Long Read: “The Reckoning”

Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree (which I cannot recommend highly enough), has a heartbreaking interview with the father of Adam Lanza:

In Peter Lanza’s new house, on a secluded private road in Fairfield County, Connecticut, is an attic room overflowing with shipping crates of what he calls “the stuff.” Since the day in December, 2012, when his son Adam killed his own mother, himself, and twenty-six people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, strangers from across the world have sent thousands upon thousands of letters and other keepsakes: prayer shawls, Bibles, Teddy bears, homemade toys; stories with titles such as “My First Christmas in Heaven”; crosses, including one made by prison inmates. People sent candy, too, and when I visited Peter, last fall, he showed me a bag of year-old caramels. He had not wanted to throw away anything that people sent. But he said, “I was wary about eating anything,” and he didn’t let Shelley Lanza—his second wife—eat any of the candy, either. There was no way to be sure it wasn’t poisoned. Downstairs, in Peter’s home office, I spotted a box of family photographs. He used to display them, he told me, but now he couldn’t look at Adam, and it seemed strange to put up photos of his older son, Ryan, without Adam’s. “I’m not dealing with it,” he said. Later, he added, “You can’t mourn for the little boy he once was. You can’t fool yourself.”…

Peter hadn’t seen his son for two years at the time of the Sandy Hook killings, and, even with hindsight, he doesn’t think that the catastrophe could have been predicted. But he constantly thinks about what he could have done differently and wishes he had pushed harder to see Adam. “Any variation on what I did and how my relationship was had to be good, because no outcome could be worse,” he said. Another time, he said, “You can’t get any more evil,” and added, “How much do I beat up on myself about the fact that he’s my son? A lot.”…

Adam Lanza was never typical. Born in 1992, he didn’t speak until he was three, and he always understood many more words than he could muster. He showed such hypersensitivity to physical touch that tags had to be removed from his clothing. In preschool and at Sandy Hook, where he was a pupil till the beginning of sixth grade, he sometimes smelled things that weren’t there and washed his hands excessively. A doctor diagnosed sensory-integration disorder, and Adam underwent speech therapy and occupational therapy in kindergarten and first grade. Teachers were told to watch for seizures.

Still, photos show him looking cheerful. “Adam loved Sandy Hook school,” Peter said. “He stated, as he was growing older, how much he had liked being a little kid.” Adam’s brother, Ryan, four years older and now a tax accountant in New York, used to joke about how close Peter and Adam were. They’d spend hours playing at two Lego tables in the basement, making up stories for the little towns they built. Adam even invented his own board games. “Always thinking differently,” Peter said. “Just a normal little weird kid.”…

Peter has offered to meet with the victims’ families, and two have taken up his offer. “It’s gut-wrenching,” he said. “A victim’s family member told me that they forgave Adam after we spent three hours talking. I didn’t even know how to respond. A person that lost their son, their only son.” The only reason Peter was talking to anyone, including me, was to share information that might help the families or prevent another such event. “I need to get some good from this. And there’s no place else to find any good. If I could generate something to help them, it doesn’t replace, it doesn’t—” He struggled to find the words. “But I would trade places with them in a heartbeat if that could help.”…

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93 replies
  1. 1
    trollhattan says:

    Wonder whether any parent of a special needs kid, after reading about the tortured journey of Adam Lanza, has decided “Hey, maybe shooting isn’t a good shared activity for my child and maybe I ought not keep weaponry around the house at all?”

  2. 2
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    Heartwrenching.

  3. 3

    If you haven’t, read the whole etc.

    Some of the stuff he said about what the mom tried, in her effort to help their son…if I hadn’t been on the inside of special ed meetings, and heard from the Title I crew at my kid’s former school about the helicopter parents they deal with, I would not believe it.

    My mom is a psychotherapist who specializes in the field, and she says it this way: “The worst things I’ve ever seen, in terms of outcomes, are what happens when parents feel sorry for their children.”

  4. 4
    Alison says:

    I cannot even begin to imagine…

    (FYI AL: author’s last name is Solomon.)

  5. 5

    @trollhattan: Special needs kid my ass. Has anyone, anywhere, who enjoys target shooting at the range responded to this tragedy by suggesting that their ammo should be kept at the range, geotagged, if they insist on playing with such dangerous toys? No. They have not, and this dad’s point was that there were no warning signs from his special needs child. And it’s a good one.

  6. 6
    Jeffro says:

    @PhoenixRising: When they feel sorry…when they forget that they’re the parent…when they try to be their kids’ friend…all of it is a mess and it makes solving the issues 10x harder. I guess they feel it’s justified – they’re the parent, they. know. what’s. best. when in a doctor’s office or in front of a cop they’d quiet down and listen a little, at least.

  7. 7
    Helen says:

    I cannot deal with this shit. I cannot deal with it because if you read about those babies that Adam Lanza killed it is devastating. They were 5 and 6 year olds. One child was shot 11 times. That is a 40 pound person. How much of her body was left for her parents to bury? One little boy had no hand. Because he put his hand up to try to stop the bullets.

    But here’s why I really cannot deal with this shit. Three years ago, my nephew Alex was shot to death at the age of 18 by his “friend”. The friend assumed Alex did something that it turns out Alex did not do. The murderer got life in prison without possibility of parole. And here’s what’s weird. I feel absolutely nothing for that kid. I do not feel anger, I do not feel sorrow, I do not feel hatred. I feel nothing. But towards his parents??? I am so angry that I sometimes cannot contain it. I have had it up to my fucking eyeballs with parents who should not be parents. UP TO MY FUCKING EYEBALLS.

    Alex’s murderer’s father is a cop. I cannot tell you how much during the investigation I hoped that Alex was killed with that cop’s gun. Then the cop would be held responsible. But Alex was not so the cop is not. And my sister has lost the son she tried for 10 years to have.

