It turns out I had more to say about the GPS unit the shooter used than I thought, so that’s most of what I have to share today, but there are few other assorted items afterwards. This also represents a closing of the Sandy Hook case for this blog; I’ll be sharing portions of my book here in the near future, but I am now officially done researching the event.
(And as a quick update on the book: I’m done writing it, but I do not know when it will be released or in what form [e-book vs. traditional publisher.] So from here on I’ll be keeping quiet about that until I have a firm date to share. Sorry. When I know, you’ll know.)
The 19 GPS trips
The Sandy Hook shooter got his driver’s license in July 2010, three months after his 18th birthday. He did not want to start driving (a fact that frustrated his mother, who did pretty much everything for him until then) but his parents’ divorce settlement mandated that his father buy him a car. His father also gave him driving lessons, and at some point, gave him his old GPS unit. The shooter eventually did start driving on his own, and would use the GPS unit frequently; each time, the unit recorded the route he programmed, and how he followed it.
The data starts in April 2012. To briefly give an idea of the domestic situation at this time: the father had been moved out for more than ten years. Te Bushmaster XM15-E2S was already in the house at 36 Yogananda, and unbeknownst to either parent, their youngest son had been studying mass shootings, and especially school shootings, very closely for more than three years. He had been out of school for about one year, and had not seen a psychiatrist since probably July 2007. He had, however, been meeting with a friend that he met while playing Dance Dance Revolution at the movie theater in Danbury, starting sometime in 2011.
The GPS Unit itself was a Garmin Nuvi 550 (some of the investigative files call it a model 200, but 550 appears to be accurate) and it was eventually recovered by investigators at 36 Yogananda, in the hours after the shooting, tucked in a white plastic bag in the family’s gun safe, along with “handwritten notes regarding addresses of local gun shops”:
The GPS unit was in this white bag on the floor of the gun safe, along with other stuff from the shooter’s car.
Now, the transfer of ownership of this GPS unit, from Peter to his son, presumably occurred sometime before April of 2012, since the shooter’s father never saw him again after an argument over college plans in September 2010. But for whatever reason, April of 2012 is when the data recovered by the Connecticut State Police begins.
There were a total of 19 trips logged by the Garmin unit, taking place between April 23rd 2012 and December 13th 2012 (the day before the Sandy Hook shooting.) Most of the trips the unit logged are not very remarkable, but I’ll go through the whole list. It should also be noted that the times I quote here are adjusted from the official report, which mistakenly used UTC time zone data rather than Eastern Standard Time (UTC -5hrs) as I originally reported here.
(Also I assume that by this point someone out there has already gone through this data and shared their findings online, but I haven’t, and I like to check this stuff myself. So here goes.)
The first trip happened on April 23rd, 2012, from 4:54pm to 5:37pm. This was the day after the shooter’s 20th and final birthday. The starting point is in Westport, a town 20 miles away from the shooter’s home in Sandy Hook. What was he doing?
Note that the shooter’s mother had indicated that one of the purposes he would ever used his vehicle was to pick up groceries (quoted further down): this appears to be a return trip, driving from the Whole Foods market in Westport that was just a bit down the road from the coordinates shown on the GPS, which I submit as the most likely answer (these images are from the CSP report, I just added the red labels, sorry it’s a little blurry):
(There is also a “Bow Tie Cinema” movie theater just a bit down the street, which could also plausibly have been where he was coming from, but later trips are more clearly to/from the Whole Foods. Probably the gap is due to waiting for a satellite signal.)
I was curious about the “note regarding the addresses of gun shops” and looked around the map of the surrounding area just to see if there were any gun stores he might have been going to. It doesn’t appear so. Though that’s not the case with at least one later trip.
