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One Year After Newtown, Still No Answer To 'Why'

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy speaks to mourners at a vigil service for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012.
Andrew Gombert
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy speaks to mourners at a vigil service for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012.

As Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy sped from Hartford to Newtown nearly a year ago, the death toll kept rising. When he arrived on the scene, he found himself in charge — and it fell to him to answer the question: How long should family members have to wait to learn that their loved ones were gone?

Malloy decided that he was going to do what he thought was right. Still, standing in front of more than two dozen families gathered in a firehouse, he doubted that it was.

"I tried to explain, in words less obvious, that everyone who was going to be united with their loved one had been united with their loved one, and that what we had at the school was a crime scene," he says.

Saturday marks the anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 20 children and six educators dead. And a year later, questions still remain about gunman Adam Lanza, who committed suicide that day and worked hard to obscure his motives.

Malloy says now that he may never know why Lanza did what he did. The prosecutor investigating the case has released his report, and it doesn't answer the "why" question. But it does include details about a young man obsessed with guns, mass shootings and violent video games — someone who had, by the end of his life, isolated himself entirely.

Here's how Malloy understands Lanza: "A deeply disturbed human being who should never have been around guns and clearly did not receive the type of attention that he required."

Much of the governor's past year has been consumed by Newtown and the aftermath. He has delved deeply in the gun debate, as well as discussions on school security and mental health.

Throughout, he and others have sought to learn more about Lanza. But it turns out there may not be much more to know. There may be no surprises.

"There's no one coming forward that says ... 'This is really surprising because he was getting so much better,' " Malloy says.

But at least one person was hoping for Lanza to get better: His mother, Nancy Lanza. Adam killed her while she slept.

"She was a wonderful friend, a kind woman, loving, very gentle," says John Bergquist, a friend of Nancy Lanza. "Whatever monster Adam turned out to be was the exact opposite of what Nancy was."

Bergquist lives a few blocks away from My Place, the restaurant and bar where he and Nancy would meet up a few times a week for dinner. He said his friend never spoke of fearing her son. Mostly, she feared forhim and for his future.

"He would probably never live a life that you and I might think of as normal," Bergquist says. "But I think she always had hope — he was a whiz with computers — that he would do something with that and get into that and always live with her."

Bergquist loathes guns. But Nancy Lanza grew up with them, and he understands why she bought them — Adam was isolating himself, and it was something they could do together.

As Bergquist sees it, Nancy was yet another victim of a crime that he doesn't understand. "A why — if it's there — it might be nice to know," he says. "But I'm not sure that there is even a why."

Hank Schwartz, a psychiatrist and a member of Malloy's advisory commission on Sandy Hook, has thought a lot about that. Schwartz has looked at Lanza's history of mental illness and has not found much that's useful.

But Schwartz says that won't stop people from trying to understand what drove Lanza.

"Our fates seem just a little bit less random and a little bit more within our own grasp if we can at least understand why something has happened," Schwartz says.

Malloy says people may just have to be satisfied with what they've known from the beginning — that on Dec. 14, 2012, a horrible thing happened "in a fabulous, beautiful, bucolic community where no one would have ever imagined it was possible."

Malloy has asked that church bells across the state be rung at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. The town's leaders have made a plea for privacy.

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Jeff Cohen started in newspapers in 2001 and joined Connecticut Public in 2010, where he worked as a reporter and fill-in host. In 2017, he was named news director.
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