    And if I read one more time “TWO families are devastated” I will once again lose my shit.

    FUCK the murderer’s family. FUCK THEM!

  8. 8
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Helen: Deep breaths. In, out. In, out.

    That having been said, I can barely…barely begin to imagine your anguish. As for your sister’s anguish, I can’t even approach that level. I have no experience in my life, even the loss of my brother a quarter century ago now, that compares to this. I can only slightly grasp what my parents felt when that happened, and only by observation of their grief in dealing with so tremendous a loss.

    As for the parents of the murderer…well, I see your point there clearly. WTF?

  9. 9
    aimai says:

    Its an incredible interview. I just don’t see how you come out of this without an enormous sense of horror and grief for all concerned. Its obvious that by the end the mother was a prisoner of her duty to this kid–he dictated everything to her and she obeyed believing–hoping against hope–that she could create some kind of life for him. The father was just a kind of distant, absent, person and he readily acquiesced in withdrawing from the child’s life because it was inconvenient and he wanted to move on with his own life. But most steps down to the end disaster were really not predictable and though I hold her responsible for introducing her son to guns and buying the guns his interest and his anger were such that he could easily have aquired those guns and done the same things even if she hadn’t.

  10. 10
    trollhattan says:

    @PhoenixRising:

    We live in a nation where a sizable cohort thinks this is perfectly normal, and a gigantic political-industrial machine works 24/7 to make damn sure the rest of us don’t get to even question it. I’m out of ideas.

    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/37084396905773540/

  11. 11
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Alison: Thanks.

  12. 12
    Betty Cracker says:

    I blame the father for walking away, and I blame the mother for supplying that fucking psycho with firepower. And I blame our insane gun culture for allowing her to legally amass such an arsenal. And I blame the goddamn, motherfucking soulless fucks at the NRA for ensuring that it will all happen again.

  13. 13
    Interrobang says:

    That was gut-wrenching. A relative of mine was murdered (by stabbing) five years ago (that long!), and I’m still trying to work it out in my own head, and my relative wasn’t even a member of my immediate family.

    I do actually feel sorry for the murderer’s wife and kids, though, especially in context which I’m not really going to go into (cultural issues, mostly).

    It does really sound like Adam Lanza’s parents fell down on the job, but on the other hand, hindsight is also 20/20. I will say it is nice to see this article, because it’s nice to see a counterbalance to all the mother-blaming, which has at times veered into downright misogyny.

  14. 14
    Eric U. says:

    my mom thought she could somehow salvage my brother from autism. I understand the impulse, he is pretty amazing in a lot of ways. Thank goodness she never would have had him near a gun.

  15. 15
    WaterGirl says:

    @Betty Cracker: I so envy what you are able to convey with words. I put words together and come up with a sentence or a paragraph. You put words together, and most of the time we end up with a masterpiece. It was a great day for balloon juice when Cole asked you to be a front pager.

  16. 16
    Helen says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Thank you for the “deep breaths, in out, in out.”

    I did it and it helped. Thank you.

  17. 17
    Jordan Rules says:

    @aimai: She kinda guaranteed it though, no? His anger could have gone a million different ways and she cleared and pushed him on that particular always dangerous path. The culture gave her that and she gave it to her son.

  18. 18
    Debbie(aussie) says:

    That was an amazing read!

  19. 19
    Hal says:

    I can’t with the whole Sandy Hook story anymore. I’ve lost respect for several people who after this tragedy were just all about them guns. I’ve seen fake gun control quotes attributed to Hitler, the ever noxious rampage screeds about MYSECONDAMENDMENTRIGHTS! and the constant paranoia, black helicopters circling nonsense so many gun right folks seem to have ingrained in their DNA.

    Republicans couldn’t even expand back ground checks and dismissed and disrespected the families of these slain children at the urging of their NRA masters. If 30 murdered kids couldn’t get this country to loosen the grip a little on this love affair with guns, I doubt anything will.

  20. 20
    Wyliecoat says:

    This article really struck home because my son could have been another Adam. In his worst moments he sometimes talked about doing some really bad stuff.
    I often think about what went right for him. I have to conclude it was a combination of the following – Close cooperation between me and his dad, money to help him get the kind of help he needs, and good luck in finding the right solutions and placement for him. Not everyone can afford that kind of money or get that kind of good advice at the right time. Though my son is not completely out of the woods yet, we are a very, very lucky family. I think this every waking moment. My dream is to set up scholarships someday so other Peter and Nancy Lanzas have options like we did.

  21. 21
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    I have a grand-niece (my sister’s granddaughter). She is 16 years old. Was born in, and has always lived in, Phoenix.

    She’s smart, beautiful, talented. She is also — thanks to her grandparents on the other side of the family — a gun nut. Her Facebook postings are about evenly divided between cute gooshy loving things about her boyfriend, and the most appalling, obscene, RWNJ, NRA gun shit you can imagine. Second Amendment pr0n to a fare-thee-well.

    Yes, she shoots at a range, and goes hunting with her grandfather, and presumably has basic awareness of gun safety — I hope so, anyhow. But we have all read countless stories of teenagers who “accidentally” discharged their weapon into themselves or a friend or a family member. I don’t have any reason to believe that my grand-niece is any more careless or thoughtless than any other adolescent. But she is a hormone-addled, brain-not-yet-fully-developed, teenaged girl, and I don’t mind telling you, I sometimes get the cold sweats at night worrying about what could happen.

    Thanks for letting me fret. I don’t often open up about those worries.

