Lingering Questions From the Adam Lanza Search Warrants

by Categorized: First Amendment, Law Enforcement, Media, Politics, Public Safety, Transparency/FOI Date:

The release this week of search warrants related to the Sandy Hook school shooting opened the window a little wider on the tragedy and on life inside 36 Yogananda Street, where Adam Lanza prepared for hiwarrants deadly rampage.  But confusion remains over certain elements contained in the warrants. Here are some of the lingering issues.

Did Adam Lanza’s mother give him money to buy a gun?

The warrant certainly states that she did. The list of evidence seized from the house includes “One (1) holiday card containing a Bank of America check #462 made out to Adam Lanza for the purchase of a C183 (Firearm), authored by Nancy Lanza.”

But it’s unclear if there is any such weapon made with that designation. Mossberg in the past made a shotgun numbered 183, though it was sold as the 183-D and the 183-K. There is also a Czechoslovakian-made pistol with the model number CZ-83, although Lanza would not have been old enough immediately to purchase a pistol in his own name (but would have reached the required age of 21 in April 2013).

Kodak makes a C183 digital camera and there is some speculation that there may have been confusion over two objects, both of which are operated by “shooting.” But it’s also possible that C183 is not intended to refer to a model number, but some other designation, such as an ID tag at a gun store. So did Nancy Lanza explicitly indicate that the check was intended for the purchase of a firearm? We don’t know, and prosecutors Friday did not respond to a request for clarification.

For the record, some commentators on the Internet interpreted the use of parentheses around “Firearm” in published stories on the warrants as an indication that media outlets had added the assertion that “C183” referred to a firearm. But the parentheses are in the original warrants.

Did police really find a full-size shotgun in the glove compartment of Lanza’s car?

No. The shotgun, according to the warrants, was found in the “passenger compartment” of the car, which was parked outside the school. An early version of a story distributed by the Associated Press erroneously wrote “glove compartment” instead, and that embarrassing mistake promptly echoed across the Internet.

But a question remains about the shotgun. One of the warrants states that the Saiga 12 shotgun was found “with two magazines containing 70 rounds of Winchester 12 gauge shotgun rounds.” But the largest-capacity accessories typically sold for that shotgun are a 12-round magazine and a 20-round drum. It is unclear if Lanza was able to find a larger-capacity magazine or used a custom-made accessory or if the warrant did not accurately describe what was found. Again, the Courant received no response to a request for clarification.

What about that giant spreadsheet Lanza reportedly maintained?

The New York Daily News reported in mid-March that during a police conference in New Orleans, Connecticut State Police Col. Danny Stebbins told an audience about a spreadsheet investigators found with details about numerous past mass killings. The document was described as a spreadsheet “7 feet long and 4 feet wide that required a special printer.” It’s not entirely clear whether police allegedly recovered an actual paper document or at some point obtained an electronic copy of a spreadsheet.

That story followed reports that police had also found news clippings about the 2011 massacre in Norway that left 77 dead. Neither the spreadsheet nor clips about the Norway spree are specifically identified among the evidence seized from the Lanza house, though there is a reference to a New York Times story reporting on a 2008 shooting at a university in Illinois.  But not every document seized from the house is identified in the warrant. Among the evidence collected were “personal writings from Adam Lanza’s bedroom and personal memorabilia from an adjacent room,” “books and papers from Adam Lanza’s bedroom” and other papers found in common areas of the house. Those records are not more fully described in the warrant, but could include the spreadsheet and additional news stories about past mass shootings. They are among the evidence being analyzed by the FBI.

Did authorities delay release of the warrants to influence the legislative battle over gun control?

Not likely, as different pieces of information released could be used to support arguments on either side. Among the most closely watched information released Thursday was related to the capacity of the rifle magazines Lanza used in the shootings and how many bullets he fired from each magazine. The legislature is considering a bill that would ban magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds. Lanza was known to have brought a number of 30-round magazines to the school, but sources had indicated that he swapped out the magazines before they were empty – a common practice in video games.

The search warrants indicate that Lanza swapped out 30-round magazines on his Bushmaster XM15 rifle six times. Three of the swapped-out magazines found at the scene were empty; the other three contained between 10 and 13 rounds when they were dropped, suggesting Lanza fired between 17 and 20 rounds from each. In addition, there were 14 rounds remaining in the magazine that was attached to the rifle and a 15th in the chamber. Assuming all of the magazines originally were full – an assumption supported by the total count of shell casings recovered from the school – then Lanza fired more than 10 bullets from each of the seven magazines. In addition, having fired 154 bullets from the rifle, had he had access only to 10-round magazines, that bullet count would have required swapping out the magazine 15 times rather than six. Those are details that could be used to support legislation limiting magazine capacity.

