Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Fascinating Article in The New Yorker based on the Peter Lanza Interviews

The New Yorker

Depending on whom you ask, there were twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight victims in Newtown. It’s twenty-six if you count only those who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School; twenty-seven if you include Nancy Lanza; twenty-eight if you judge Adam’s suicide a loss. There are twenty-six stars on the local firehouse roof. On the anniversary of the shootings, President Obama referred to “six dedicated school workers and twenty beautiful children” who had been killed, and the governor of Connecticut asked churches to ring their bells twenty-six times. Some churches in Newtown had previously commemorated the victims by ringing twenty-eight times, but a popular narrative had taken hold in which Nancy—a gun enthusiast who had taught Adam to shoot—was an accessory to the crime, rather than its victim. Emily Miller, an editor at the Washington Times, wrote, “We can’t blame lax gun-control laws, access to mental health treatment, prescription drugs or video games for Lanza’s terrible killing spree. We can point to a mother who should have been more aware of how sick her son had become and forced treatment.”


Adam’s sense of humor endured. When he was sixteen, he found a picture of Karl Marx (huge beard), Lenin (small beard), Stalin (mustache), and Mao (clean-shaven), and sent it around with a caption, “Comrades, we must rectify the faltering facial hair standards.” Peter thought it was hilarious and got T-shirts made with the image and Adam’s words. Everyone tried to encourage Adam and looked for ways to engage with him. Nancy would take him on trips to the shooting range. Nancy and Peter thought that their son was nonviolent; the best way to build a connection to someone with Asperger’s is often to participate in his fascinations.


During that year [2009], Adam developed his private obsession with killing. He started editing Wikipedia entries on various well-known mass murderers and seems to have been eerily well informed. But although there were still no outward signs of violent tendencies, he was becoming ever harder to deal with. Nancy wrote to Peter that Adam would sometimes close his door when she tried to talk to him.


Peter’s final communication from Nancy, the month before the shootings, was about buying Adam a new computer. Peter wanted to give it to Adam personally. Nancy said she’d discuss it with Adam after Thanksgiving. “I was doing everything I could,” Peter said. “She was doing way more. I just feel sad for her.” Peter is convinced that Nancy had no idea how dangerous their son had become. “She never confided to her sister or best friend about being afraid of him. She slept with her bedroom door unlocked, and she kept guns in the house, which she would not have done if she were frightened.” About a week before the shootings, Nancy reportedly told an acquaintance, “I’m worried I’m losing him.” But losing him seemed to be a matter of his withdrawal, not of violence. The cautiousness with which Nancy responded to her son’s demands indicates anxiety rather than fear, and it must have made her as lonely as it did him.


I wondered how Peter would feel if he could see his son again. “Quite honestly, I think that I wouldn’t recognize the person I saw,” he said. “All I could picture is there’d be nothing there, there’d be nothing. Almost, like, ‘Who are you, stranger?’ ” Peter declared that he wished Adam had never been born, that there could be no remembering who he was outside of who he became. “That didn’t come right away. That’s not a natural thing, when you’re thinking about your kid. But, God, there’s no question. There can only be one conclusion, when you finally get there. That’s fairly recent, too, but that’s totally where I am.” 


  1. I only know one high-functioning, top-end of the spectrum bro who has been diagnosed with Aspherger's syndrome. He is as gentle as Ferdinand the Bull and just as beautiful. He's also no slouch. A scholar and a gentleman. A hard worker and over-achiever. A good friend individually or as part of a group. Very sensitive to the needs of others. But different, you know? Like over-excitable or occasionally manic. Gets carried away. Does not always realize when he is standing out a little bit too much. I think that the transition to adulthood and manhood can be difficult for just about anybody. And I hope him every success in life. I have a feeling that he is going to be just fine. Probably Adam Lanza shared many of these fine personal qualities. And one can't really say that anyone with autism spectrum disorder needs to be kept away from guns. My friend will never be exposed to a foolish gun culture. And had he grown up in the midst of a pro-gun culture he might not be the beautiful and highly accomplished person that he is today. But we are not talking about my friend.

    Lanza probably possessed many winning qualities and inspired love and admiration in those around him. He had a sense of humor. He stood probably about as good a chance of becoming a man as anyone else around him. What is the take-away? What wisdom can we extract from this sad story?

    People that live on the edge often have a sharper or more emotional reaction to what other people see every day and take for granted. They see through the veil and observe what is really going on. They want to just call bullshit on everything they see around them. You take an emotionally charged personality like this and place it in some oddball fraternity of weirdos that spend their time on a firing range pretending to be police cadets, you're going to see a person who utterly sees through all of the crap and bullshit that is going on around him.

    Final take-away. Taking someone to a firing range is never good therapy or a good way to re-connect with someone who is emotionally distant. Remember the sharpshooter that liked to take lonely vets with PTSD to shooting ranges for a type of therapy? Not good therapy. Guns are about killing. It's hard to get around this fact without a huge dose of denial.

    1. What I got out of the article was that poor Nancy was in deep denial about her sonny boy's condition. That was the fatal flaw in this tragedy.