It's been two months since 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed six female teachers and 20 first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut before turning the gun on himself. Some of us (including Obama) often forget to mention his 27th victim: Nancy, his mother.
The Hartford Courant and Frontline just released an extensive profile of Nancy, remembered by some as "a villain, a gun-obsessed mother who allowed her disturbed son access to firearms and let him fester in the basement playing violent video games while she traveled and enjoyed night life" but by others as a caring mother who did the best she could. 6,000-something words later, it's still unclear what, if anything, she did wrong. Intentionally or otherwise, that's kind of the point.
The lengthy piece is somewhat of a letdown. Dare we say it's a bit boring? That's not the fault of the reporters; they deserve props for resisting pressure to sensationalize the story by turning it into something it's not. But when a 20-year-old commits the second-deadliest school shooting in American history, we want to know what happened. We need to know what happened, to prevent more Adam Lanzas (and James Holmess and so on and so on) from falling under the cracks and shooting up public spaces. This wordy yet quiet profile illustrates how that's an impossible goal.
There are so many potential issues that could've prompted Adam's rampage that the piece reads like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book with the endings torn out. Adam had Asperger's, as well as sensory integration disorder...but, as Dr. Harold Schwartz, chief psychiatrist at the Institute of Living in Hartford, points out, "there is absolutely no correlation between the diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome and a predilection toward violent behavior." He left his high school sophomore year, meaning he was disconnected from crucial support groups — "He loses the tech club team he was involved in," said Richard Novia, the former security chief for Newtown schools who took Adam under his wing. "He loses friends that he had made to a limited degree. He loses his special ed, he loses his school psychologist, he loses the devoted school administrators." — tough for a kid who couldn't handle change.
There's Nancy's well-documented thing for guns: "Adam was exposed to guns at an early age and he continued to shoot at target ranges with his mother through his late teens, friends and other sources said." There's Adam's thing for violent video games. There's his parent's divorce, and loads of other family issues. (Adam was estranged from his brother and father.)
But there's no conclusion, nothing we didn't already know about before, which perhaps strengthens the argument that the only possible preventative measures must be policy-driven: gun control, mental health reform, etc. Somewhat related is an ABC report today on how medical bills bankrupt families of mentally ill children. It argues that the relatively new Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which mandates that health insurance benefits provide the same coverage for both mental health and medical services, doesn't do shit: a new study found that the law reduced overall costs by about 5 percent, but the average savings is only about $178 a year.
Given that an estimated 11 percent of children in the United States suffer from mental health and addiction disorders that carry significant costs, according to the study, and mental health disorders are the most common cause of hospital admissions for early teens, this is unacceptable. Consider 16-year-old Jaimie Morrissey, who has Tourette's, a bevy of other medical issues, and a ton of subsequent debt:
The Morrisseys have been rejected by Social Security, disability and Medicaid and the out-of-pocket costs have added up, according to her father.
"We have nothing," said Morrissey. "Now I am worried about losing my home. This has been devastating."
The Morrisseys' insurance policy pays 80 percent of Jaimie's costs, but the bills have been overwhelming.
"If you have a $200,000 bill, you have to come up with $40,000 and try to pay that," said her father. "We pride [ourselves] in paying our bills, but you end up buying the groceries on credit."
Do we need more accessible, affordable support for the mentally ill? Of course. But that probably wouldn't have helped Adam Lanza, who came from a wealthy family. We don't know what or who could've saved Adam Lanza from himself, and it doesn't look like we ever definitively will.