It’s been a little while. So first, a quick note about the status of this blog: I’ve been very hard at work over the last year, focused on researching and writing my book about the Sandy Hook shooting. It’s occupied so much of my time (in addition to having a day job, etc.) that I’ve found I don’t really have much energy left for writing blog posts, and given the inherent darkness of this subject matter, I’m not usually in a hurry to write even more about it when I do have free time. So, that’s the reason for the lack of updates.
However, there are still a handful of topics that I’ve been meaning to fit into article form for awhile, that I think anyone studying the case should be interested in. I plan (vaguely) to get these last few articles posted through September, and after that, hopefully, share some details about the book and when you can read it, as well as a few excerpts from it. More on that later.
Now, onto to today’s topic:
What was the “Big Book of Granny”?
Well, in short, it’s a multimedia project that the Sandy Hook shooter and his then-friend (along with possibly several other classmates) produced in the 5th grade. Police found the book when they searched the home at 36 Yogananda Street, where the shooter lived with his mother. The “Big Book of Granny” is one of the more significant pieces of evidence for constructing a psychological profile of the shooter, especially his elementary school years. It was made after he had become noticeably withdrawn from social interactions, but before his anxieties were so severe that he could barely leave the house. Also, his father had moved out of the house less than a year before, his parents separating sometime in early 2002. The “Granny” book offers a rare glimpse into the shooter’s state of mind at this juncture in his emotional development and family life.
First off, I don’t have a copy of the “Big Book of Granny”; it has not been released to the public, and whether or not it is ever disclosed is a matter that is still being decided in a court battle, with Connecticut’s Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) and Division of Criminal Justice on one side, and the Hartford Courant and their reporter Dave Altimari on the other.
Altimari’s side is now joined by the state’s Freedom of Information Commission, which has already ruled in his favor and ordered that the Granny book (and the other unreleased documents attributed to the shooter, i.e. journals, text files, etc.) should be released; the other side appealed their decision, and that’s where we stand today. (more on this case at the Courant or the Newtown Bee or Sandy Hook Facts)
That’s not to say that we don’t have any idea what the book contains — we do, and its contents are quite alarming, especially in hindsight. Refer to the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate report on the shooter: after a team of mental health professionals reviewed the “Big Book of Granny,” they described it as “extremely abhorrent and, if it had been carefully reviewed by school staff, it would have suggested the need for a referral to a child psychiatrist or other mental health professional for evaluation. (pg 32)”
Earlier in the same report, the book is summarized as “a very dramatic text, filled with images and narrative relating child murder, cannibalism, and taxidermy. (pg 29)”
Expanding further on this theme, and with emphasis in the original source:
While many children, and especially boys, of this age contend with anger and violent impulses in their play and creative productions, “The Big Book of Granny” stands out, to mental health professionals, as a text marked by extreme thoughts of violence that should have signified a need for intervention and evaluation. – Child Advocate, pg 33
I’ll get more into the content later, but first, it should be noted that in general, witness accounts are not consistent about the circumstances of the Granny book’s creation (I don’t think that’s surprising, given that this was just some kid’s old homework assignment right up until the events of 12/14.) Since it’s not really possible to reach solid conclusions on a number of details, this will be more of an attempt to record what is known, and then see what we’re left with when we compile all of the available information in one place.
I like to do things in chronological order. So, before we get to the book itself, let’s see what we deduce about its origins.
Where did the Big Book of Granny come from?
All sources are consistent in stating that the shooter produced the “Big Book of Granny” when he was in the 5th grade. Instances of this include the Connecticut State Police Official report summary, pg. 33:
Various witnesses made the following observations about the shooter through his school years:
1. In the 2002-2003 school year, when the shooter was in the fifth grade, he was quiet,
reluctant, very bright and had good ideas regarding creative writing. He wouldn’t
necessarily engage in conversation, but wouldn’t ignore one. There was no recollection of him being bullied or teased.
2. The fifth grade was also the year that, related to a class project, the shooter produced the “Big Book of Granny”…
Connecticuty Office of the Child Advocate, pg 29:
While reports were generally positive about AL’s conduct and performance in elementary school, he generated and may have submitted, along with another boy in his class who was listed on the “Book” as AL’s co-author, an extremely disturbing project in fifth grade called “The Big Book of Granny.”
