For the last years of Adam Lanza’s life, starting with his withdrawal from Connecticut State University in 2009, he was a recluse, rarely ever leaving the darkened basement of his mother’s home. Except for a brief stint at Norwalk Community College, lasting less than one semester in 2010, this period of societal darkness coincides with his sudden presence online, and the first evidence we currently have of his interest in mass shootings.
In reviewing his Wikipedia posts, their content, and his other online activities that coincide with their timestamps, we can get a picture of his developing interests in those years of solitude, even while his exact motivations remain a mystery, as his fixation on firearms and mass shootings increasingly consumed his life.
The first Wikipedia contributions from the user Kaynbred–reported to have been Adam Lanza–were not on any actual Wikipedia article. Instead, he contributed to the “talk” page (similar to a forum in which Wikipedia editors can discuss or debate potential edits to the respective page) for the page associated with the “2009 Collier Township Shooting”.
The first of these two “talk” interactions was uploaded on August 6th, 2009, at 1:29am GMT. This time converts to about 9:30 at night on August 5th in Connecticut, barely 24 hours after the shooting itself.
Either Lanza already had a fixation on mass shootings by this point, or this is the one that sparked his obsession.
The nature of Adam’s two posts to the talk page show that he was participating in an online gawker’s scramble to collect information from George Sodini’s personal websites in the hours after the shooting. Another poster had reported that “The web site was taken down at 11:15 am EDT, just after I has saved the “liveordie.htm” page but before I could return to the other pages such as 19600930.htm” – referring to sub-pages under the main URL georgesodini.com (now inactive).
The “19600930.htm” sub-page that the users are searching for is then described by another user as the “birth page,” as the numbers 19600930 correspond to George Sodini’s birthday, September 3rd 1960.
This is where Kaynbred enters the anonymous conversation.
He states that “It was not removed at 11:15 AM. It is actually still available; just refresh the page multiple times and it will appear. Typing his date of birth does not lead to anything.”—The “it” Lanza refers to as “still available” is thus the main page of Sodini’s site. He appears to be saying that the “birth page” is missing, but the site itself remains active as of that time.
Kaynbred returns to the talk pages for this shooting just over a week later, his comment time-stamped “02:07, 14 August 2009 (UTC)” – or, in Newtown, CT time, 10:10pm on Thursday, August 13. Here he adds an update on George Sodini’s website status: “All pages are now blank as of August 14, 2009, 03:00 GMT. The last time that I checked for activity was August 9, 2009, at which point the website was still available.” Although it has been several days since he accessed the page, this is confirmation that he made multiple visits (Aug 5th, 9th, and 13th).
The content of George Sodini’s website was disturbing and requires its own separate analysis to understand. Suffice to say, he was an alienated man, 32 years Adam’s senior, who was frustrated at his repeated failures to establish relationships with other people–especially women–in his adult life, and had strained relations with his family members, particularly his “successful in the financial world” brother, whom he saw as a bully.
It would be impossible to know if Adam Lanza identified with George Sodini’s writings, beyond simple comparisons between their lives, and the obvious fact that both committed such heinous crimes. Surely, it would be comforting to tell ourselves (in that it would at least be a motive) that Adam read George’s blog, saw George’s repeated emphasis that all of the years of his life since his early adulthood – a span of 25 years that Adam was struggling to enter already – had been “wasted”, and that Adam decided on his rampage then and there.
However, Adam’s medical and educational history, his interactions throughout his life, and his other online activities all suggest a young man who likely would not have identified with anyone at all. His interest in George’s site probably amounted to a simple matter of researching his competition.
After these edits to the 2009 Collier Township shooting page, the next several months of Kaynbred/Lanza’s online activity (see the timeline here) are a flurry of posts to gun enthusiast forums regarding the minutiae of Connecticut firearms laws, the merits of one weapon or caliber over another, and the beginning of his playing the online First-Person Shooter (FPS) Combat Arms, which features a vast catalog of realistic (at least in terms of names and appearances) firearms to use in the game.
His next contribution to Wikipedia comes two weeks after his George Sodini posts, and is not on a talk page; he makes his first edit to an actual article, that of the Dawson College shooting, which occurred three years prior in Quebec, Canada, and resulted in the death of one student and injuring of 19. (Like George Sodini, the shooter targeted women and killed himself afterward; however, given that we are dealing with mass killers who are men, frustration with women is not a very unique characteristic.)
The edit is minor. A previous user had written that the perpetrator had used “Beretta Cx4 Storm .9mm” in the shooting, erroneously applying a decimal point before “9mm” (which would make the respective ammunition a tenth of its actual size), and Adam’s only change was to remove the decimal point. Attaching a comment to his edit (not visible in the article proper) he joked “’9mm’ was listed as ‘.9mm’. People say that 9mm is anemic, but this is ridiculous.”
This may seem more like nitpicking than joking, because it’s not a joke that translates well to text, but picture it in this context: two shooters at a firing range, noticing a typo on a records form, and saying it to each other with a guffaw. Kaynbred is trying to impress others with his firearms knowledge, and ingratiate himself at the same time, the gyst being “it’s small but it’s not THAT small! Let me correct you.” This is the same tone he strikes in his firearms forum posts, and should be familiar to anyone who used the internet when they were in their late teens: trying hard to look like they aren’t trying hard to fit in.