  22. 22
    Elie says:

    @Helen:

    I think you are very sad and very angry. You need some help with this. For real.. You in no way should have to forgive anyone. You are filled with pain though and that is not good…

    please take care of yourself…

  23. 23
    Wyliecoat says:

    I also want to respond to what Betty Cracker said in a comment above. Trust this from a parent who has been through parenting a child like Adam – it is very, very hard to parent these kids..they are so intelligent that the parents find it hard to accept that the decisions their children are making are not the right ones for their peculiarities and quirks. Probably the only criticism I would have is the exposure to guns, but even here, you need to be very well educated and very aware of this particular psychological disorder to make the right choices. I can completely see why Nancy Lanza would have thought that teaching her son to use guns would be a bonding experience. It is so hard to connect with these kids that you clutch at straws.
    Till I met other parents with similar kids, I thought I was doing a horrible job parenting. This despite the fact that I am very well educated, well read, have a great support system and live in California where mental illness is not stigmatized. So please don’t be so harsh on the parents – this kind of pathology is extremely hard to parent. I am still in the process of accepting that I did my best and I could not have done more.
    Finally, what helped my child was going to a wilderness camp to shock his system into accepting that his behaviors were not acceptable, followed by a very expensive therapeutic school where he is treated with firmness and compassion and given 360 degrees of therapy and support. How many people can afford that? How many people have that kind of opportunity?

  24. 24
    Elie says:

    @Eric U.:

    Whoa — wait a minute here…

    Autism by itself is NOT associated with violence per se…However, a person can have autism AND schizophrenia or some other behavioral problem which could lead to a predisposition. Please do not assume that autism and violence/aggression are associated, though people with this disorder can have other conditions that may make them more prone to it…

  25. 25
    Helen says:

    @Elie: Thank you. Alex was cool. A good boy. Most times I am good. But every once in a while something triggers my anger. Adam Lanza’s father speaking out did it for me. And not just because of Alex. But because of those babies in CT. Right there is the proof that nothing will change in this country. 20 dead babies?? “WHATEVER”

  26. 26
    Elie says:

    @Jordan Rules:

    She was probably unaware of what she was doing. Nothing in her story pointed to a woman with a lot of anger and hatred wanting to point her son to violence. She was unaware and uneducated about the nature of her son’s vulnerabilities and what that meant. Like a lot of average people, she wanted desperately to normalize her situation. That was fatal to her and those children and teachers….

  27. 27
    Elie says:

    @Helen:

    I hear you … I work on myself and my ability to forgive for much less wrongs than what you have experienced. I am a work in progress and I want to be a better person for a lot of different reasons. I need to be at peace and wish that for everyone. Bless you…and all of us….

  28. 28
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Wyliecoat:

    How many people can afford that? How many people have that kind of opportunity?

    These two questions are absolutely key. Because dealing with kids like this is incredibly expensive, in every resource you can imagine. Most of all, they need attention and guidance that only comes with near constant supervision. It’s the sort of thing that most of us are conditioned not to give…we as a society have a very bad case of ADHD, collectively. We’re just not structured, or inclined, to give the sort of personalized attention that these kids need to integrate.

    How do we fix this? It won’t be easy to do, an it’s an ongoing process that PRECLUDES an actual “fix” for it.

  29. 29
    columbusqueen says:

    I got the impression from the article that Peter Lanza didn’t walk away as much as he was pushed away–Nancy seems to have been certain she was the only one who could help her son, tragically.

  30. 30
    Redshift says:

    @Hal: I had an acquaintance who I got along with okay even though he was a winger, because our association was through a couple of different interests, and we generally stuck to those.

    Then he decided it was acceptable to pontificate about how DC proved the futility of gun control laws WHILE THE NAVY YARD SHOOTING WAS GOING ON. After I had mentioned that my brother-in-law worked there.

    In that case, I didn’t have to drop him. After I pointed out that there were no border controls between DC and Virginia’s lax gun laws and called him an idiot, he declared I was a “jackass” and blocked me.

  31. 31
    Elie says:

    @Wyliecoat:

    My heart aches reading what you write…most folks I am sure — have NO IDEA what you have gone through.

    You are in my thoughts and prayers. Take care of yourself — love yourself…You are in my thoughts and prayers for real.

  32. 32
    Wyliecoat says:

    @Elie: Thank you…we couldn’t have managed the last couple of years without incredible support from friends.

  33. 33
    Elie says:

    I have to plug NAMI (National Alliance or Mental Illness) — providing support to the mentally ill and importantly their families through really top notch education and programs as well as group support. These folks saved me in a situation where I was desperately in need of help — my SO was in a bipolar crisis and they helped me and helped him get to some real good help. May I highly recommend to anyone in that place — they know the resources, the law and the human needs and services — they truly saved me. They have resources in every state and most counties… please recommend to anyone who needs it

  34. 34
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Totally OT, but speaking of the mental, from Noisemax:

    Sheriff Joe Arpaio Considers Run for Arizona Governor

    Oh please please please. Stick your head into the big box labeled “Cat Fud”.

  35. 35
    Elie says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Ya know — we were talking about MENTAL illness upstring. But this guy represents soul and spiritual illness for which there is NO CURE.

  36. 36
    Helen says:

    Deleted

  37. 37
    Betty Cracker says:

    @Wyliecoat: My heart goes out to you, and I wish you the best in your struggle. You’re right — I don’t know what it’s like.

    I empathize with the Lanzas until it comes to the guns. This kid was spiraling out of control, and the mother gave him instruments of death on a massive scale. I believe you are right when you say she was clutching at straws but I don’t believe it takes any special insights or education to see that giving that kid a pile of weapons was a horrible idea.

    Well, she paid with her life. She didn’t deserve that. But those children and teachers damn sure didn’t either, and they paid with their lives for her poor parenting choices too.

  38. 38
    Betty Cracker says:

    @WaterGirl: Oh pshaw! But thank you. :-)

  39. 39
    Eric U. says:

    @Elie: Even though my brother is a high functioning autistic, he couldn’t do something like Sandy Hook, just no way. He would take a nap instead, which is what he does if a task is too much for him. He does have fits of anger, but they dissapate immediately. I was just trying to imagine what would have happened had my mother been a gun nut who thought gun nuttery was something everyone should strive for.