Moving on, the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth trips all begin from the shooter’s home at 36 Yogananda, and end at the AMC Loews Danbury 16 movie theater — on April 24th, April 27th-28th, May 9th, May 11th, and May 18th. In the lobby of this theater is “Dance Dance Revolution” video game cabinet, where the shooter was observed very frequently playing marathon sessions, during this same time period. All of the trips from 36 Yogananda to the theater look like this:
The April 24th trip (the first to the theater) is worth noting because it shows the shooter arriving at the theater at 10:00pm, and because of a film playing in theater at that time: the Disney-produced nature film Chimpanzee:
Archived snapshot of a page showing that when the film was playing on the evening before
The friend he played DDR with in the lobby noted that they sometimes watched movies that were playing at the theater, and it is well established that the Sandy Hook shooter had a fixation on chimpanzees. However I don’t think there’s any direct confirmation that they watched this film. I’d just be very surprised if he didn’t see it at some point (or at the aforementioned Bow Tie Cinemas in Westport, which was also showing Chimpanzee.)
The seventh trip occurred on the morning of May 22nd 2012. It’s a significant one. In a break from the pattern, this trip took the shooter from his home in the hills of Sandy Hook, down into the heart of Newtown proper, where he appears to have stopped at or near St. Rose of Lima (a Catholic church and also a parochial school where had had briefly been a student in the 7th grade.)
When the official report summarizes this trip, the police note “(Between sequences drove past Sandy Hook School)” — and when I first read this, I did not know as much about the layout of the town, and assumed this was just because Sandy Hook Elementary School was along the way. But it’s not:
Here, it appears that even the appendix to the CSP report made an error in the timing of this trip; it is recorded as occuring at 8:09am:
…that is a difference of five hours from the UTC time of 1:09pm; however, because Daylight Savings is in effect in Connecticut between March and November, the correct conversion should be four hours — this trip thus took place at 9:09am, the exact same time in the morning as the shooter’s more well-known trip on December 13th (so I would guess that while the officer did think to set the time zone, he forgot to check the box for Daylight Savings.)
Additionally, exactly like the 12/13 trip, the shooter did not actually turn off Riverside Road onto to Dickinson Drive, which is the long driveway to SHES. He drove past it, continuing almost a mile along Riverside Road to Chimney Swift Drive, where he turned around and went home.
It was a Tuesday morning, and school was in session; whatever the exact purpose was of the trip, the path and the timing is stark evidence that he was already planning the specifics of his attack, seven months before he did it. In addition, it appears likely (though not definite) that he was also considering St. Rose of Lima for the same plan, at this time. This trip, and whatever he observed about the two locations, may even have been what made up his mind.
Trip Eight came two days later on May 24th at 9:19am, and is just another one going to Westport. (This time the data shows him driving right up to the Whole Foods):
Trip Nine happens on May 27th at 3:37pm, and takes the shooter to “Wooster Mt. State Park“ in Danbury.
It should be noted, however, that Wooster Mountain Shooting Range is located in the same spot. And, the shooter’s father told police that the shooter had been there with him before:
….however, that can’t have been this trip, because again, Peter never saw his son after September 2010. Another reason is, for this 2012 trip, the shooter was only at the location for a total of nine minutes, before he got back in his car and drove home. That being the case, I don’t know quite what to make of it; perhaps he was buying ammunition, or maybe the range was just too crowded when he got there, or maybe he just went to the park. Could be anything.
Trip ten occurs on June 1st, and is unusual because it appears the shooter simply drove to the main intersection at Sandy Hook. He stopped short of driving past the elementary school, and just turned around and went home. It was 5:35pm in the afternoon.
This is a very old part of town (it’s actually the spot where the first mill was built in the 1700s) but in 2012, as far as I can tell it’s just a liquor store and a Subway sandwich shop. Your guess is as good as mine.
Trip eleven is yet another trip the Danbury theater, on the afternoon of June 2nd. This is the trip when he was recorded playing Dance Dance Revolution by another person who happened to be in the theater, and who posted the video to facebook (covered previously here [note, however, that I made the same Daylight Savings error as the CSP did when I wrote that post — the shooter actually got there at 8pm, not 7pm. Though that timing is still consistent with the facts that supported that the video was the shooter])
Trip twelve is puzzling. It came on June 13th, just before noon, and shows the shooter driving from a location in Monroe (about six miles south of his home in Sandy Hook) to Westport, where the Whole Foods is located. It’s the departure location in Monroe that’s a mystery — it appears to be the Monroe Green, a small park with a flagpole and war memorial:
…but my guess is that’s just what he parked by, and he was really visiting the Monroe Farmer’s Market next door to the park, then got whatever groceries he still wanted afterward from the Whole Foods, his next destination.