Still, Kaynbred does make the correction. He’s striving for accuracy in the weapons used, a markedly more focused contribution than his general interest in George Sodini.
Four months go by before “Kaynbred” returns to Wikipedia. Adam returns to his gun forums, posting much of the same sort of fluff he already had been, and gets deep into Combat Arms, signing up with a “pistols only” clan and posting erratically on their website.
When he does return to wikipedia, it is again not in reaction to any breaking story. He is doing his homework, researching past shootings. On December 9th, he makes edits to four different wikipedia pages, each for a mass shooting.
December 9th edits
- Kaynbred removed details from the “Luby’s massacre” that focused on the motive of the shooting and how it related to the gender of victims (the shooter in that case is commonly reported to be a misogynist who targeted women). The information he removed included a mention of George Sondini’s shooting (the wiki “talk” page for that crime marked Kaynbred’s first contribution to Wikipedia, several months before) that also focused on his motives and victims.
The method Kaynbred used to remove these edits was to roll back the article to a previous edition, falling back on another user’s work. Thus he made no changes of his own.
- Again on December 9th, Adam removed a long and dramatic paragraph from the page for “Larry Gene Ashbrook,” which details Ashbrook’s shooting at a Christian rock concert. The information he removed concerned the victims, and an account of one victim confronting the shooter mid-massacre with a confirmation of their faith in god and the afterlife. Another section described how a survivor was affected by their injuries in the years hence.
All of this information Adam deleted, again by reverting the article to a previous version.
- Kaynbred updated the page for Kip Kinkel’s school shooting in Oregon in 1998. His edits again focus on specifying exact weapon models, rather than simply manufacturers and chamberings: for example, updating “.22 Ruger pistol” to “.22LR Ruger Mark II pistol”.
- Once again, on the same busy day of Wikipedia work, Adam removed a section from the “Westroads Mall shooting” article. At the time of that mass shooting, in 2007, there had been speculation that a forum post on the site 4chan.com had been from the shooter, confessing the crime he was about to commit.
This 4chan post was already proven to be a hoax, but as Adam was reading the Wikipedia article two years later, other users were still trying to add it to the article as if it were genuine, despite numerous deletions. Adam simply deleted that section again, and noted in his comment “Information about the hoax has been removed again.”
The focus of this edit, from the Westroads Mall shooting, is interesting in light of Adam’s own later efforts to erase his online footprint (deleting posts and destroying his hard drives) while also researching George Sodini’s; as with the guns used in all cases, Adam was interested in facts. He wished to destroy his own records, but had no qualms in reading other shooters’ rants whenever available, his only qualms apparently being falsified posts.
Then, on December 31, 2009, a man murdered five people at the Sello Mall in Finland. Less than a month after the shooting, on January 21st, 2010, Adam is back, editing the “Sello Mall shooting” wiki page.
This time it’s another minor edit, but with another different focus: he removes “Hungerford Massacre” from the “see also” section of the page, and replaces it with a link to the page for “Sylvia Seegrist“, noting his reasoning that “The Hungerford Massacre doesn’t seem to be relevant to [the Sello Mall shooting] as much as the others. Sylvia Seegrist was added.” In doing so, Adam removed an event from the UK in 1987, a rampage involving multiple carjackings and crime scenes in when 16 were killed, including the perpetrator’s mother, in favor an event in 1985 when three were killed at a mall in the US, and no family members were killed. It’s a logical but very miniscule distinction (connecting two mall shootings), showing that by this time he must have begun exhaustively cataloging variables for every mass shooting on record.
Kaynbred’s final series of edits – indeed, Lanza’s last known posts online anywhere – were made on February 4th, 2010, to the page for Richard Farley, who had killed 7 in a workplace shooting in 1988. This time, his edits were added in four different pieces; three of them are formatting corrections, and the removal of nonsense information added by another user. The fourth is familiar: he adds specific information about the shooter’s weapons.
Of particular note is that Kaynbred here added information that was not present in the article already; beyond simply changing “Browning Hi-Power” to “Browing .380 ACP pistol” and “Smith & Wesson pistol” to “Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol”, he added the details that Richard Farley had also armed himself with “a foot-long buck knife and smoke bomb.” For the first time, and in his last contribution, he adds new information.
This in itself is noteworthy, because it proves that the “Kaynbred” online profile does not represent the depth of his research into mass shootings. Although he did not cite a source, the information that Richard Farley had used a knife and smoke device must have been obtained via some other means of research beyond Wikipedia (a cursory web search suggests he may have obtained this information from an appeal filed in 2007 by Farley himself, although this is just speculation).
Motives and victims were apparently not of interest to Adam Lanza, or more accurately, were not appropriate in his mind for reference material. He preferred the descriptions of these crimes to focus on arms, tactics, and body count. Cold, clinical and above all, uniform. Structured. It’s enough that I suspect there was a mild frustration in him with how the erratic crowd-sourced Wikipedia pages strayed from the rigid scoring he set up in his own spreadsheet, which was surely open in another window as he made these Wikipedia edits: edits that remain among the few, stubborn records of his online life –arguably his “real life”– that he would have no choice but to leave behind.