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Marvin LaFontaine: “Those Kids Were Everything” to Nancy Lanza

Marvin LaFontaine was a friend of Nancy Lanza, whom he met through the Cub Scout group their sons were both a part of in New Hampshire. In this edited transcript of an interview conducted on Jan. 19, 2013, LaFontaine remembers how Adam learned to shoot through the Cub Scouts, “a weirdness” about the young boy and how dedicated Nancy was to her children. “Those kids were everything to her,” he tells FRONTLINE. “She was very, very protective over them.

I just want to just sort of get a little bit of a history here. Tell me how you first met Nancy.

Through the scouts.

And that was what like ’87, ’88?

No. I think it was 1994.

Tell me the first time you met her.

I was coming home from work … and my wife called and said, “Pick up [our son],” who was 7 years old then. He’s 24 now. “He’s at the Lanzas’ house.” I said, “Where’s that?” She gave me directions.

I went to pick him up. I pulled in and I got out of my car. They had a nice deck, and Nancy walked out the door. She was smiling and we connected right away. Right from there it was a friendship. I felt it. She felt it, and we were close friends. …

So what are the difference in ages of your sons?

Exactly the same, four [years].

So then were you guys involved in the Cub Scouts?

Oh yeah , we were the leaders. My wife and I were the leaders. She was the official on paper leader, but I was there helping them with crafts and stuff. And Nancy was there for every single meeting there is. She never missed one.

She never missed one? And was Peter there too at the meetings?

Generally not. Once in a while he would.

We’d go out to dinner together: Nancy and Peter, me and Sharon, my then-wife, the four of us. Nancy liked eating out at restaurants.

She did?

Yeah and she knew her wines too. I learned all about Merlot, Shiraz, Pinot, all that stuff. She was very good at it.

She was so bright. … She was just so darn smart. I don’t think she ever had to learn anything. She was extremely bright. I was in awe of that. You had to watch out with what you said with her.

Tell me about that.

… She had a memory like a steel trap and she gets you. She goes, “Well you just said–” and oh, you got me.

Really?

Yeah but not in a bad way. She was kind. In fact she brought me to see the movie Titanic when it first came out. … She goes, “If the girl had gone on the boat like she was supposed to and had not gone into the water into that raft thing with her boyfriend, they both would have lived because there was only room for one person on that thing.” …

Did she talk about leaving the work force to raise her kids?

Yeah she did.

What did she tell you about that?

… It was not good circumstances. [She was on maternity leave], and they let her go, and she got herself a lawyer. …

She got a substantial settlement?

She never told me what that was but she said yeah, it was comfortably well off or something like that. …

What were the gist of the emails [she sent you]?

It was just regular old chitchat. How you doing? How’s work? My wife and I were having some issues and she’d ask how that was going. And her kids were coded and so were mine, for educational stuff.

Well let’s talk a little bit about that. … Do you remember Ryan having any issues in school?

No I don’t. The kids were bright like their mom and dad. There was no issues there. Adam was a quiet kid. He never said a word.

Really?

“Nancy warned me once at one of the Scout meetings. She said, ‘I know you wouldn’t do this but just so you know, don’t touch Adam.'”

I don’t think I ever heard him say a word. There was a weirdness about him.

Nancy warned me once at one of the Scout meetings. She said, “I know you wouldn’t do this but just so you know, don’t touch Adam.” I go, “Well I wouldn’t touch him.” She goes: “I don’t mean like that, but I mean like don’t do [an] atta boy thing or shake his hand and say, ‘Way to go brother.'” No touching like that. You know, like normal touching. She said, “He just can’t stand that.” I said: “That’s fine. Thanks for the heads up.”

Did you ever see a reaction to touching?

Yeah, he had become upset.

Can you describe what he did?

He would yell. Usually it would be one of the other kids. They’re kids. They don’t care and they touch him, and he was angry with them. He’d become teary-eyed and I think he would run to his mother and call the kids a jerk or something. …

You were in the Cub Scouts. What do you remember seeing [with Adam]?

