying his hard drive investigators will not be able to trace what games he was playing, who he was playing with and, more importantly, whether he gave anybody forewarning of the horrific violence he unleashed. Anything he may have written on his computer that could have provided a glimpse into Lanza’s thinking also would be irretrievable.

Depending how the metallic disk at the center of a computer hard drive is broken or cut into pieces, it can be difficult or even impossible to retrieve information, said Eric Friedberg, New York- based, co-president of Stroz Friedberg, a computer forensics and investigations firm.

“It is hard to put Humpty Dumpty together again,” Friedberg said. “I have never actually seen this done – but the physics would say that you could do it. If it is in three or four pieces the physics suggest that it is conceivable.”

The odds against retrieval of information increase with damage to the disk, he said.

The massive investigation team, which includes state, federal and Newtown officers, has been broken into separate units each with a different task. The investigation into Lanza’s computer is being handled by federal authorities, who also are investigating Internet threats and postings that have been made since the slayings.

Authorities said they have determined that a hoaxer, on Dec. 12, published a fictitious conversation, purportedly instigated by Lanza, on an Internet chat room frequented by computer enthusiasts. The first post purportedly made by Lanza read, “I’m going to kill myself on Friday and it will make the news … be watching at 9 am.”

Some days later, someone opened an offensive Twitter account that seemed designed to further hurt the families of Lanza’s victims.

“Someone is going to be arrested,” a law enforcement official said.

Other units are tracing the history of the guns used in the attack, while others are interviewing school personnel and students and others are probing the background of the shooter. Lanza had no job, never used social media, seemingly had no friends and rarely if ever had any contact with his brother or father. He did obtain a driver’s license in July of 2010, three months after he turned 18, listing him as 5 feet 10 inches tall, with blue eyes and not an organ donor.

Two state police crime squads have been processing the evidence at the school, with the third one at the house.

Five days after the shootings investigators still are collecting bullets from inside and outside the school. Lanza fired so many rounds that many bullets pierced cars in the school parking lot.

Sources said that Nancy Lanza owned at least five guns and that all of them were purchased legally since her divorce in 2009.

Adam Lanza was carrying three weapons when he entered the school, two pistols and the Bushmaster rifle that he used to spray the hallway and two classrooms with bullets. A source said that he left a shotgun in the trunk of his mother’s car, which he drove to the scene.

Police also are still trying to determine how long Lanza had been planning Friday’s massacre. There is no indication that he made any purchases in the days before.

After the killings, authorities received a phone call that someone recognized Lanza’s photo on television and said that he had tried to buy a gun on the Tuesday before the murders but balked at the required two-week waiting period.

Authorities visited gun shops, pawn shops and shooting ranges in the Danbury area and searched through video surveillance tapes at some of the stores. Sources said they found no evidence that Lanza had visited any gun stores last week.

Sources said the person that the caller thought was Lanza was not him.

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