  40. 40
    Elie says:

    @Betty Cracker:

    I agree Betty but just don’t think Mrs Lanza was seeing her son for what he truly was — and therefore her ignorance set her up to do the wrong thing. She probably denied evidence of his growing hostility because she so much wanted to be normal and to have a normal life — to keep hidden, even from herself probably — the reality that her son would not let his Dad visit them without threat of violence…

    Of course it makes total sense that a parent who was aware of what was happening would not only keep firearms out of her son’s reach, but probably would have entertained a much stronger intervention for him. All that blows the cover off of her ostensibly “normal” suburban existence. Anyone who has had a loved one under serious mental health treatment knows what that isolation feels like…

    While your judgement is probably accurate — it is a judgement. I am pretty certain if she knew what would happen, — not so much her own death, but the death of those babies — I have to think without knowing her, but sensing that she was not an evil person — she would have done anything to prevent that. We have to forgive her even as we press forward to restrict and control access to guns. I just don’t want to not forgive her… I think we can be angry with what she did and still give her our forgiveness somehow… head and heart blown to bits and her life lived in denial

  41. 41
    Suzanne says:

    The overwhelming sense I got from reading this interview, which I thought was great, was TIRED. How TIRED Nancy Lanza must have been, trying day in and day out to accommodate every need and want her son had, because she was TIRED of him freaking out all the time. How tired Peter Lanza must have been trying to reach out to his son and being pushed away.

    I absolutely agree that Nancy was wrong to have guns and to shoot with Adam. But….both my kids are healthy and happy, and sometimes parenting is just sooooooo tiring, sometimes there is just no gas left in that tank. I blame her for her bad decision, but who knows, maybe I would have done something that stupid, just because I can’t even imagine how tired I would be, parenting a child like that.

  42. 42
    Elie says:

    @Eric U.:

    Ok — sorry that I misread your comment (ugh)

  43. 43
    Elie says:

    @Suzanne:

    You said this really well — and I think that this is a critical insight towards understanding Nancy Lanza — and possibly forgiving her. Boy, I even those who seek help with kids like this — frequently have a ton of trouble and woe. As Villago deLenda says upstring – we just don’t have a culture that has this sort of understanding in it… We would almost be better off in an indigenous culture where people deal with being possessed by evil spirits.. there were shamans to help.. We just ignore people who struggle with this and then get pissed when they act on their visions…ostracizing them and their families…

  44. 44
    sophronia says:

    I’m a parent of an autistic child. It’s only been in the last few years that people have really recognized the kind of problems that can arise when an autistic kid hits puberty. Those out-of-control hormones, the arrogance, the feeling of invincibility that all teenagers have — imagine that in a kid who has severe communication difficulties, virtually no social skills and is usually very isolated from the life of an average teen. It’s like a recipe for dysfunction.

    I think it was extremely unwise for Nancy Lanza to provide her son with weapons, but I don’t think she had any idea what she was doing. When she was raising Adam there were many fewer resources available and a lot less was known. Parents were basically tossed out on their own and told to use their powers as “consumers” of our mental health system to help their child through a disorder that even experts barely understood. She made mistakes and she paid for them.

    I think the biggest mistake she made was removing her kid from school and allowing him to become the depressed, angry, alienated adult he became. And that decision was made at a doctor’s suggestion.

  45. 45

    @Elie:

    she so much wanted to be normal and to have a normal life — to keep hidden, even from herself probably — the reality that her son would not let his Dad visit them without threat of violence…

    We have a winner.

    That poor woman lived in denial, about the actual threat, until it was too late.

    As the OT who basically told us to GTFO off the special-needs educational merry go round put it to me, 10 years ago: “What you have to understand is that your kid may be like these other kids today who have the same code in their charts. But by the time they’re all 14, your kid is gonna be different. Because you are the only parents with a kid in here who are willing to put her lil’ ass in the lil’ white chair when she’s acting up, instead of asking for understanding for your poor injured child.”

    Was my kid misdiagnosed? Were we gifted with a miracle? Did we somehow stick to our guns about intolerable behavior for the ‘right’ number of years, until she somehow got the idea that other people are just as real to themselves as she is to herself? We will never know.

    And poor Nancy, and poor Peter, will never know what might have been had they been able to face the reality that their son needed not just unconditional love, but also limits and expectations fitted to his abilities. Including an honest assessment of whether a person with such a poor grasp on reality should really have access to weapons.

    /ducks and runs from the less lucky parents who think I’m talking about them…

  46. 46
    Elie says:

    @sophronia:

    Well said…thank you

  47. 47
    Fair Economist says:

    Nancy Lanza undoubtedly made mistakes, but as others have pointed out, she had a really difficult parenting job. The only inexcusable mistake was having guns around a person with serious mental health issues. But that was mostly from the toxic NRA/gun nut nonsense about guns keeping you safe, when in reality, for gun owners, their *own* gun is the most dangerous thing in the world for them – worse than cars, worse than drug overdoses, worse than all other guns in the world put together – due to suicide. For their friends and family, it’s not quite so bad, but it’s still a major death risk.

    The gun nuts put a lot of effort into hiding the truth, that guns are for people who want to endanger the lives of themselves, their friends, and their families. And the Sandy Hook tragedy is fundamentally from the spread of their lies.

  48. 48
    dp says:

    @Alison: I couldn’t put it better. Just horrible.

  49. 49
    Gian says:

    @Hal:
    We would need the black panthers to raid the near hq at the same time as colt and Smith and Wesson board rooms with AR15s converted to full auto to see things change.
    And it pisses me off.

  50. 50
    Elie says:

    @PhoenixRising:

    For most of us without a child like this, its all theoretical. And much much simpler.

    Even the most aware people sometimes think that diagnoses are straightforward and simple and that treatments are as well — without failures and uncertainties.