Three days later, on June 16th, trip thirteen is a rather complicated one. It records the shooter leaving his home just before 5:00pm, and driving to the Danbury Fair Mall — several miles past the mall/theater where he usually played DDR:
But this trip is unusual as compared with the other trips he makes from Newtown to Danbury, for another reason: rather than continuing North/Northeast on Berkshire Road in Sandy Hook — which would have taken him directly to the Interstate I-84 westbound onramp that he normally took to get to the theater — it appears he took a left turn off of Berkshire Road and instead drove past Newtown High School (where he was previously a student) and continued traveling east, through the old Fairfield Hills mental hospital campus. He turned right (north) on Queen Street, passing by Newtown Middle School (where he was previously a student) and turned right again onto Church Hill Road, passing once again by St. Rose of Lima, before coming back to the interstate, and taking the onramp, heading west. He did not stop on this detour, but he went out of his way to make it. Then he got on the freeway, heading west.
While passing by the Danbury theater, the one he normally visited to play DDR, the shooter instead merged north onto State Route 7, then took the first exit, turned around heading back south, and continued to Danbury Fair Mall, where he apparently parked. (He could have just stayed on the interstate and ended up in the same place, so it seems like he took the wrong exit and had to double back.)
The Danbury Fair Mall contains a Dick’s Sporting Goods store, roughly where the shooter appears to have parked. The store sells ammunition, as well as various items associated with the shooting sports, which the shooter could have purchased there (the CSP report includes an interview with a Dick’s Sporting Goods manager who thought he saw the shooter in his store. That was shown to not be true, however that Dick’s store was in Milford, a town 20 miles away.) Also, right next door in the Danbury mall is an Eddie Bauer store; the shooter wore a green Eddie Bauer vest when he launched his attack, and this could be where and when he obtained it (though there are a ton of stores in that mall, so who knows.)
A little detail here: out of curiosity I checked to see if Eddie Bauer was advertising any vests at this time that matched the description of the one the shooter wore (there’s no photo of it), and found one that does appear to fit: the “Travex” vest offered that year has the same arrangements of outer pockets at least, and the zipper matches:
Anyway, trip fourteen is another trip to the Danbury Theater, around 8pm on June 16th, and returning two hours later. Nothing interesting.
Trip fifteen is yet another trip to the Whole Foods in Westport, on June 30th.
Trip sixteen occurs on July 28th at 1:22pm and is different than the others, but I think it’s ultimately just another trip to the theater, broken into two pieces:
The first starts with the shooter heading up the I-84 entrance ramp (which is across the street from Newtown High School) and then taking the lane exiting west. In doing so he does pass near Sandy Hook Elementary School — but he’s doing 80 on the freeway. (Until now I thought the May 22nd trip was the same deal, but that time he drove directly past it.)
Then, I think what happens is he takes a wrong turn: he takes exit 9, which puts him in Hawleyville, then immediately turns in at a small shopping plaza, where there is a wine store, a deli, and a post office. This trip ends at 1:28pm, and then a new trip immediately begins (this might be the GPS “recalculating” the trip after the wrong turn); he gets back on the freeway, again heading west:
Then he takes the next exit (#8) in Danbury, the same he usually takes to go to the movie theater… except this time, he doesn’t go to the movie theater, he just turns left, gets right back on the freeway again, heading east this time, and goes home to 36 Yogananda — it could have been he was agitated from taking the wrong turn, and then didn’t want to play DDR after all.
There’s something else to take into account with the data at this point: frequency of the trips. There was almost a full month between trip fifteen and sixteen. And though trip seventeen (which is just another Whole Foods run) comes four days later on August 1st, there is then another gap. This time, three entire months. Here’s how it lays out visually:
Note that the shooter’s DDR friend says that the shooter stopped hanging out with him “in June of 2012” after some kind of disagreement about planning their meet-ups. The drop-off in activity is indeed evident after June.
