There was a young man who never wanted to leave his his room. In the room, with him, were two things: a computer, and a safe full of guns.
The computer was partially disassembled. He had taken the hard drive out, removed the tray cover, smashed the disc repeatedly with a 5lb dumbbell, and gouged its surface with a pair of keys. Its contents would be impossible to access, even for the FBI.
The safe was unlocked. He chose a gun.
The rifle’s ejection port opened, and a single bullet arced through the air, unfired, its lead tip still attached as it tumbled to a rest on the room’s white-carpeted floor. A wasted round. That was okay. Ammunition was not going to be a problem for him. Certainty was what he really needed; the ejected round gave him proof that he had properly inserted the magazine, which in turn assured him that a bullet would fire when next the trigger was pulled. He needed certainty, because if the rifle jammed on that first shot, then all of his plans would be ruined.
Carrying the rifle, he exited the room, and crept down the hall, headed for his mother’s bedroom.
The door was unlocked.
Nancy was asleep in her bed, the covers pulled up to her chest. Her head rested on a striped bath towel that she had draped over her pillow, from a shower the night before, and she had left a water bottle and a pair of reading glasses on the nightstand. Her satin slippers were on the floor beside her, and next to them, she had dropped her bedtime reading: a worn copy of the self-help book Train Your Brain to Get Happy.
Nancy kept childhood photos of her son all around her bedroom, perched on the various pieces of a polished-wood furniture set that lined the walls: on the dresser, framed in porcelain, there was a portrait of him as a toddler; she had dressed him in overalls and a red choo-choo train sweater that day, and seated him in front of a painting of a bridge. The faded picture captures him smiling at something, just out of frame. Next to that, in a photo taken sometime during his elementary school years, he stands proudly next to a canoe on a rock-strewn shore, wearing trunks and a life preserver. He is holding an oar like a walking stick that is twice his own height, and he grins wide, squinting into the summer sun.
Standing over his mother, his own eyes stared back at him now from these moments, anchored in happier times. Before the fear came. If Nancy woke up then, she would have seen her son standing there, next to the beach photo: the same boy now fully grown, but gaunt, dressed in black, and pointing a rifle at her face.
He pulled the trigger. One.
The sound of the explosion immediately filled the room, echoing through the walls of their colonial home and beyond, out into the neighborhood’s quiet and cold morning air. He had planned for that: the rifle in his hands was not the most powerful one he could have chosen from the gun safe, but it was the quietest, the most inconspicuous. It sounded just like the shots frequently heard echoing from the surrounding woods during deer season. The neighbors were unlikely to take notice.
He grasped the bolt handle and lifted it, pushing the gun’s mechanism forward and ejecting a single, empty, brass cylinder, arcing to the bedroom floor.
Pulling the bolt back into position, the next round was chambered, and he took aim again. Two.
Later that day, Nancy’s DNA would be found in droplets on the nightstand, and on the headboard, and on the wall behind the headboard, and soaked into the towel over her pillow, and stuck to the ceiling high overhead. She felt no pain.
He grasped the bolt handle again, chambered another round, and aimed into the open wound. Three.
If a person knew nothing about Nancy, and they were to look just at the photos arranged around her bedroom, they would likely get the impression that her son was much younger than he really was. The same was true all over the house, showing an age progression that stopped just after elementary school, as if the boy in the picture frame never grew up, or had simply disappeared. Four.
He was now certain that his mother was dead, and so this phase of his plan was complete. A success.
He left the rifle on the floor, with the fourth empty cartridge still in the chamber, next to Nancy’s black satin slippers and her carefully bookmarked copy of Train Your Brain to Get Happy. He turned from her, and went back down to the end of the hall, to the computer room, and the unlocked safe within.
A few minutes later, he went down the stairs, carrying the rest of what he would need. There was the sound of a car starting, and then the automatic garage door closing after it. He turned left out of the driveway, onto Yogananda Street, and then headed west. He never came back.
Thirty minutes later, a fuel truck backed up the driveway. The driver was making his regularly scheduled deliveries to the customers on his route, which included Nancy’s house, and so — totally oblivious to the scene upstairs — the driver began pumping heating oil into the 275-gallon tank in the home’s basement, through the above-ground intake nozzle, next to the garage. He would recall that the garage doors were closed, the lights in the house were turned off, and that he did not see any movement inside. Then again, he had been making deliveries to the yellow house with the forest-green shutters at 36 Yogananda Street for the last five years, and never once had he seen anyone inside.
Most of the neighbors knew there was a middle-aged woman who lived in the yellow house. Only a few had faint memories of another resident: a young man, thin and pale, who never spoke. It seemed like no one had seen him in years.
The driver completed his delivery and headed back the way he came, pausing to leave an invoice in the mailbox at the end of the driveway. He signed it, and scribbled the date: 12-14-12.
For the next two hours, Nancy’s body lay alone, still tucked under the covers, as if sleeping peacefully in her bed. All was still in the house, and all was quiet. Periodically, the silence was broken by the sound of police sirens passing by in the distance, in the town at the bottom of the hill. Once, a helicopter passed low overhead, travelling west.
At 11:47am, the phone rang in the downstairs study. The machine picked up, and Nancy’s voice answered: “Hi, you have reached the Lanza residence. Please leave a message, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.” *BEEP*
Through the answering machine’s speaker, a man’s voice filled the empty house. He identified himself as a Lieutenant Brown with the Newtown Police Department, and advised that if there were anyone inside, they should pick up the phone.
The house went silent again. Then the S.W.A.T. team broke through the front door with a battering ram.