    Anyone who has been around anything to do with mental health — serious mental health — knows that this is only one or two steps removed from voodoo — both in treatment options and how you are treated by the society. No wonder folks hide awareness not only from the community, but from themselves.

    The best thing we can do in my opinion, is to talk about all aspects of mental illness with more and more openness and directness. We need to bring this into the light and into freedom of awareness. The impacts of mental illness are all around us and yet most of us are in severe denial about it. That has to change… not just for the impact of Adam Lanza — but for the needless suffering in so so many families without anything anywhere near as dramatic

  51. 51
    xenos says:

    I have been dealing with a very mild version of this sort of thing and it is absolutely maddening and seems unsolvable when you are in the middke of it. Eventually the child will come around (which is the most likely thing, really) or they will not. All I can do is offer unconditional love, which in this case means boundaries, consistent expectations, consistent consequences. The boundaries have to protect the rest of the family, too.

    In practicing family law I saw a few cases of marriages breaking up over dealing with disabilities. When one parent chooses to dote and indulge endlessly and make the child and its problems their entire life there is really nothing the other parent can do about it. And when that child is released on the world after that upbringing bad things happen – usually to the child, not anyone else.

    Given that Peter Lanza, for all his intelligence, has his own difficulties dealing with people, he never had a chance to make a difference here.

  52. 52
    gian says:

    @Gian: auto correct NBA not near

  53. 53
    Jordan Rules says:

    I love Elie’s point of view and compassion. Truly. I agree with damn near everything said regarding parenting, mental illness and human frailness. But the guns though. I said in my original comment that it was the culture that gave it to Nancy. And she in turn gave it to her son. Tragic all around. I don’t know if someone without a special needs child who exposed them to that culture and the outcome went bad would receive the same reprieve. I’m not trying to be harsh. I have a family history of mental illness where violence was the outcome. I’m an empath in the context of mental illness and folks not getting it and our society not dealing with it. But the guns though…

  54. 54
    mai naem says:

    I read this piece a few days ago and was wondering why one of the BJ front pagers hadn’t posted about it. Anyhow, Adam Lanza was obviously a tough kid to parent but I also think Peter Lanza essentially dumped his kid and was more than happy to have Nancy take over. I know I’m being judgemental but, seriously, if you haven’t seen your kid in several months and you know he’s had problems in the past, don’t you make the effort to go see the kid no matter what your ex says? Again, I know I’m being judgemental but I feel he just paid Nancy off with a large divorce settlement to kind of wash his hands off Adam’s problems. As far as Nancy, I seem to remember early reporting saying that she was supposed to be somewhat of a prepper. I know hindsight is 20/20 but I would have thought Peter would have noticed either that Nancy had changed into a bit of a whackjob or that she had had psych issues all along herself and that may not be the best thing for Adam. BTW, I have a family member who is mentally ill so I am not entirely clueless about how tough it is to deal an SMI person.

  55. 55
    noabsolutes says:

    I don’t know anything about raising kids, or working with kids with special needs. I do know that people with disabilities are very often victims of crime, including violence, so it’s best that they’re out of the way of the instruments of violence.
    And I know that guns kill people, so it’s in the best interest of humans staying alive that we don’t have them around.

  56. 56
    cckids says:

    @Jordan Rules:

    She kinda guaranteed it though, no? His anger could have gone a million different ways and she cleared and pushed him on that particular always dangerous path.

    This, x 1000. I have a special needs kid (not autism, though I know lots of families who are living that), plus 2 other kids. You can, at the least, make the attempt to mold the kind of adult your child will be. Introducing & encouraging guns with a kid who is living with that anger?? Really inexcusable.

    Our middle son was good friends with a kid who, from the age of 4, was intrigued by the military, cops, etc. ; he was always saying that was what he wanted to do as a career. And his mother enabled him in that dream. The only problem was, he had epilepsy, with barely controlled seizures. Military? Not happening, not ever. When he got old enough to understand that for himself, the anger was truly frightening, and I was scared to have my son hang out with him, unless it was around us. When he turned 16, and had to deal with not driving, college planning, etc? He killed himself.

    His mom, at the funeral, talked about his disappointment with not being able to be in the military, and how “there was nothing anyone could do” to dissuade him from it. Bullshit. When my son was 4-5, he was fascinated by construction vehicles, but I didn’t make it the theme of every party, gift, Halloween costume, etc. Parents have more influence on their kids than that.

  57. 57
    Tripod says:

    @mai naem:

    My immediate take is, that whatever was going down in that household, you’re never going to get anything more than deflection and whitewashing from Peter Lanza. His story is very carefully framed, and he’s sticking to it.

  58. 58
    Mnemosyne says:

    @mai naem:

    The one thing I’ll say is, if Adam Lanza was correctly diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum (in addition to his other issues, obviously), at least one of his parents is/was also on that spectrum, because autism spectrum disorders are highly heritable.

  59. 59
    Helen says:

    @Tripod: This. Go back to me at 7. That asshole should have kept his fucking mouth shut. Sorry if the curses offend you. Give me back my Alex and I will stop cursing. (Yeah I would but, whenever Alex (who hated curses) would do something stupid and I would I would say to him “Where the hell where you raised?” He would laugh his ass of and point at his mom and say “Ask HER”

  60. 60
    Jordan Rules says:

    @Helen: But his Mom and the guns though? I cannot wrap my brain around this. Sorry. Dad may well be a piece of shit that should not have gone public. Still I don’t get it.

  61. 61
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    @Mnemosyne: Your understanding of heritability is badly flawed. Red hair is entirely heritable but there are plenty of red headed people who had no red headed parents. So, no, your link in no way supports your contention that one of Adam Lanza’s parents was on the spectrum.

    For example, both of my parents are very clearly not on the spectrum.