Just a quiet kid who kept to himself. When we did crafts, he never asked for any help. And we’d offer, “You want some help?” and he just looked down.

Did he finish the craft?

Yeah, sure he did.

So he was able to complete the tasks that the Cub Scouts had?

Yeah, I think his mother would help him a lot if he was getting behind or didn’t understand. …

Her brother was Lt. Jim Champion, right here in Kingston, and oh she loved her little brother. I’d never met him and she was in the Scouts and in fact I was looking for activities for the kids and she said, “I’ll invite my little brother.” …

So the police came right here, up here and did a demo. And it wasn’t just the kids that enjoyed it, I was thrilled. …

Adam aspired to be like his uncle, Jim. [He was in the military] and she was very proud of that and she allowed [Adam] to believe that yeah, you’re gonna be like your uncle … depending on how he turned out. … Sometimes people can overcome that with medication, counseling whatever. They can and do. And I think maybe she was hoping for that. … And then one day I think she realized probably not too long ago, there’s no way this kid could do this. … It’s not for him. When she realized that she started to discourage him from that. …

Now what was the interaction like between Ryan and Adam?

There was bickering. Like brothers do, like my kids did. That was normal. …

Did Nancy talk about school for Adam?

Yeah.

How did she say things were going for him in school?

She said that things were going great, that he was very shy, but that his grades were excellent, both kids.

She was very proud of her children. Those kids were everything to her and she was very, very protective over them, and I understand that. I was very protective over mine too.

And she did the Cub Scouts with them, so is she sort of more rugged than the average mom?

Oh she was tough. She was a skinny little thing.

I don’t know how tall she was, maybe 5’3″ or so, and she was pretty. She was attractive and very well spoken, and she didn’t take any crap from anybody.

I remember once we were planning a Scout trip, Cub Overnight Weekend, they call it COW, down at one of the local Scout places, and we were asking for parent volunteers to help with that because there’s a lot of kids that weekend, the whole weekend you can sleep over, and all that.

Nancy said, “Definitely I want to volunteer,” and I said, “I hate to tell you this but we can only have male volunteers.” And she really became indignant. She goes: “What? I can’t believe that. That’s sexist!” …

So what was the outcome of that?

Nothing. She dropped it. She wanted to be with her kids, and it hurt her that she wouldn’t be so. …

Did the boys finish the scouts? Did they continue it until they left for Connecticut?

Yeah.

Even Adam as well?

Yeah.

And did she talk about special programs that Adam was in at school?

She said he was coded.

Tell me and describe “coded” to me.

IEP, individual education plan, [a plan mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that defines objectives for students with disabilities and how they can reach education goals].

Ok. And that was even when he was here in New Hampshire.

Yeah. … Because there were issues and she was very proactive with her kids. She wanted them to be completely successful and that’s the way to do it if your kids have — not so much a learning disability, but a learning nuance.

Nowadays people recognize that kids learn differently. It doesn’t mean they’re stupid. In fact, sometimes, they’re extremely bright. Right? But they have a different learning style, and that’s what the IEP is about in New Hampshire. It’s a good program.

Can I just ask you in the time that you were involved in the troop … [did you ever see] any improvement [with Adam] over the years until he left you?

No, no. I don’t think so. I would say he got worse, a little bit. It was hard on her. I could see it was bringing her down. She didn’t know what to do. There’s a lot of counseling help available and not all of it’s good and she was very particular about who she would bring him to. …

Did she ever talk to you about any diagnosis that he might have had?

Just that there was a shyness and possibly a learning thing, which might have been a result of the shyness too. So they were trying to unravel it. …

So let’s talk about the move to Connecticut. Do you remember that period of time?

Yeah, I was shocked when they were going to Connecticut. I didn’t want them to go. We were friends of the family and it was her husband’s idea and she didn’t want to go at first.

Is it because he got the job at GE? Was that what it was?

Yeah, he had got the job, and he made a lot of money. He was very successful.

