When Adam Lanza entered the school, he began to spend time with Richard Novia, a former corporate security director and licensed private investigator who served as security chief for Newtown schools.
Novia, a self-described geek, was an adviser to the tech club, which he had started in the 1990s with three kids. It had grown to 40 students by the time Adam arrived.
As school groups go, this was an uber club. The kids produced Channel 17, an award-winning, townwide cable access channel where they filmed football and basketball games, parades, graduations, and a slew of other school events. The kids programmed robots and rebuilt computers from the motherboard up. Some of them run tech companies now.
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Newtown, CT, USA
The club also became a family of sorts, bonding during overnight romps in the school, with Novia presiding over a slate of events that included capture the flag and video-game marathons.
One of the mainstays of the club was Ryan Lanza, four years older than his little brother. Ryan often served as kind of a caretaker when Adam was away from Nancy Lanza.
Novia tagged the skinny, withdrawn Adam right away as someone who could be bullied, and immediately reached out to Adam's mother.
"I interacted with his parent early on to find out as much as I could," Novia said. "As a staff member, and certainly a person who's going to be overseeing your child, I need to know what I'm dealing with … so my interaction with Nancy Lanza was really, 'Tell me about Adam. Tell me what, how you deal with Adam.'"
Nancy told Novia that Adam had Asperger's and had also been diagnosed with sensory integration disorder, a diagnosis that is not universally accepted in the medical community. That meant he had difficulty coping with loud noises, bright lights, confusion, and change — which describes every high school in America. He also wouldn't respond appropriately to pain. In other words, he might not report an injury, or might not immediately stop doing something that was harming him.
"It's important for me to tell you that there are many Adams, there are many people who fit a profile" of someone who could be victimized or become isolated, Novia said. He said that the vast majority of these children will never become violent, let alone shoot people.
Novia said he saw nothing in Adam that would have predicted any overt violent acts in the future.
He said Nancy Lanza told him she was struggling to bring Adam out of "his own little world."
"And I said that I think I can help him," Novia recalled. "I think I can integrate him better … through the tech club, [by] having [him] interact with the students more."
Her reaction to that?
"She didn't think it would work … she was very concerned … although she really, really desperately needed him to be more social," Novia said. "So she went along with it and I think we saw some success."
Novia said that there was a climate of caring in the school, and that children such as Adam had administrators, teachers, cafeteria workers and custodians watching out for them. Adam Lanza was enrolled in a special-education program geared for children with social-interaction deficiencies. Novia said Adam had a school psychologist and attended mainstream classes in his core subjects.
But he also had serious difficulties. An image has emerged in the media of a scared child, hugging the wall and clinging to his briefcase in the din of the hallways between class bells.
But it went beyond that. A change in routine or unwanted excitement, such as his friends suddenly queuing up for a game of capture the flag, could lead to what Novia described as a complete shutdown.
"Adam had episodes, it was the best way I can describe them to you, where he would completely withdraw. Again, he would go backwards … he would pull back within himself entirely. And getting him to come back out of that required my attention."
Here's what it looked like, according to Novia:
"I'd go up and sit next to him. If he was sitting on the floor in the corner somewhere, I would do the same. … If it took a half an hour to sit there in silence with him, at some point, you'd go, 'How we doing?'