By Paul Farhi
The Washington Post
As the horror unfolded in Newtown, Conn., last Friday, dozens of news sources reported a striking element of the story: that Nancy Lanza, mother of shooter Adam Lanza, was a teacher at the school where her son killed 26 people before killing himself.
This account persisted — in news reporting and in conversation — and seemed to fill in a critical element of the tragedy: a motive.
As it turns out, she was not a teacher. Nor does it appear that Nancy Lanza had been a substitute or a teacher's aide at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as some reported. Other accounts said incorrectly that she had been killed at the school along with her students, rather than at home before her son's rampage at the school.
While it was a relatively minor error in a string of inaccuracies about the Newtown shootings, the Nancy-Lanza-was-a-teacher story is an important tale in its own right.
As the story made the rounds, TV commentators speculated that Adam Lanza acted out of rage toward his mother and had transferred his murderous impulses toward the innocent lives under her care. "When you think about the details of the crime, he began by shooting his mother in the face, taking her weapon and then destroying everything precious to her, her colleagues and her children, and then killing himself," Charles Krauthammer, a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post, said on Fox News.
The error appears to have originated Friday with a carefully hedged Associated Press report about the shootings just after noon, about three hours after the first reports of shots being fired at the school.
"At least one parent said Lanza's mother was a substitute teacher at the school," the wire service said. "But her name did not appear on a staff list. And the official said investigators were unable to establish any connection so far between her and the school."