But authorities also indicated that investigators found an unsecured gun safe in the home with no indication it had been forced open. That detail would support those who believe the solution to tragedies like Sandy Hook are not tighter restrictions on access to weapons, but better education or enforcement of laws related to safe firearm storage, as part of an effort to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill. Bottom line: The details in the warrant do not exclusively advance the political arguments of either side.

But some still wonder why the documents were kept under wraps at all. The initial search warrants were issued within 2  1/2 days of the shooting and at that time, Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III requested and was granted orders sealing the documents from public view for two weeks. At the expiration of those orders, Sedensky sought a three-month extension of the sealing, asserting that a criminal investigation was continuing and that while no arrests were anticipated, they had not been ruled out. Sedensky wrote that the warrants contained information not known by any potential suspects, as well as other information known only to investigators and potential suspects. Disclosure of the information, Sedensky wrote, “would seriously jeopardize the outcome and success of the investigation.”

In releasing the documents Thursday, Sedensky received permission from a judge to continue withholding a limited amount of information, including the identity of at least one witness. Sedensky wrote that revealing the identify of cooperating witnesses could jeopardize “their personal safety and well-being.”

But among the details that were released – including a brief description of the crime scenes at the school and Lanza’s house, and list of items seized from the house and car – it is not immediately evident what information prosecutors were reluctant to disclose three months ago. That question also was posed to prosecutors, with no response.

Will the newly released records quiet conspiracy theorists?

No. The Sandy Hook shootings have had a curiously strong draw for a small but determined group of people who sense a grand conspiracy, including a handful who believe the incident was staged, despite obvious and heartbreaking evidence to the contrary. The intense secrecy around the investigation has fueled those intent on seeing a hoax, but the release of the search warrants isn’t likely to sway them. On the day the warrants were released, one internet poster said the list of evidence purportedly seized – firearms, exotic knives and more than 1,400 rounds of ammunition – was merely more proof that the story had been concocted as a pretense for banning weapons.

“A  person simply couldn’t dream up a better list of things to demonize than the list presented today. Sure, hand grenades, rocket launchers and atomic weapons would have been impressive too, but they would have surely diminished the believability of the story,” the poster wrote.

“Just as all the gun banning madness begins to lose momentum, and after a inexcusable long wait, suddenly a list pops up which is an anti’s dream,” the poster wrote. “Yeah, I believe that. Wake up, people.”

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11 thoughts on “Lingering Questions From the Adam Lanza Search Warrants

  1. p hofperson

    why does the public seem to feel they need more information? we know the children and their teachers as well as the killer and his mother are dead. any other information is just purient curiosity like the look-e-loos at an accident scene. what do you think you’re going to do with this information except gossip about it

    1. billnaples

      I think while it may sound trite, what the public wants to know is what it wants to know. And many people are not so black and white about causes and solutions. Are gun control laws the answer or are mental health issues at the root?? Did failed enforcement of existing gun laws contribute or was it an unfunded or underfunded mental health department or failures of the mental health system to identify a risk like Lanza. Makes a difference if you want to express an opinion to your legislator. So if I were still in CT that’s why I want to know, nothing pruient about it. What the CSP or other CT law enforcement want to provide to profilers might be interesting but is certainly not necessary for the public debate. I will also say the cynic in me says I want to know what the politicians know. We have a collection of known “spinners” there, ON BOTH SIDES!

  2. Scott

    I think the biggest source of fuel for the conspiracy believers is the media. To say they were all over the place in the rush to report is an understatement. To this day I still read comments from people who only know what they heard in the news in the opening hours.

  3. realktakk

    Another thing that’s interesting is on page 17 (as well as numerous others) it says (paraphrasing):

    On Dec 14, FBI agents interviewed BLACKED OUT NAME who said Adam Lanza was a shut in who played Call of Duty. He attended Sandy Hook Elementary and that the school was Adam Lanza’s “life”.

    How would the school be Adam Lanza’s life? Who is this person they interviewed. If he was indeed a shut in, why would somebody claim the school is his life when he hadn’t attended it in years.

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