She didn’t want to leave because her baby brother lived right next to her in town here, and she was close to him. Her mother lived here too, I believe. She was always telling me that she was going to see her mother.

She grew up in Kingston on a farm, so that’s why I said she was tough girl. And she learned how to shoot when she was a little girl just like the rest of us.

But the move to Connecticut kind of blew my mind. I said, “Well why?” … She said, “He’s the breadwinner, so we’re going to go.” The good thing is that she thought the schools in Connecticut were better. …

So she left. But that wasn’t the end of it. She went down there and she wrote all the time, email. I’ve got pictures of her house, of the place. …

Did she talk about the divorce proceedings if there was a problem? If they didn’t agree?

She didn’t. And she didn’t even tell me that she was getting divorced. … There were no details. However I talked to her about my divorce and the details, because that’s the kind of person she was. She was very helpful and knowledgeable and experienced … and she would give me a lot of advice on how to handle it. She was really good that way.

When was the last time you actually saw her?

Three years ago. We had dinner some place. She’d come up to visit and she’d tell me ahead of time when she was coming to visit. …

When’s the last time you saw Adam?

Not since they left. So it was a long time ago. Was that eight years ago?

So how were things going in Connecticut? They moved down there. She was still talking with you. What did she tell you?

She said they were happy there. Peter was already out of the picture. …

Did she ever say why she stayed in Connecticut versus coming back to New Hampshire?

She said she loved the weather there. She hates snow. Some farm girl she was, right? I said, “Come up here and I’ll teach you how to snowboard.” I’m a snowboard instructor … and she goes: “I would never want to get on one of those things. That’s death on wood there.” And I said, “No, it’s not.” And so she was not athletic person that way. She preferred to sit down to a good dinner, a glass of wine, although she worked out and she was always fit. …

Did she talk about school and Adam in Connecticut?

Yeah, she did. She thought that there were more programs, more stuff there to help him, versus New Hampshire. New Hampshire doesn’t have much money and they can’t do that much, but Connecticut, being a wealthier state, had a lot more to offer, and she was very pleased about that.

So I think it was about her children that she wanted to stay in Connecticut. …

Did she talk about her worries about Adam?

Yeah. She did. Adam had a way of — well for one thing, he never spoke, so you never knew what he was thinking, and I think she had a hard time getting into his head. …

Did you ever see any gentle moments between [Nancy and Adam]?

Yeah, I did. She would kiss him on the head when we were having the meetings. He’d be sitting there and focused on what he was doing and she’d say something in his ear and then just give him a little peck right on the top of his head. He didn’t seem to mind that. He didn’t consider that being touched or mothered. …

Part of the record that we’ve been sort of told about was her shooting and she learned to shoot when she was a young girl on a farm. Could you just take me through your understanding of that evolution of Nancy and guns?

Yeah, Nancy knew how to use guns. Her father had trained her as well as her brother…

She had no fear of guns. She knew how to use them and she was extremely responsible and safe. In fact, one of the activities [on] the Cub Overnight Weekends was that there were competitions all through the weekend and a lot of them was shooting .22s at a rifle range. There was a leader there, a man leader, and he would give very, very precise instructions. “When I say this, you will put the gun down right?” It was very, very, very, very detailed that way, very careful.

And Nancy stood back and watched, and I could see that she approved of how careful the leader was with these children because these are firearms. They’re only .22s, but you know, it’s a firearm. …

Did Adam shoot?

Yeah. What, they all did.

Did you get a badge, like a merit [badge]? Was it a skill to accomplish? A task to accomplish?

They got to keep their targets and yeah, I think they got badges for it. They weren’t Boy Scouts yet, so they weren’t getting merit badges but they were getting little little belt clip as I got a whole thing full of those that my kids got.

Was Adam adept to shooting?

He was just an average shooter. None of the kids could shoot very well. They had a hard time holding the gun. They were little and the guns are kind of big for them ,and they kind of had to lean. A lot of them were lucky if they even hit the target, never mind the bull’s-eye. But it was a sand pit and it was OK. …

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