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Dr. Phil show tracks down wrong Lanza

Updated 9:45 pm, Friday, December 21, 2012
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NEWTOWN -- As the nation's attention turned to Newtown in the aftermath of the horrific school shooting, Tom Lanza and his wife -- who raised three daughters in town -- were in Ohio and unaware of the carnage.

"Oh my God," Lanza's wife said as she learned the news on her iPhone. "You won't believe it."

What also surprised them was how many reporters confused their family with Adam Lanza, who is no relation.

As major news outlets around the world scrambled for interviews, phones of Tom Lanza's family started running repeatedly.

"Our daughters got them because they Googled and Facebooked people who lived in Newtown with the last name Lanza," Tom Lanza said. "We were getting calls from media, from Dr. Phil."

There were many early reporting mistakes.

Adam Lanza, the shooter, was initially identified as his out-of-state brother, Ryan. Their mother was said to be a teacher, then not. Reporters at first could not tell exactly who was dead where or what the family connections were.

Tom Lanza's children moved to Newtown in 1980 and were involved in Girl Scouts. They didn't attend Sandy Hook Elementary School. His grown daughters have not lived in Newtown for years.

So how did family members become pestered with phone calls?

The public section of his daughter Jennifer's Facebook lists her hometown as Newtown, Conn. A basic Facebook search for "Newtown" and "Lanza" lists her information.

Reporters used that information to find her phone number and email address, along with Facebook pages for friends with the same last name. From those names, researchers ran background checks -- something typically done on large stories -- to find addresses and other phone numbers to call.

That's how Dr. Phil McGraw's staff ended up reaching out to the wrong Lanzas.

Contacted Friday by a Hearst Connecticut Newspaper reporter, Jennifer Lanza and her husband said their grieving family wanted privacy.

"This whole thing has been very upsetting to them," Tom Lanza said Thursday outside the Newtown General Store. That day he and his wife had seen the green-and-white memorial ribbons in a nearby town and decided to drive to Newtown to get some.

"Our daughters would love to have them when they come home," he said.