  62. 62
    hitchhiker says:

    Okay, I read the whole thing and I just don’t get why Peter Lanza did this interview. He didn’t shred 20 first-graders with bullets, but his son did. He stepped away from that kid, and I think he should stay have stayed stepped away.

    It’s not complicated. Nancy Lanza got seriously isolated when her instinct to protect her needy child overtook her judgment. Isolation is metaphorical death for human beings, and in this case it was also literal death. Peter Lanza allowed this to happen! He hadn’t seen his troubled son in two years, and now he wants to tell the world how he feels?

    Shut. Up.

  63. 63
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    @mai naem: You did see that Adam actively refused to see his father, right? It’s documented in emails. And just showing up unannounced and trying to force a meeting with Adam was highly unlikely to go well. So I think you are drawing some bogus conclusions there.

  64. 64
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    @hitchhiker: Again, I think you’re misreading what actually happened.

  65. 65
    Jordan Rules says:

    @hitchhiker:

    Peter Lanza allowed this to happen!

    This takes a lot of agency away from the woman and I’m hella leery of that. He was her only silo to the world? If so, that is a problem, but is it his? Her only outlet was gun culture? If yall are supposing she was mentally ill too, that is probably the only way I can find pause in how she dealt with this. It might make the most sense to me actually. Guns in the ex-burbs?? For real??

  66. 66
    Helen says:

    @Jordan Rules: OH I blame mom too. Just responding to this interview. Bad parenting all around.

  67. 67
    Jordan Rules says:

    @Helen: Understood. I’ve just seen too many cases of one parent abandonment to throw up some 50’s style nuclear family rally flag. And as has been highlighted above, shit seemed more complicated than Daddy doesn’t give a shit.

  68. 68
    hitchhiker says:

    @Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):

    Well, what actually happened is that a father allowed himself to turn away from his kid, and then that kid committed multiple murders, and now that father is ready to talk about how hard it is to be him.

    I know the mother has responsibility, as does the effing NRA, the shooter, and a host of others . . . but this particular dad should, imo, shut up. I just don’t want to hear about how he really, really couldn’t figure out what to do.

    Would I have done better? I don’t know. Probably not. But I hope I wouldn’t be giving interviews to the New Yorker about how hard it all was. If he wants to do a public service by helping us all be more informed and aware, great. This article is not that, though. This article is self-serving bullshit.

  69. 69
    Xenos says:

    @hitchhiker: I read the article completely differently, fwiw. Peter does not know what he could have done better, but still feels responsible, and is still looking for a way to deal with appropriately. As if there really is a proper way to handle this. I thought Solomon wrote an even-handed and honest assessment.

  70. 70
    furklempt says:

    I don’t get all the rage directed at Peter Lanza.

    For starters, lots of fathers (and mothers, for that matter) disengage, in varying degrees, from the lives of their children. And those children don’t all suddenly turn into mass murderers. So laying this situation entirely at his feet seems a stretch on those terms alone.

    But in this situation we have the added complexity of parents trying to find help for their son, getting conflicted suggestions, and having to reinvent the wheel based on their first hand experience of their kid’s mental illness. It strikes me as not entirely odd that the non-custodial parent would defer to the wishes and better judgement of the custodial parent.

    The free flying judgement around this thread is being lobbed with a pretty significant degree of hindsight. Many are looking at Peter Lanza and saying, “if I had a kid who was that severely disturbed I would never allow myself to be pushed away!” when it’s far from proven that either he or Nancy Lanza had ANY IDEA, at the time, how distressed their son actually was. We all have the “benefit” of seeing that pretty clearly now.

    And whatever your feelings may be about him speaking out, the fact remains that this is far more his lived experience than it is any of ours. I think he has a right to feel things about it, and an equal right–given that there is an audience–to state those feelings publicly. Being 2 years removed from your child, physically, in a pretty peculiar circumstance, does not automatically negate the fact that you were their parent for 16 years.

  71. 71
    Betty Cracker says:

    @furklempt:

    …it’s far from proven that either he or Nancy Lanza had ANY IDEA, at the time, how distressed their son actually was…

    But we do know that the kid expressed violent fantasies that the parents (or at least the mother) knew about. We know he refused to communicate with his mother in their shared house except via email, holing up in his room for days on end.

    I don’t fault them for not predicting his rampage, but I very much fault the mother for giving him access to weapons and his father for walking away and allowing that dangerous situation to develop and fester.

    I have a teenage daughter who is as well-adjusted and empathetic as they come at that age, and I would never leave stacks of unsecured semiautomatic weapons around the house even though I would rate the likelihood of my kid going on a shooting rampage at zero. It’s just stupid and irresponsible.

  72. 72
    wonkie says:

    I used to teach special ed. I am not buying the theory that Lanza’s special needs had anything to do with his decision to kill a bunch of people. He was raised in gun culture, a culture of violence, by a crazy woman who belonged to a wacky rightwing nut group with a paranoid angry view of the rest of the world. Lanza internalized her messages and applied them. He might have acted the same way even if he had not been a special needs child. The fault here lies with the violent paranoid gun culture. A percentage of the people who participate in that culture will act on its values.

  73. 73
    Woodrowfan says:

    A lot f this discussion seems to assume that there was a “good choice” to make, when there seems (to me at least) to have only been a few paths the parents could have taken, none of them ideal. the worst choice, obviously, was Mom’s choice to keep weapons in the house. But I got the sense from the article that both parents were overwhelmed and trying their best to deal with an increasingly difficult child.

  74. 74
    dcdl says:

    @PhoenixRising: My mom is a psychotherapist who specializes in the field, and she says it this way: “The worst things I’ve ever seen, in terms of outcomes, are what happens when parents feel sorry for their children.”