This already introduces a complication in the timeline, because the shooter (along with the every other 5th grader in the Newtown school district in 2002-2003) actually attended two different schools that year. Newtown had been in a hurry to finish construction of Reed Intermediate School while the students were away for Christmas break, amd though sections of the school would still be getting worked on after the big day came on January 6th, 2003, there was no other public school in Newtown staffed to teach the 5th and 6th grades after Reed opened its doors. (for more info see the Bee’s coverage of the school’s opening 14 years ago here or the announcement from then-Selectman, Evan Pitkoff here)
This is reflected in the title of the 2002-2003 yearbook from Sandy Hook Elementary School, a copy of which was found in the shooter’s home at 36 Yogananda Street (evidence list from Book 7, file 00177484):
Therefor, narrowing the window down to the 2002-2003 school year still leaves us with two schools where the “Big Book of Granny” may have been created.
For the next step, let’s refer to the only image from the Granny book that has been released so far, the cover:
Some of the words are redacted, including the co-author, but it’s clear from the word spacing that the book was made by the shooter and one other person. Investigating the book’s origins in 2013, the next natural step for police should have been to track down the co-author and see what he has to say about the “Big Book of Granny,” and that’s exactly what they did.
File 00194470 from book 7 of the official report documents that a phone call was made to the co-author’s residence on August 29th, 2013. There was no anwer, so the officer left a message. Sometime after, they got a call back, from the co-author’s mother:
Though parts of the file are redacted, a few things are apparent:
- the co-author is “currently residing” somewhere other than with his family (the co-author would be around 20 years old at this point.)
- After she received the voicemail the police had left for her son, his mother called him to find out what he could remember about the shooter, but he did not remember much, and for some reason that has been redacted, she doesn’t think that the detectives would have better luck.
- The mother’s memory seemed stronger; she recalled her son and the shooter doing “boy stuff” in the neighborhood at the time, such as riding bikes. Their houses were in “close proximity.”
- She remembers they did class projects together, though she does not specifically remember the “Big Book of Granny.”
- the shooter had visited her house during this time, and her boy had been to the shooter’s home at 36 Yogananda.
Along with these claims, the co-author’s mother also provides the police with documentation that “[her son] and the shooter attended [REDACTED] together at Sandy Hook School from [REDACTED]” – clearly, a grade and a school year. The documentation was in the form of school directories from Sandy Hook Elementary, including the 2002-2003 school year:
The police also record that the school directory “shows that [the co-author] started attending Sandy Hook School in [year] and only attended [grade] with the shooter during [year.]” That being the case, this file (as redacted as it is) indicates that the Granny book’s two authors were only in the same class at Sandy Hook, and only for one year; since the book was made in the fifth grade, that means we can reasonably isolate the timing of its production as somewhere between September and late-December of 2002.
Two months after that conversation with the co-author’s mother, on October 16th, 2013, the CSP detectives document a trip to the office of a Probation Officer in nearby Danbury, CT. This probation officer was “recently assigned to supervise” a redacted name, who turns out to be the co-author of the “Granny” book, now on probation and “in a group home under constant supervision” stemming from “a court case involving motor vehicle charges.” (Book 7 file 00232922) :
For a bit more information on what exactly this person’s status was as of 2013, refer to the Child Advocate Report page 29 (note: the Child Advocate had access to unredacted CSP files) which describes this same CSP file as a “present-day statement of the co-author (an individual who as an adult was diagnosed with mental illness and is purportedly living in a residential setting.)” However, the same evaluators footnote that they “cannot confirm whether this individual is confined involuntarily in a locked setting or whether he is residing in a community-based facility.”
Proceeding further in the CSP file, the probation officer then escorts the co-author, now a young man with his own troubles, into the room for an interview with police, which lasts about 35 minutes:
Contrary to what his mother claimed, the co-author of the “Big Book of Granny” seems to recall quite a bit about the times he and the Sandy Hook shooter spent putting it together. Among the details he claims:
- The Big Book of Granny was created as part of a group assignment to make a “comic book style” project.
