When 20 children and some of their teachers were shot dead in a school in Newtown, Connecticut, the general consensus of the people I talked to was that the shooter was “crazy”. And if you read the book “Newtown” by Matthew Lysiak, you certainly see he had issues. But as Matthew shows, things were not so simple.
For example, most people don’t know that the killer, Adam Lanza, studied the killer Anders Breivik, who himself shot 69 people, mostly teenagers, at a “Worker’s Youth League” camp in Norway. Both Anders and Adam used some of the same video games to develop their shooting techniques.
People also don’t know that Adam first drove his car to the local high-school, and then left, probably due to the fact that he saw police-cars there, and then went to the elementary school. I don’t think Adam was afraid of being shot (after all, after killing as many kids as he could, he shot himself). I think he was afraid of being shot BEFORE he succeeded in his mission.
And what was his mission?
In the case of Anders Breivik, the mission was to get publicity for his manifesto, and he could do that by killing a portion of the next generation of leftists who would rule Norway. He saw Islam and Cultural Marxism as “the enemy”, and wanted to deport Europe’s Muslims back to their original countries.
Adam Lanza did not have a manifesto. He was not political. He may have been unhappy though – as an autistic with a sensory perception disorder, he chose to seclude himself in a room where the windows were all covered with duct-taped garbage bags (he did not like light), and he had almost no more contact with other human beings, except his mother, who he eventually rebuffed as well. He played violent video games, posted to online gun boards on such issues as how to convert a gun to full automatic, and lived a strange self-imposed existence. Perhaps he felt he had been badly treated. If so, he was wrong. His schools, and his very protective mother, had done all they could for him.
As a child, Adam couldn’t always recognize pain or hot and cold temperatures like most children, but he could easily be overwhelmed by the fabrics of his own cloths as they brushed against his skin. He sought seclusion, and preferred the dark. Ironically, he adopted a vegan lifestyle by age thirteen because he did not want to be the cause of animals suffering.
One classmate remembered him as “always angry”, but others just saw him as odd and aloof.
He did get great grades.
Also ironically, the time he spent at Sandy Hook Elementary School (the school that would later be the scene of his massacre) were the best of his life (according to his family).
In middle school, unlike elementary school, he had to move from classroom to classroom, and classmates could see the terror on his face as he tried to navigate a hallway. He would cling to the wall as he moved.
Then a teacher discovered pictures Adam had drawn of people in various states of death. At home, Adam’s mother, Nancy, found more pictures.
This should have been a warning.
Nancy did find a way to bond with her son – she would take him to a shooting range after his sophomore year of high school. She herself was a gun enthusiast, and had several guns at home.
Adam also became a fixture in the online gaming community. Online, he appeared quite normal, since he did not have to encounter people face-to-face.
He developed a vast knowledge of firearms.
Then he started spending hours poring over entries about mass killers on Wikipedia, obsessively correcting small details about the killer’s lives.
Nancy, who was now divorced, realized she had to get a life, and she started going on trips, sometimes for weeks at a time, leaving Adam to his video games and computer in his darkened room.
Adam had hated human touch, except for his mother’s. But now, if she reached for him, he would recoil..
She was getting worried, and took a peek in his bedroom. After a few minutes of searching, she found gruesome sketches of death and mutilation including a grassy field lined with the corpses of young children. There was a picture of Adam, with his hands reaching up in triumph, but blood gushing out of a hole in his forehead. The picture that disturbed Nancy the most was of a naked woman with her hands bound behind her back and a face contorted into a smile. The woman was covered with plastic wrap.
At this point, we could wonder, why didn’t Nancy see her son as a threat to society and run to the police?
I didn’t see this in the book, but there was a family acquaintance who said that Nancy had petitioned a court for conservatorship of Adam, and even commitment to a psychiatric facility, and this made him very angry.
But remember, he was studying murderers before this, so this probably didn’t precipitate the action he took.
The fateful day came. Adam walked up to his sleeping mother, pressed a gun to her head, and shot the gun several times. Then he took the car. Camera footage showed him in the parking lot of the high school but then he left the high school, went to the elementary school, shot the glass, stepped through it, and commenced his slaughter.
The police came.
Officer Penna saw children and their two teachers in one room, all wrapped together, clutching each other during their final moments. Each had more than one gunshot wound. The scene was too horrific to be from this earth, he thought.
Another officer, who recognized one of the children in a murder classroom, bent over, trying hard not to be sick and contaminate the crime scene.
“I can’t, My God,” he said..”Oh my God. Oh my God. Children.”
When the police reached Adam’s home, they found that he had destroyed the hard drives of his computers. Darkeners covered the windows. They found a massive spreadsheet, seven feet long and four feet wide, which listed the five hundred worst mass murderers in history. Anders Breivik seems to have been the biggest influence on Adam of all of them.
Breivik too had been obsessed with other mass killers.
Adam’s operation at Sandy Hook had been years in the making.
Since this blog is on evil, I would be remiss to omit that after the massacre, pranksters phoned in death threats to churches full of mourners, and to police stations in Newtown.