    What you said there or your mother said really brought it home to me. My sister sad to say is like that. She has a child who has VCFS and has never admitted to the mental problems her child has. Not until her daughter literally flipped out and has been diagnosed with severe psychosis and some other issues. She got her a little help, but now has decided her daughter is “fine” and she can help. Jeebus, scares the crud out of me.

    Also, I work at schools and parents like that drive me absolutely batty. Their child has so much potential even with their issues, but the way they parent totally hamstrings them and they more or less likely will have a crappy life.

  75. 75
    kindness says:

    Adam’s mother should have had a gun safe and made sure her mental son did not have the combination.

  76. 76
    RP says:

    Some the comments above amaze me. The parents obviously made some really, really bad decisions, but there must be thousands, if not millions, of Adam Lanzas out there, and 99.9% of them aren’t mass murderers. I think we all want to think that we have a lot of agency — if we make good decisions good things will happen. But the truth is that “time and chance” happen to us all. My reaction to this article is “there but for the grace of God….” I thought that’s what made me a liberal.

  77. 77
    Betty Cracker says:

    @RP: How do you square that view with the fact that the mother supplied the son with guns that can mow down dozens of first graders in under a minute? I have tons of sympathy for people who are raising troubled kids. I feel for the Columbine killers’ parents, whose only real fault seemed to be negligence, if anything, something any parent can relate to.

    But it doesn’t take the grace of god or good fortune to know better than to give an obviously disturbed offspring access to semiautomatic weapons and ammo. There’s a difference between having a soft heart and having a soft head.

  78. 78
    Original Lee says:

    @Wyliecoat: One of my nephews is an Aspie and has other autism spectrum issues. After his diagnosis, his mother went to what she called “you’re doing it wrong” classes on how to parent children with autism spectrum disorders. She said every single class made her feel like a failure, because the goal of each parent there was to help their child achieve socionormative behavior, and my nephew started quite a distance from that goal. Frequently she has to do the exact opposite of what she thinks she should do to achieve the desired result. For several years after the diagnosis, she didn’t even tell the rest of the family, and she was surprised at how supportive and nonjudgmental we were once she did tell us and started explaining things to us.

    This article really helped me understand better where Nancy was coming from. She got caught in a trap of her own making, but that trap grew organically out of the difficulty in dealing with Adam’s illness. I’m still kind of angry and frustrated with Nancy and Peter, though. Adam was diagnosed at 13 and refused to accept the diagnosis, which should have been a heads-up to them and to any mental health professional dealing with him.

  79. 79
    RP says:

    @Betty Cracker: I think the mother acted very stupidly, and giving her son access to those guns was a terrible, tragic decision. I still have sympathy for her.

  80. 80
    Betty Cracker says:

    @RP: She didn’t deserve such an awful fate, that’s for sure. I think you’re right to note that people’s first impulse when something crazy and terrible like this happens is to smugly assure themselves that they aren’t vulnerable — and that can rightly be called an “illiberal impulse,” though perfectly human! Parenting is a terrifying responsibility!

    But on the other hand, I’m reluctant to “there but for the grace of god” the Lanzas because, in a sense, it normalizes the insane gun culture the mother, at least, bought into. If Peter Lanza really wants to derive some good out of the horror his son wrought, maybe he could use his platform to address that, you know?

  81. 81
    Rob in CT says:

    Nancy Lanza really fucked up with the gun thing, no question. But the rest of the anger being directed at her and Peter really doesn’t make sense to me.

    They were dealt a really difficult hand, and to the extent Peter’s presentation is reasonably accurate, they were not bad parents (again, other than the gun thing, which stands out as worthy of “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”).

    I have a cousin on the spectrum. He’s incredibly sweet and wouldn’t hurt a fly. But he had his issues, including freakouts at school at times. Nothing violent, IIRC, but definitely the sort of “mom has to go get him” incidents. Just like Adam Lanza before he got really bad. My cousin turned out very, very differently. This despite the fact that his father was largely disengaged (he was still married to my aunt and living with them, but “disengaged” is being polite. Not to oversimplify, but I believe that he too is on the spectrum, though has a milder case). The key differences appears to be the severity of disability, the rage (possibly due to the severity of Adam’s issues), and the guns. It’s a bit ironic that Adam Lanza of CT had lots of guns and my cousin in NC didn’t…

    So I really don’t get the vilification of Peter Lanza by some here. I get the anger at Nancy. But then she paid with her life.

    The horror of imagining what happened in that school almost shuts down my mind. I have a 4 yr old daughter (not that this is required to “get it” but it makes it all the more vivid). The radio reports that day had me in tears. I still can’t manage to work up righteous fury at Peter Lanza.

  82. 82
    chopper says:

    @hitchhiker:

    If he wants to do a public service by helping us all be more informed and aware, great. This article is not that, though. This article is self-serving bullshit.

    to be fair, peter lanza didn’t write the article. it’s not like he had editorial control over the tone of the whole thing.

  83. 83
    chopper says:

    @wonkie:

    this. i will say that kids with that sort of mental illness or disability are going to be more likely to internalize the sort of garbage his mom filled his life with, but this has far less to do with his illness as it does with the household he grew up in.

  84. 84
    negative 1 says:

    @Fair Economist: Any parenting that involved one parent not speaking to a child for 2 years is a failure. I’m not assigning blame to either parent, or I guess to both unless she was literally trying to drag the father there against his will, but his story doesn’t seem to corroborate that. They both failed. I’m sure it didn’t cause the situation, but I’m sure it didn’t help.
    Before I get predictably flamed if anyone here has kids, ask yourself — what way would you feel justified in not speaking to your children for 2 years? How could you call that anything else but a failure in parenting?

  85. 85
    g says:

    @columbusqueen: Adam refused to see his father, and also his brother. While anyone could second-guess Peter Lanza’s choice, it was very clear in the article that both parents tried to minimize upsetting Adam. It’s understandable that Nancy would have allowed Peter Lanza to be further isolated from Adam, whether from her own wish to control the situation or just to avoid upsetting Adam. I cannot imagine what her life was like, it must have been like walking a tightwire, trying to accommodate his obsessions and moods.