- There were other kids in the group with him and the shooter, submitting ideas for the shooter’s approval
- They all agreed to make a “Calvin and Hobbes” style comic
- He (the co-author) was responsible for the illustrations
- The only illustration he remembers was the cover graphic
- He doesn’t remember who produced the final copies, or how many there were
- He thinks the school was responsible for binding it
- He thinks the Granny book was turned in to be graded for the assignment
#4 seems credible, given the mock legal warnings the creators wrote on the cover of the Granny book; the shooter is named as owning the rights to all the content, but the “Granny Picture” is attributed to a redacted name, presumably the co-author.
The last two points (#7 and #8) are significant, in that they would indicate an adult saw the final product, or at least had opportunity to read it; whenever this book passes through adult hands, to me that represents a missed opportunity, given that the Child Advocate report specifically states that the book’s content “should have signified a need for intervention and evaluation.”
The issue of adults coming into contact with the “Big Book of Granny” is complicated further in The Reckoning, an interview with the shooter’s father, who apparently told writer Andrew Solomon that the shooter “tried to sell copies of the book at school and got in trouble.”
This detail about the shooter trying to sell copies of the Granny book is not mentioned by anyone in the available CSP files. In the Child Advocate report, on the other hand, a curious detail is added:
The co-author claims that the book was bound in school and submitted for a grade. Other reports indicate that AL may have attempted to “sell” the book to peers for 25 cents and that a school administrator spoke to Mrs. Lanza about the matter. (Child Advocate report pg 29)
The “for 25 cents” detail does not appear anywhere in the investigative record, as far as I’m aware, and it’s not in Solomon’s interview with the shooter’s father. I do not know where the Child Advocate investigators got that detail (the price by itself is immaterial, but it’s a sign that there may be more support for the “got in trouble for selling copies” scenario, somewhere in the redacted records.) The specific claim that the shooter’s mother was spoken to be a school administrator about the Granny book is also of unknown origin, but I suppose it’s implied in The Reckoning’s claim that the shooter “got in trouble” for trying to sell it. These details are murky, but they all suggest more instances where an adult had opportunity to look at the “Big Book of Granny.”
There is one more file in the CSP investigation that touches on the Granny book, and though parts of it are redacted, there are some interesting details. It is in book 7, file 00201300, which documents a interview with a teacher conducted at Reed Intermediate School, where he works, and who had previously worked at Sandy Hook Elementary School:
It’s evident that the teacher had the shooter in his class at some point, though it’s not clear at which school or school year (5th or 6th grade.) He also, apparently, remembers the co-author of the Granny book (3rd paragraph) though he does not remember that boy associating with the shooter, and he has no knowledge of the Granny book at all.
Note that the teacher says the shooter had “good ideas regarding creative writing” and “wouldn’t necessarily engage in conversation with people but he wouldn’t ignore them either.” Thus, this is the interview that is the basis for the earlier claim about the timing of the Granny book to have been in the 5th grade:
In the 2002-2003 school year, when the shooter was in the fifth grade, he was quiet,
reluctant, very bright and had good ideas regarding creative writing. He wouldn’t
necessarily engage in conversation, but wouldn’t ignore one. There was no recollection of him being bullied or teased.
The simplest way to align this witness statement with the others is to assume that this person was the shooter’s 5th grade teacher at Reed, which occurs after the Granny book, and that the shooter and the co-author were no longer friends at this point, as the co-author indicates in his statement. Again, though, there’s just no way to be sure.
Having covered all of the known claims about how the “Big Book of Granny” book came to be, now let’s look at what a person would have found when they opened it.
What’s in the “Big Book of Granny”?
The book was opened on August 16th, 2013, by a Connecticut State Trooper at the CSP station in Southbury. The trooper wrote a summary of everything in the book, and his report was filed as item 00180670 in book 4 of Connecticut’s investigation into the Sandy Hook shooting. This file is the only document that provides any detail about the contents of the “Big Book of Granny.”
The summary is two pages of nearly unformatted text, a bit hard on the eyes. Here, I’ve broken it down into paragraphs, and added a few notes (in bold) where I thought helpful, but otherwise this is just word-for-word what the police wrote in their files.
