On Friday, the Connecticut State Police released documents related to the investigation into last year’s terrible school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
We know the broad strokes of what happened on Dec. 14, 2012: Adam Lanza, age 20, shot and killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, in the home that they shared. Then he went to the nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 first-graders and six adults.
Released were thousands of documents, photos, audio recordings and videos. I downloaded one section of the report and opened some of the documents. One that was particularly chilling was the report of Newtown Police Lieutenant Christopher Vanghele, who was one of the first officers on the scene. My stomach was in knots as I read it.
It was very quiet and there was no sound. This led me to believe that Sgt. Bahamonde, Officer Penna and I were the first officers in the building. I could smell the gunpowder in the air and saw long gun, spent shells on the floor of the hallway near the front door. At this point we didn’t know if the shooter or shooters were still in a classroom or were hiding to ambush us. Since there was no active shooting we held our position of cover for several minutes to await extra officers. I noticed a little girl walk out of a classroom about sixty feet down the hallway. I yelled at her to go back into her classroom. She immediately went back into the classroom. She reappeared in the hallway about thirty seconds later and I told her again to get back into her room. She said, “I want to go home.” I told her she would be able to go home soon but right now she needed to get back into her room.
Why am I bringing up the Newtown tragedy? Because we all need to understand that disturbed and disordered people live among us.
According to the Associated Press, the police documents stated that Adam Lanza, the shooter, “was undoubtedly afflicted with mental health problems.” His parents named Asperger’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Read:
Police file on Newtown yields chilling portrait, on WashingtonPost.com.
A nurse was quoted as saying Adam Lanza had ritualistic behaviors, including changing his socks 20 times per day. He had refused to leave his room for three months before the shooting, and communicated with his mother only by email, even though they were living in the same house.
One of the facts that struck me was that Adam was six feet tall yet only weighed 120 pounds.
Adam exhibited other behaviors that were scary. He was preoccupied with mass murders, including the Columbine High School shooting in Jefferson County, Colorado, on April 20, 1999. A teacher reported that he wrote stories that were so graphically violent that they could not be shared with his class.
Searching Adam’s property, investigators discovered “The Big Book of Granny.” Here is how the police officer who reviewed the document described it:
The next section of the book is labeled as “Granny’s clubhouse of Happy Children.” This section is a typed dialog from an imaginary TV show. The main characters feature Granny, her son “Bobolicius” and several children. In the show, Granny and Bobolicious are talking to the group of children as if in a group. In the first episode, Granny punches one boy in the face, throws a match and causes an explosion and threatens to shoot and kill the children. The second episode, Granny’s Clubhouse of Happy Children 2, starts out with Bobolicious speaking to the children. Bobolicious said, “Hi, I’m Bobolicious the Explorer … Remember last time when everyone was slaughtered!? Well … you bread-brain leeches gave me 75 years of prison for that so called “Tragedy”! I was having fun!” The third and final episode, Granny’s Clubhouse of Happy Children 3, introduces two new characters, Dora the Berserker and her monkey, Shoes. Bobolicious says that they are going to play a game of “Hide and go Die.”
Adam Lanza’s ‘Book of Granny’ on ctpost.com
In hindsight, these behaviors seem like obvious warning signs. But at the time, people like his parents and mental health professionals did not interpret the behaviors as a threat.
The summary report on the Newtown shooting, released in November 2013, pointed out that Adam Lanza had planned his crime and knew that he was breaking the law. From a legal perspective, if he were alive to stand trial, he could not have pleaded “temporary insanity” and won. Read:
History of mental health problems not a motive for Newtown shooter, on NationalJournal.com.
Still, even if Adam was legally responsible for his actions, I doubt anyone would disagree that his mental health problems contributed to his destructive behavior.
A couple of weeks after the attack, a psychiatrist, Paul Steinberg, wrote a provocative article for the New York Times stating his belief that Adam Lanza suffered from undiagnosed schizophrenia. He also pointed out that teenagers and young adults with recent onset are not being institutionalized enough. He wrote:
Instead we have too much concern about privacy, labeling and stereotyping, about the civil liberties of people who have horrifically distorted thinking. In our concern for the rights of people with mental illness, we have come to neglect the rights of ordinary Americans to be safe from the fear of being shot — at home and at schools, in movie theaters, houses of worship and shopping malls.
Steinberg wrote the article despite the Goldwater Rule, an ethical standard of the American Psychiatric Association that prohibits psychiatrists from commenting on someone’s mental health if they have not examined the individual and gotten permission to discuss the case.
Our failed approach to schizophrenia, on NYTimes.com.
In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, several states and the federal government are reviewing mental health policies. Changes may be made.
Believing what we see
I’m sure Nancy Lanza tried her very best to take care of her son. And I’m sure mental health and other professionals who dealt with Adam Lanza were competent and caring. But maybe they underestimated the risk this troubled young man posed. Maybe they didn’t want to believe that his behavior was as bad as it really was.
This is just speculation on my part, but I believe, based on my own experience, and the experience of many Lovefraud readers, that it is a reasonable speculation.
How many of us, when we were dealing with the sociopath in our lives, refused to admit what was right in front of our eyes? How many of us glossed over, or made excuses for, bad behavior? How many of us kept thinking that the person would change, and everything would be okay?
We need to recognize that some people are capable of horrific behavior. Perhaps not as bad as what Adam Lanza did, but hurtful behavior nonetheless.
Disturbed and disordered people live among us. We need to be able to recognize them, and take appropriate action to protect ourselves — and others.