NEWTOWN, Conn. (CNN) — In 2007, Josephine Strocchia moved to Newtown with her family from New York, where she had worked at the World Trade Center.
She wanted to escape “the bottleneck feel” of the city and get away from the tragedies she had encountered after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The Strocchia family found the perfect “Leave it to Beaver-type of neighborhood” in Newtown.
And though she lived close — in terms of a physical distance — to Nancy Lanza, Strocchia never really got to know her well.
It was unusual for the neighborhood, she said.
“When I moved here, I was floored by how welcoming everyone was,” she said Sunday, recalling frequent neighborhood events, particularly during the winter months when residents exchanged Christmas cookies and ornaments at parties that often alternated between houses on the street.
But the parties never occurred at the Lanzas’ home, she said, and she doesn’t remember seeing the Lanzas at any of the festive events.
“They were invisible,” said Strocchia. “We have a big hill in our yard and our house was always open to kids in the neighborhood to go sleigh riding. But I don’t ever remember them being there.”
Other residents of this charming exurb some 60 miles from New York City said Lanza was a personable neighbor.
She moved to the Sandy Hook neighborhood of spacious houses on a crest overlooking gentle hills about 1998, raising two sons with husband, Peter, until the couple separated a few years ago.
“It was just a nice, normal family,” neighbor Rhonda Cullen said Saturday, recalling a recurring neighborhood ladies’ night over the Bunco dice game.
“We used to joke with her that she’d do all this landscaping that no one could see because it all was in the back, and because her house was so set back,” added Cullen.
At odds with this image of New England gentility was how the Lanza household possessed a cache of weapons — including an assault-style rifle and two handguns — in a community prized for its stillness.
Those weapons were found with Nancy Lanza’s younger son, Adam, 20 — whom three law enforcement officials said was the gunman in Friday’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
After killing 20 children and six adults — the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history — Adam Lanza killed himself, officials said.
Police said the young man killed his mother at the family home before he went to the school.
Nancy Lanza owned guns for self-defense, her former sister-in-law Marsha Lanza said.
“She never felt threatened, or she would have said something,” she explained.
The three weapons found at the scene of the shooting were legally purchased by Nancy Lanza, a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told CNN.
Dan Holmes, who owns a local landscaping business, said Nancy Lanza was a gun collector, and that she showed off a rifle she had recently purchased.
“She told me she’d go target shooting with her boys pretty often,” Holmes said.
But ATF Special Assistant Agent Gene Marquez said his agency “has not been able to uncover any evidence that the mother and the son were actively engaged in going to the gun ranges, practicing marksmanship, or anything of that nature.”
Lanza and her husband moved to Newtown from Kingston, New Hampshire, a tiny town where her mother was a nurse at an elementary school.
Police Chief Donald Briggs Jr. told reporters that he knew Nancy.
“She was a great person who would do anything for you, a heart of gold. She was just a real, real nice, nice person,” he said, according to the Union Leader newspaper of Manchester.
Nancy Lanza was a giving, quiet, reserved person who grew up on a farm in New Hampshire with three siblings in a self-reliant family, Marsha Lanza said.
“She didn’t have to work because my brother-in-law left her very well off, very well off. She was always there for her kids,” Marsha Lanza added, referring to Nancy Lanza’s financial situation after she and her husband divorced.
Marsha Lanza told CNN affiliate WLS that Nancy Lanza had home-schooled Adam after she “battled” with the school system officials in Newtown.
Neighbor Gina McDade said Nancy Lanza was a “stay-at-home mom” and not a teacher or part-time employee of Sandy Hook Elementary, as some media reports stated.
Nancy Lanza had earlier worked in finance in Boston and Connecticut, said a friend who knew her well but who didn’t want her name published. Nancy Lanza had retired or was on a break from her career, but she was not a teacher, the friend said.
The friend said Nancy was devoted to her sons and had been “caring for Adam,” but would not provide further details.
Nancy Jean Lanza sued Peter John Lanza for divorce on November 24, 2008 — three days before Thanksgiving, Connecticut court records show.
Nancy Lanza checked off “yes” for financial disputes but “no” for parenting disputes, records show.
They were divorced in September 2009 after an uncontested hearing, records show.
Peter Lanza is tax director and vice president of taxes for GE Energy Financial Services in the New York City area, according to his resume posted on the website LinkedIn.
By David Ariosto and Steve Almasy, CNN.