(One last thing to note: from reading this summary, it doesn’t actually sound like a “comic book.” There is no mention of any illustrations, except for the cover. This recalls the co-author’s interview, when he said he was responsible for the illustrations but could only remember the one on the cover; perhaps the “Calvin and Hobbes style comic book” ended up being just a written document, after all. Or, this could just be an ambiguity in the trooper’s style of describing the document.)
THE BIG BOOK OF GRANNY
The book starts with a list of 85 Granny Jokes. All of the jokes are degrading statements beginning with “Granny!”
Following 3 pages of Granny Jokes, the book lists “Granny Products of the Future”, which includes advertisements for:
- Granny Action Figure
- Granny Action Figure 2
- Granny Action Figure 3
- Granny Action Figure 4
- Granny Action Figure 5
- Granny Action Figure Set (includes all 5 Granny Action Figures)
- Gran Spam
- Granny Oats
- and Granny’s Granny.
Each of the products is described in an advertisement format with monetary cost and
phone number to call to order.
The next section of the book is labeled as “Granny’s Clubhouse of Happy Children.” This section is a typed dialog from an imaginary TV show. The main characters feature Granny, her son “Bobolicious” and several children.
In the show, Granny and Bobolicious are talking to the group of children as if in a group. In the first episode, Granny punches one boy in the face, throws a match and causes an explosion and threatens to shoot and kill the children.
The second episode, Granny’s Clubhouse of Happy Children 2, starts out with Bobolicious speaking to the children. Bobolicious said “Hi! I’m Bobolicious the Explorer….. Remember last time when everyone was slaughtered!? Well…You bread-brain leeches gave me 75 years of prison for that so called ‘Tragedy’! I was having fun!”
The third and final episode, Granny’s Clubhouse of Happy Children 3, introduces two new characters, Dora the Beserker and her monkey, Shoes. [Dora the “Beserker” would be a reference to the children’s show Dora the Explorer, who has a pet monkey named “Boots” – here, renamed “Shoes.”] Bobolicious says that they are going to play a game of “Hide and go Die.”
The next section of the book is labeled “Adventures of Granny.” There are eight chapters labeled “The Adventures of Granny” through “The Adventures of Granny 8.” All eight chapters are dialog between Granny and another character identified as Granny’s Son with various persons
In the first chapter, Granny and Granny’s Son rob a bank, Granny shoots people with her rifle cane, and then blows up the bank with dynamite. After the robbery, Granny’s Son shoots Granny in the head with a shotgun.
In the second chapter, Granny and Granny’s Son go on a boat ride. Granny falls out of the boat and Granny’s Son throws her a cement floatation device which forces her to sink to the bottom of the ocean.
In the third chapter, Granny and Granny’s Son try to capture a boy and stuff him, to put on the mantle. Granny kicks the boy into the fireplace and he begins to burn. The boy jumps out of the fire and Granny punches him in the face. Then Granny shoots at him three times with her rifle cane
and misses him. Granny then throws a Granny Action Figure to the boy. The boy gets distracted and the action figure comes alive and shoots the boy. Granny’s Son says “Yay! Now we can hang it!”
In chapter four, Granny and Granny’s Son go to a hockey game. Granny goes onto the ice and
punches one of the players and then shoots him with her rifle cane. After the hockey game, Granny and Granny’s Son go to Duchess restaurant to eat [Duchess is a fast food chain with locations only in Fairfield and New Haven counties. Newtown/Sandy Hook is in Fairfield County.]
In chapter five, Granny goes to Marine boot camp and meets up with Dora the Beserker and Swiper the Raccoon [Swiper the fox is a character on Dora the Explorer]. Granny asks Dora if she would assassinate a soldier at midnight and Dora agrees to do it. Dora says ” I like hurting people…Especially children…” Granny then shoots multiple people with her rifle cane. When Granny escapes boot camp and goes home to Granny’s Son, she tells him that she left boot camp because she killed the entire Marine legion.
In chapter six, Granny and Granny’s Son are picked up from the side of the road by Dora the Beserker. Dora tells Granny that she can take her wherever she needs to go, after they go to the daycare center. When they arrive at the daycare center, Dora sends Swiper the Raccoon inside to distract the children. Then Dora enters and says “Let’s hurt children.”