Meanwhile, we do know a few things about what is going on inside 36 Yogananda during this quiet period; the shooter has stopped going to the Columbine forum for good as of the end of February, but he still converses via e-mail with people he knows, either from the board or through some other place online where Columbine or mass murderers were being discussed; one of them writes him an e-mail (probably about the Aurora theater shooting that happened on July 20th) and he writes back on the 23rd (five days before the “wrong turn” trip above, #16) sounding very depressed:
July 23, 2012 (From AL to Cyber-Acquaintance): “My interest in mass murdered [sic] has been perfunctory for such a long time. The enthusiasm I had back when Virginia Tech happened feels like it’s been gone for a hundred billion years. I don’t care about anything. I’m just done with it all.”
We also know that his mother started telling people in the fall that he “hasn’t left his room in three months.”
Hurricane Sandy struck Newtown on October 29th, 2012. According to what Nancy told her boyfriend and several others, when the power went out at 36 Yogananda, her son got “weirded out” — or “freaked out” as worded by another witness interview. A third interview subject, who seemed to know the family well (and in fact may well be a family member, though not the shooter’s brother nor father) said Nancy told them her son had “basically shut down,” but refused to leave the house. Nancy, in turn, refused to leave him there alone. It appears that as aresult, they both just sat in their huge, silent, dark house, while the storm raged outside.
When the storm cleared, Nancy said, she went out to buy a generator so the situation wouldn’t happen again. Here’s the generator, in the garage:
(and if you’re wondering about the dark shape in the trunk, it’s just a shadow cast by a flap in the upholstery.)
A couple weeks after the storm, on November 14th, the GPS unit finally gets turned back on: trip Eighteen starts a quarter after noon, and goes from 36 Yogananda in Sandy Hook down past Newtown High School (though again its location in relation to 36 Yogananda makes not-passing it pretty impractical.) It turns left at the site of the old mill, heads into Newtown, drives past St. Rose of Lima on the left and Hawley Elementary (a school the shooter never attended, but that’s where it’s located, and the CSP report draws attention to it) and turns left on Queen Street, and then turns right, into a parking lot across the street from Newtown Middle School.
This parking lot is also where “My Place” is located, a restaurant where the shooter had been several times when he was younger, and with a bar where his mother was drinking at several nights a week by this point. However, the shooter was most likely just visiting the “Big Y” that dominates the plaza — it’s a supermarket, not as fancy as Whole Foods, but a much shorter drive.
The next day, on November 15th, Nancy sends an e-mail to Peter, about their youngest son:
“I didn’t want to harass him. He has had a bad summer and actually stopped going out. He wouldn’t even go to the grocery store, so it’s been pretty stressful. Yesterday was the first time in moths [sic] I’ve been able to talk him into going to do his own shopping and his car battery was actually dead because it sat so long. I ended up spending most of the day getting it fixed and now I am going to have to start pressuring him to go out all over again.”
If she pressured him, it apparently didn’t work. The GPS data goes silent again for almost a month. Then, Trip Nineteen comes on December 13th. It is the same as the May 22nd trip, minus the detour to St. Rose: the unit drives up Riverside Road, past the white sign for Sandy Hook Elementary School, keeps going for a bit, turns off at Chimney Swift Drive, then heads back the way it came, to 36 Yogananda.
The shooter then takes the GPS unit, its cord, the notes about the gun shops, and assorted other papers from the car, and puts them in a white plastic bag. He takes the guns out of the safe, and puts the bag in their place. Later that night, Nancy comes home from her trip in New Hampshire, goes to bed, and never wakes up.
Some books found inside 36 Yogananda, identified
I’ve written about several books found in the shooter’s room before, but these are a few that I noticed in the den at 36 Yogananda: presumably, books that Nancy bought. There are no good photos of them really, but they’re on top of the cardboard box here, bottom-right:
The top book is “How to Behave: A Guide to Modern Manners” by Caroline Tiger.