Mathew Lysiak, who chronicled all this, then speculates on what could have been done.
He says that one father of a victim, Mark Barden, believes that Nancy Lanza bears some of the responsibility for the loss of his son Daniel. This is because she should not have fed her son’s growing obsession with firearms by purchasing high-powered weaponry and taking Adam to gun ranges. What is more, if she had followed the Connecticut law, which says that adults must keep firearms stored safely from anyone under twenty-one, the massacre would have been postponed.
Another reaction to what Adam Lanza did came from Liza Long, who is a mother of a son who at thirteen threatened to kill her with a knife. Her son Michael himself says: “It’s kind of like a werewolf…you can’t control yourself when you’re like that, and no one else can.” Liza wrote a piece that she titled “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” which was widely read. Still, she says, “I have it easy compared to some other parents I know whose kids are suffering from mental illness. My son isn’t burning things or killing animals.” She also says that “I may have written ‘I am Adam Lanza’s Mother,’ but I’m determined that I’m not going to be Nancy Lanza.”
I (the blogger), feel that perhaps the lesson of Adam Lanza is not that people didn’t try to help him, or that his mother didn’t try to be there for him. In fact, he was on some medications. I don’t think that he had paranoid beliefs – that is – for instance a belief that those children in the elementary school were secretly part of a conspiracy from outer space to kill him, and that he had to defend himself. Perhaps he did feel the world was against him – but I find it hard to believe that he thought the children were.
I think psychiatric medications are overrated, in cases like his. If you don’t know to begin with what causes a person to live in a room with darkened windows, away from other human beings as much as practically possible, and playing gruesome video games, then how you are going to chose a pill from the various pills out there (and we don’t know how they work either).
Marianne Kristansson, a professor of forensic psychiatry in Sweden, believes that Adam could not express his frustrations, due to his autism, but he had frustrations, and he wanted to communicate, in a very global level, that he had been badly treated and that he wanted revenge. She says people like Adam cannot think about how other people might feel.
The police, who examined Adam’s journals, feel that he knew exactly what he was doing, and that killing the kids was fun for him. “Shooting up the kids wasn’t a cry for help. He didn’t break from reality.”
A criminal profiler for the FBI, Mary Ellen O’Toole says, “[Adam] knew it was wrong, and the thought of the violence thrilled him.” She talks of killers like Adam: “It gives them a sense of omniscience and God-like power they can take life away. He can make the world stop…He chose something as terrible and awful as possible to ensure he would get maximum publicity.”
So what do you do about these types of mass killings, which are getting more prevalent?
Lysiak asked Dr. Jeremy Richman, who lost his daughter Avielle at Sandy Hook, and he says “…with mental health we never get anywhere. We need to understand the pathologies, the things in their brains that go wrong. We need to understand it and prevent it.”
In memory of their daughter Avielle, the Richman family founded the Avielle Foundation to develop the concept of a “brain health checkup,” and identify behavioral and biochemical diagnostics for detection of people at risk of violent behaviors. (Richman is a researcher at the pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim.)
To me, it seems that there are various types of evil, criminal evil, ideological evil, evil from misunderstandings, evil from our own flaws, but there is also pathological evil, and maybe this can be addressed. Some major breakthroughs in understanding would be needed, but I think his approach, in the long run, would address the fundamentals better than gun control, or current medications that in the case of Adam, did not do any good whatsoever.
I say that I don’t think gun control would do much good. There is a website run by Professor John Lott, that makes that argument and is worth seeing, before we rush to pass legislation that disarms the general public. There was a massacre just yesterday, by a young man (Elliot Rodgers) who wanted revenge against all women, and who said he would be like ‘God’. In this case, one victim’s father, Richard Martinez, said: “Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven irresponsible politicians and the NRA. They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’s right to live? When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say ‘Stop this madness, we don’t have to live like this’? Too many have died. We should say to ourselves, not one more.”
I certainly understand Richard’s point of view. However, there is a study: Multiple Victim Public Shootings – by John Lott and William Landes which had an unusual finding – in States which allow citizens to carry concealed guns, there are less of these mass shootings. They mention that several mass shootings were interrupted by a citizen with a gun, and they compare states before and after they allowed ‘concealed carry’ and so forth. But the upshot in the Adam Lanza case is that if some employee of the school had had a gun, he might have reduced the number of deaths, and also the evidence that Prof Lott and Landes present seems to show that people who have plans to go down in flames like Adam, even though many are mentally ill, are actually discouraged by the idea that their plans could be upset by citizens with guns. (John Lott has a blog at http://crimepreventionresearchcenter.org), and at http://crimepreventionresearchcenter.org/2014/05/do-mentally-ill-multiple-victim-killers-purposefully-pick-targets-where-victims-are-most-vulnerable-the-case-of-elliot-rodgers/ he has the following quote: by Eliott Rodgers “I figured this would be the perfect day to attack Isla Vista, but after watching Youtube videos of previous Deltopia parties, I saw that there were way too many cops walking around on such an event. It would be impossible to kill enough of my enemies before being dispatched by those damnable cops.”