In chapter seven, Granny and Granny’s Son go to visit Dora the Beserker. Dora takes them on an adventure to find Drunk. In the adventure, they encounter a rooster and have to call upon their bag to get a shotgun. In their bag is a handgun, AK-47, M-16, rifle, rocket launcher, musket and a shotgun. Dora uses the shotgun to shoot the rooster and Swiper the Raccoon. Later in the adventure, Dora accidentally shoots her monkey, named Shoes, Lenny the Cow [a take-off of Benny the bull] and Tico the Chipmunk [Tico the squirrel]. Dora eventually gets arrested for possession of 6 guns and murdering 4 animals.
In chapter 8, Granny and Granny’s Son use a time machine to go back in time. In their travels, they meet The Beatles. Granny kills all of The Beatles and says that she kills every bug she sees.
Granny and Granny’s Son get arrested and sentenced to 75 years in jail for killing The Beatles.
Where in the house was the “Big Book of Granny” found?
Ever since the Child Advocate report emphasized how unusual and significant the content of the Granny book really is, I’ve wondered: where in the shooter’s house did the polce find it?
Keep in mind that this was a project from the shooter’s childhood, a book that was about a decade old when the shooting happened: that’s half of the shooter’s lifetime. If the book was just stuffed in a box somewhere in the basement, that would be one thing, however, if this was a keepsake that the shooter had on his desk and was still thinking about as a young adult, that would be really odd and thus noteworthy. Or, what if it was his mother flipping through the Big Book of Granny?
So, off and on over the years, I’ve tried to locate where in 36 Yogananda the book was found, based on police reports and scene photos; unfortunately, as far as I can tell, that can’t conclusively be done. So, here I will just share why I think that’s the case.
On December 16th, 2012 (two days after the shooting) a search warrant was served, and several boxes worth of evidence were seized. In the file that logs this seizure, note that the “military-style uniform” is in box #2, while “books and papers” from the shooter’s bedroom are in box #3 (this is from the official CSP report, book 4, file 00076719):
As noted, these and several other boxes were compiled as “FBI-1,” and then sent off to the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, to aid in their construction of a psychological profile of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter.
By April 2013, the FBI was finished reviewing the contents of the five boxes, and they sent exhibit “FBI-1” back to Connecticut (3rd paragraph above).
Then, in August, Connecticut opened the boxes back up, and started cataloging the evidence. This is the first noted appearance of the “Big Book of Granny,” so locating it in the house becomes a matter of figuring out which box it was in when it was sent to the FBI. When the police opened the boxes from the FBI, they found it in Box #3:
This seems to make it a fairly simple deduction to say that the “Granny” book was among the “books and papers” from the shooter’s bedroom in the earlier file, since that was what Box #3 contained when it was shipped off to the FBI.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Note that the “Teddy bear” was also received in box #3. We can see from scene search photos that the stuffed bear was actually found on top of the gun safe, which was in the room next to the shooter’s bedroom:
That would have placed it in box #1 when it was sent out, not box #3, where it was found in return.
Further, note that the “military uniform” has moved from box #2 when it was sent out, to box #4 when it was received:
…so, it appears the contents of each box weren’t kept separate. The FBI sent them back to Connecticut in a different order. That puts practically every location in the house up for grabs, and so we’re back at square one.
The best I can do is to eliminate one location: the Big Book of Granny wasn’t found in the basement storage room.
Initially, this spot in the basement seems seems like a candidate, based on the description of the kind of evidence seized from a number boxes there:
It appears that the police photographers did not venture too far into this particular room. There are no photos of the boxes, which would be at the far end of the room from the spot where this photo was taken, somewhere behind the folded ping-pong table:
However, this spot can be eliminated based on the evidence itemization from file 00177484, which lists every item found in the boxes from the basement storage room; all of the contents are either something other than a book, or they dated from the late 1990’s, before the Granny book was written:
My best guess is that the Big Book of Granny was found in one of the two upstairs rooms occupied by the shooter. But, who knows?
For those curious, I’ll share a document I put together and have long referred to for keeping track of where evidence was located in 36 Yogananda; this is the “scene search diagram” put together by police, combined with the corresponding evidence list (large image file here.)
Where is the Granny book? It’s one of those yellow dots, that’s for sure.
I’m planning to have the next update posted during the weekend of the 10th/11th. I don’t have much of a history of meeting deadlines, though.