This is just a bit interesting because it recalls an e-mail conversation Nancy had with her friend from Kingston, Marvin LaFontaine, shortly after moving to Sandy Hook, in May 1999 (these emails were published by PBS Frontline in early 2013, and site changes since them seem to have taken them offline, but I saved a copy.) She is responding to Marvin, who was asking about how to RSVP to a wedding invitation:
Yes…there REALLY is a book of etiquette…but I don’t think you need it. Just ask ME any of your questions. Haven’t you noticed how good my manners are, and just how polished I am??? (Not to mention my incredible ego!!!) Seriously…check out the section in the bookstore.
They even have a “Etiquette For Dummies” book out now. Flip through a few of them, and maybe buy one. (Emily Post is for VERY serious users…maybe the “Dummies” book is more usable in everyday situations) You will enjoy reading them…they are very entertaining.
Next to that book is “How to Find Out Anything” by Don MacLeod:
This is apparently a book about how to use the internet effectively to find information. I have a pretty good idea why Nancy was reading this book; her sister-in-law showed facebook messages between them to the Daily Mail [here] which took place on October 6th 2012, showing that Nancy was investigating a “secret life” her deceased father apparently had, before she was born:
I discovered I have a half sister in Ohio, so I have to get there to meet her soon!
[…] apparently my father was married previously and actually lived in Ohio…secret life and all. Weird.
[She lives in] Cincinnati …. Story TOO long to text off my little I Phone… But yes, life is funny and strange. Lies people tell and try to live in those lies. Sad. She seems nice and I would like to meet her. I feel sorry that my parents turned their backs in her at such a young age. No one is talking so I don’t know the real story.
[…] As for [the lost sister]…she had no clue what happened. Her mother is dead, our father is dead, and my mother won’t say. It’s a mystery. We will never have answers…just have to deal with what is.
Another book in the left stack is probably the most significant:
Note that there are two copies of “Rethinking Depression” in the stack; possibly, one for Nancy and one for her son.
There are also bookcases lining the den, their contents mostly unremarkable, but there are two titles I’ve spotted that are consistent with witness accounts about the shooter, even if this room isn’t his domain; the first is next to this elephant statuette:
It’s the 2009 book “Revolution: A Manifest” by politician Ron Paul:
I just bring this up because it being in the shooter’s home supports his father’s assertion that he liked Ron Paul and his economic policies. Also the file “Politics” on the shooter’s hard drive included some kind of information on Ron Paul, per the CSP description.
The other book is actually four books, in a box set, one shelf down:
It’s a four-volume set of “The Three Kingdoms” an epic historical from 14th-century China, depicting the end of the Han Dynasty. Here’s a close-up someone uploaded on Amazon (I feel like I’ve mentioned this before but honestly can’t remember):
There’s also a second box set in the house, just like it, down in the basement:
This novel (or at least works based on its contents) is something that the shooter was interested in since he was very young. Here is a page from his reading journal from December 2002 (the same that contained the Tuck Everlasting journal entry that I wrote about here.)
I can’t make out all of it but one section appears to read like this:
When the castle was about to be raided, Lord Dian Wei stood in front of the enemy’s army and attacked. He had two halberds to hold them off when they got chopped in half he pulled out his sword and when that shattered something [xxx] happened. He actually picked up two corpses and swung them around like his halberds.
When he was killed, the enemy’s army still did not dare to pass the castle gates because of all the damage this one man did.
This passage shows that he was writing a description of the “Battle of Wancheng” — which in Three Kingdoms is told roughly as he describes, with the legendary warrior Dian Wei weilding human bodies as weapons:
One of the Playstation 2 games that the shooter’s family owned, Dynasty Tactics, depicts this exact battle, among many others from Three Kingdoms, and as do several of the main Dynasty Warriors titles, which he also played.
There’s also this scrap of paper — undated, but the appearance suggests roughly the same time period as the Tuck Everlasting drawing — showing a drawing of a person holding a large sword. “Cao Cao” and the other names written along the side of the page are all figures from The Three Kingdoms:
It’s enough to wonder how many of the statements from teachers in Newtown, that the shooter wrote “pages obsessing about battles, destruction and war” in class assignments, were actually reflections of these kinds of stories. His interest in them was evident as last as 2008 (just before his 16th birthday) when “Blarvink” wrote this post on Gamefaqs, about an old Super Nintendo war-strategy adaptation of The Three Kingdoms that he was apparently playing at the time, Romance of the Three Kingdoms II:
the joke is apparently that one opponent/computer soldier defeated 100 of the shooter’s soldiers, because there was not enough rice to feed the large army.
