While police were still investigating one of the U.S. history's worst school shootings that killed 20 children and six others inside a Connecticut school on Friday, family and friends of the suspect, Adam Lanza, said he suffered from a social disorder characterized by a lack of empathy for others.
Lanza, 20, who killed his mother at their home and then opened fire inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in the New England town of Newtown, Conn., before shooting himself on Friday morning, suffered from Asperger Syndrome, the suspect's 24-year-old brother, Ryan Lanza, told law enforcement officials in Hoboken, N.J., USA Today reported.
The suspect's mother, Nancy Lanza, worked at the same school. Eighteen of the pupils, roughly ages five to 10, died on the spot, and two in hospital. The bodies of all of the deceased victims were identified by early Saturday morning, Connecticut State Police spokesman Lt. Paul Vance said. School principal Dawn Hochsprung and psychologist Mary Scherlach were among the six other adults who were killed.
Lack of empathy is the most dysfunctional aspect of Asperger Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that involves significant difficulties in social interaction, including a failure to develop friendships or to seek shared enjoyments or achievements with others.
Ryan said he had not been in touch with his brother for about two years.
Mark Tambascio, a restaurant owner and a family friend, was quoted as saying that Nancy Lanza had told him recently that her son was "getting out of control and that she might need special help for him."
"This was a deeply disturbed kid. He certainly had major issues. He was subject to outbursts from what I recall," added a family insider. "He was smart. He was like one of these real brainiac computer kind of kids," New York Daily News quoted the source as saying.
Another family friend said Lanza had a condition "where he couldn't feel pain." "A few years ago when he was on the baseball team, everyone had to be careful that he didn't fall because he could get hurt and not feel it," the friend was quoted as saying. "Adam had a lot of mental problems."
Apart from soccer, Lanza also enjoyed skateboarding and video games.
Officials have said Lanza had no known criminal record. The two Glock and Sig Sauer pistols police found inside the school had been legally bought and registered by his 52-year-old mother. A .223-caliber rifle, also registered under Nancy Lanza, was found in the back of a car at the school.
Adam moved to Connecticut from Kingston, N.H., with his parents and older brother Ryan. However, three years ago, Adam's parents divorced, according to court documents. His father, Peter Lanza, remarried and lived not too far from Newtown.
Hours after the shooting, President Barack Obama wiped away tears as he addressed the nation, saying "our hearts are broken" for the victims. "We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years," Obama said, calling for "meaningful action" to curb gun violence.
On Friday night, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy spoke at a vigil service at the St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic church in Newtown.
With the church filled to capacity, hundreds spilled outside, some of them holding hands in circles and saying prayers. Others lit prayer candles and sang "Silent Night," CBS News reported. "Many of us today and in the coming days will rely on what we have been taught and what we believe, that there is faith for a reason," Malloy said.
The parish priest, Robert Weiss, said he spent much of Friday with the families of victims but he could not give them any answers about what happened.
A nurse, who was at the school during the shooting, said the many parents who were told by authorities that their children were killed "thought that they were still alive."
Vance was quoted as saying that the massacre was so gruesome that even tactical squad police required counseling. "This was a tragic, horrific scene they encountered," he said.
Franklin Graham, the president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, responded to the "senseless killing," saying, "The Bible tells us the human heart is 'wicked' and 'who can know it?' My heart aches for the victims, their families and the entire community."
Graham assured in a statement that "God loves each one of the victims and all those who are suffering right now as a result of this vicious act." He called on the entire nation to "embrace the community of Newtown with our love and cover them with our prayers, asking for God's perfect comfort and peace in the midst of this dark hour."
Dr. Alex McFarland, director for Christian Worldview and Apologetics at the Christian Worldview Center of North Greenville University in Greenville, S.C., called the shooting "a terrible tragedy."
"The utmost disrespect was shown for human life today," McFarland said in a statement. While the incident is leading once again to a debate about gun control, he added, "These emphases miss the heart of the issue.
"The true source of the problem ... is not guns – it's morality."
"We must return to the source of absolute truth – God and His Word – and recognize that abolishing of these Biblical principles from our society leaves the opportunity for pure evil to take root and the result can be what we saw today: the worst school massacre in our nation's history."