Remembering the Victims of the Sandy Hook Massacre
Nancy Lanza, Mother of Perpetrator Adam Lanza
KINGSTON, N.H. — For the first time in a long time, Nancy Champion Lanza got to be her own person — funny, savvy, urbane and effervescent, like a glass of champagne — with her legacy separated from the son who killed her as friends and family gathered Saturday for a memorial service a stone’s throw from the New Hampshire farm where she grew up.
Inside the First Congregational Church of Kingston, more than 150 relatives, friends and former classmates of Lanza paid homage to the first victim in Adam Lanza’s deadly shooting spree that ended with a massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., before the gunman turned his weapon on himself.
Not once was Nancy Champion Lanza’s younger son mentioned by name. And no one described his mother as a victim. Rather, mourners told stories: funny ones about the vivacious honey-haired blonde who grew up on a farm with dozens of kittens, chickens, sheep and cows.
And yet, the tragic events of Dec. 14 seemed to lurk not too far out of sight.
Outside the church, there was a strong presence from the local police department and New Hampshire state troopers. They patrolled outside the church, cordoned off local streets leading to the church and stationed themselves inside the sanctuary.
The First Congregational Church of Kingston, with its wide plank maroon hardwood floors, simple white walls and straight-back pews was a big part of Lanza’s life. She grew up just down down the road, and her family regularly attended services.
Lanza was at her happiest, a number of her friends said, being outdoors and caring for animals. She cared so much about her kittens and their well-being that she was “willing to taste test their cat food,” her elder sister, Carol Gould recalled, saying that she once brought that activity up to their mother, a school nurse, who mused that although it wasn’t typical behavior, it wouldn’t hurt her.
"She also had a favorite hen who had this big plume of feathers on top. She named her Phyllis Diller,” said Gould. “She always had the best and most appropriate names” for her pets.
Lanza joined the 4H Club as soon as she was old enough. And every year, she and her older brother Donald attended an agricultural fair and circus, where elephants were an attraction. “She would plot these extravagant plans to free the elephants,” Gould said, and her sister and brother would sneak extra hay to feed the elephants unbeknownst to the circus animals’ handlers.
The New Hampshire town where Lanza grew up in the 1970s is not so different now from what it was then. It’s still rural. And the now middle-aged classmates she went to school with tend to live close by.
Even Lanza’s first employer — a parent who hired her to babysit his kids — felt compelled to attend the service, even though he hadn’t seen her in a while. “She was such a warm-hearted, capable person,” he said. “She’d go out of her way for anyone. She made you feel important, like nothing was any trouble for her. Nothing threw her. She knew how to laugh things off.”
Lanza’s best friend recalled how she would think nothing of driving three hours each way to spend an hour with her and to bring her a present, and how they exchanged birthday cards and corresponded all the time. You also knew that if you made plans with her, and something was happening with her children, she would cancel, the friend recalled. “Her children came first.”
In addition to Lanza’s sister, a best friend who had known Lanza since elementary school and Lanza’s son Ryan gave eulogies that brought tears and laughter to mourners.
Ryan Lanza, placing his hands on the lectern at the front of the church, looked into the crowd and began by saying that it dawns on you at a certain point, you realize you will probably bury your parents.
Then he paused. His eyes clouded for a moment. And he recalled all of the theatrical performances he appeared in, and how his mother always attended and cheered him on — even the lame productions, the Boston Red Sox games where his mom had season tickets, and trekking into Washington, D.C. annually for Thanksgiving, to Boston and into New York City to “soak up” the arts and museum culture. How she sometimes drove to Hoboken, N.J., just to have lunch with him even though the back-and-forth drive was longer than the time they spent together.
"Everything I know about baseball … everything I know about cooking I know from her," Ryan Lanza said.
"She taught me so much … And if there is anything I could change, I wouldn’t change anything."