In a lengthy New Yorker piece published this week, Peter Lanza spoke with Andrew Solomon about why his son Adam Lanza murdered the 26 children and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School, his mother Nancy, and ultimately, himself.
Solomon and Lanza met several times for long stretches, discussing the early years of Adam's life up to the murders he committed in 2012. Previous profiles on Adam's mother Nancy have been frustrating for their lack of information on what could have been done to help Adam and prevent the Sandy Hook shooting. While this one doesn't argue that anything could have been done to stop Adam (it does quite the opposite, actually), Lanza has provided enough details about his son that make this particular troubled and sick youth easier to understand.
Lanza describes Adam as a kid who was always a little socially weird, explaining that it was in middle school when things got truly tough for him. He started struggling in school, which eventually led to Nancy homeschooling him. He was diagnosed with Asperger's, but Lanza believes that wasn't what was wrong with Adam:
Peter gets annoyed when people speculate that Asperger's was the cause of Adam's rampage. "Asperger's makes people unusual, but it doesn't make people like this," he said, and expressed the view that the condition "veiled a contaminant" that was not Asperger's: "I was thinking it could mask schizophrenia."
Adam developed an obsession with mass murders, which his parents didn't know about because it was something he only researched or talked about online. Though it's clear now that Adam's condition was worsening and his mother was shielding the world from the brunt of it by trying to take care of him, Lanza says that none of the doctors they talked to had predicted Adam's violence either. Even Nancy wasn't afraid of Adam; according to Lanza, she wouldn't have kept guns in house and slept with her door unlocked if she had been. But as Adam wanted to see his father and his brother Ryan less and less, Nancy became the person he spent the bulk of his time with. "She wanted everyone to think everything was O.K.,' he says. Solomon expands on why Nancy might have handled Adam the way she did:
Nancy's error seems to have been that she always focussed on the day, in a ceaseless quest to keep peace in the home she shared with the hypersensitive, controlling, increasingly hostile stranger who was her son. She thought that she could keep the years at bay by making each day as good as possible, but her willingness to indulge his isolation may well have exacerbated the problems it was intended to ameliorate.
Lanza doesn't think that, had he been around Adam, he would have been spared by his son. "With hindsight, I know Adam would have killed me in a heartbeat, if he'd had the chance," he says. "I don't question that for a minute. The reason he shot Nancy four times was one for each of us: one for Nancy; one for him; one for Ryan; one for me."
"How much do I beat up on myself about the fact that he's my son? A lot," he added. Lanza's even at a place right now where he wishes Adam hadn't been born.
Though Lanza says that he wants "people to be afraid of the fact that this could happen to them," the message still seems to be that there wasn't much "we" could do to save the children and teachers at Sandy Hook, Nancy, and Adam himself. The only thing that could have made a difference, it seems, would have been a better understanding of the seriousness of Adam's condition, whatever it was. As Solomon notes, Adam was part of a "tiny" sample size of mass murderers who go through with their plans. Because this group is so small, it's hard to gather data from them to look for common threads and learn what could have been done differently in each case. Better research into mental health. Better mental healthcare for sure. Better gun control. In the case of the Lanza family, Solomon seems to conclude that they're trying to do the best they could with what they had been given. But Peter Lanza still wonders about what could have been and what could be going forward: "I need to get some good from this. And there's no place else to find any good."
Image via Craig Ruttle/AP