The Eagles of Shepaug Dam
This is one of the more tranquil little stories tucked away under all the madness at 36 Yogananda, so I think I’ll end on it.
In 1999, when Nancy was e-mailing Marvin back in Kingston, telling him all about her new life in Sandy Hook and how it was going, she told a story about a day some friends came to visit:
Sunday morning we got a nice little snowstorm…but the sun was shining the whole time. We got just enough to turn the ground white. [REDACTED] asked me, “What is it about Connecticut…everything is just SO picture perfect!!” (I kid you not!!) I just smiled and said “We pay extra for this!” It was too funny. Then later, as we sat at the table sipping our coffee and talking horticulture, a flock of Eagles…ten in all…started to circle the woods behind our house. They put on a show for about 45 minutes…landing in two trees less than 50 feet behind our house! One had a wingspan of about five feet…the others were a bit smaller. It was the first time ever that there was not a squirrel to be found in our yard… We got it all on video!
It’s a nice story: a cold winter morning, and the eagles circling overhead. But, the thing I’ve learned about this case is that a great deal of the exercise is simply determining if Nancy is telling the truth at any given time, because there are just so many documentable times when you can know for certain that she was lying. However, at the same time, she is really the only observer of what is going on inside 36 Yogananda, and she is practically the only person the shooter interacted with in any significant way, for much of his life. Her, and the internet connection are the only signals escaping the sealed chamber, beyond a few blips here and there (like the GPS data, which we’ve seen does support her side of a few events.) She’s an unreliable part of the story, but a vital one. So it always jumps out at me when I find something that shows she was actually being truthful, even about something small like this.
Anyway, in browsing old archives of the Newtown Bee, I found an article “All Eyes On The Eagles” from the February 19th 1999 edition (Nancy’s message was four days later on the 23rd) which documents what Nancy saw. And in fact, that unusually cold weekend, which Nancy described in the same message, turned out to have been the cause of the eagles in the sky that morning.
To explain, this is Shephaug Dam, about two miles up the Housatonic River from where 36 Yogananda is:
The Newtown Bee story tells how it was so cold in Connecticut that weekend, the surfaces of the rivers all froze over. When this happens, the bald eagles, who feed on the fish swimming in the river, would have to fly somewhere else. But the waters just downstream from Shepaug, due to the action of the dam, would not be frozen. That’s why the eagles gather there.
On that particular morning, some engineers at Shepaug Dam noticed that the level of the Housatonic upriver was getting a bit high. So, they opened the floodgates; this brought thousands of alewives (a species of herring) coming over the dam. It was a sudden, incidental feast for all the eagles in the area.
There was a wildlife biologist on staff with Northern Utilties, a Mr. Rosgen, who kept a log of all the eagle sightings that winter. It had been a very quiet year so far, but when the floodgates opened, he counted 35 bald eagles from his observation post.
Back at 36 Yogananda, as Nancy’s email conversation continued, Marvin apparently commented on the story about the eagles. In her reply to that message, Nancy gave more details, and explained that she actually knows all about the wildlife reservation near her home:
The Eagles were very impressive. There is a reservation not more than 2 miles from here, where Eagles winter and mate. There was a record sighting of twenty eight Eagles at the reservation on the Sunday that the ten made it to our house. The largest one at the nesting spot had a wing span of over seven feet!
Nancy’s story to Marvin matches the Bee’s story in such a way that I expect she either read this same issue, or talked to someone who did; she said there were 28 eagles, which is wrong, but was actually the previous record, and that was what Nancy witnessed being broken. From the Bee story:
On Saturday, February 6, a record 35 individual bald eagles were spotted from the observation post, Mr Rosgen said. The previous record was 28 individual eagles spotted during a single day in 1988. The observation area began operations in the winter of 1985.
And that was that.