    As the parent of a wonderful and wellbehaved young man myself, I still feel such empathy for these parents. There but for the grace of FSM go any of us.

    One of my son’s friends from elementary school may be Aspergers; we’ve spent some time with this young man and his family. He was difficult as a very young child; we watched his parents work with him as he was 9 or 10, and they seemed very good at managing him. His mother is a special needs professional, actually. Although we moved to another city, we stayed in touch with him though high school and college, and there were times he was a very challenging person to be with. He briefly “stalked” my husband and imposed himself to visit us – I make it sound bad, but it wasn’t SO bad, but basically the boy invited himself to stay at our home and essentially controlled whatever happened that weekend. We learned later that he had just been through a personal crisis, and had assaulted his father in their home a few weeks before. That was about three years ago, and we occasionally hear from him via Facebook. Our calls and emails to the parents have been unanswered, so I don’t know their side of the story.

    The point of my rambling is that even though he is a highly functioning person, our friends’ son has personal challenges, and you try to deal with it as you can. And his parents are both highly educated and trained in dealing with special needs. We just had a taste of one weekend with him. I was just so tired of having to accommodate him by the last day, I can see how anyone would want to get away, or want to do what it took to keep the peace.

  86. 86
    furklempt says:

    @Betty Cracker:

    I don’t exonerate Nancy Lanza for her role–I don’t think anybody should have unsecured weapons no matter how mentally fit they are. I DO think that she was in denial, based on the linked article, and I am empathetic towards her confusion, frustration, and desperation. But ultimately no. The guns shouldn’t have been accessible. They shouldn’t be stockpiled and accessible for anyone.

    My major point was the shock and horror over Peter Lanza, seemingly deferring to the custodial parent–strikes me as judgmental and misplaced.

    ***

    I don’t consider Peter Lanza’s deferential behavior as a parenting failure. He was the non-custodial parent of a mentally ill teenager receiving and following suggestions from the woman who–theoretically, at least–understood her son and his needs better than anyone.

  87. 87
    Rob in CT says:

    @furklempt:

    Well said.

  88. 88
    Betty Cracker says:

    @furklempt:

    Peter Lanza disagrees:

    Peter hadn’t seen his son for two years at the time of the Sandy Hook killings, and, even with hindsight, he doesn’t think that the catastrophe could have been predicted. But he constantly thinks about what he could have done differently and wishes he had pushed harder to see Adam. “Any variation on what I did and how my relationship was had to be good, because no outcome could be worse,” he said.

    He actually sounds like a decent man, and I am sorry for him. But if you read the article, BOTH parents knew about the son’s violent fantasies and increasingly troubled behavior.

    Custodial or not, a parent is responsible for his or her child’s well-being. Deferring to the other parent is a cop-out — especially given the magnitude of the kid’s problems. They didn’t know he was going to go nuts and murder school children, but his problems were bad enough that they’d discussed the kid becoming homeless.

    Peter Lanza wasn’t powerless in this situation. He simply made the tragic choice to go with the flow, a choice he’ll regret forever.

    For me, it keeps coming back to the guns. Did he know his ex-wife had amassed a huge arsenal? Did he think it was a good idea to have all that weaponry lying around with a troubled kid in the house? I wish the story had more on that angle. It is the key to everything.

  89. 89
    furklempt says:

    @Betty Cracker:

    Sure he agrees. Now. With the benefit of hindsight.

    When he says that any intervention on his part couldn’t have had worse results, I don’t know if he is implying or denying that, while the results may not have been worse, they certainly could have been equivalent.

    Who’s to say that forcing his son to see him wouldn’t have just pushed Adam Lanza over the edge sooner? We can’t know that. We can’t really even know that it wouldn’t have been worse–would 30 kids have been worse? 50? How do we know the death toll wouldn’t have been higher for se alternative event born of forced interaction.

    Discussing the potential future homelessness of your kid, while serious, is still not the same as the discussion they didn’t know they should be having: the potential for their son to go on a murderous rampage.

    I just don’t think his actions–staying away in light of the fact that his son didn’t want to see him, PLUS the expressed concerns of the custodial parent about forced interaction–are even remotely aberrant GIVEN THE INFORMATION THEY HAD AT THE TIME.

  90. 90
    mai naem says:

    I just feel this is similar to somebody who either dumps their parents with a sibling and maybe contribute financially towards the expenses. They know the sibling can be trusted with the care and meanwhile they’re off the hook. No worries about taking the parents to doctors appointments/hospital for emergencies/dealing with the parents’ mental acuity going downhill. Nancy absolutely screwed up with the guns. Peter Lanza can make up his little self serving reality. It’s not like Nancy or Adam are alive to rebut him. I guess Peter Lanza was so busy figuring out ways for GE to maximize their tax situation, that he was completely unaware of the Columbine,Aurora and Tucson mass shootings..

  91. 91
    accidentalfission says:

    @PhoenixRising: Yeah. Don’t keep an unlocked armory at your house. Humans are not always rational or predictable.

  92. 92
    Elizabelle says:

    Peter Lanza realizes now that he and Nancy seized on the Asperger’s diagnosis, when it possibly hid developing schizophrenia, which was never addressed.

    Per Peter’s account, Adam made one try with medication, it went badly, and there’s no indication any further medication was tried.

    Kathleen Koenig, a nurse specialist in psychiatry at Yale, gave some follow-up treatment. While seeing her, Adam tried Lexapro, which Fox had prescribed. Nancy reported, “On the third morning he complained of dizziness. By that afternoon he was disoriented, his speech was disjointed, he couldn’t even figure out how to open his cereal box. He was sweating profusely . . . it was actually dripping off his hands. He said he couldn’t think. . . . He was practically vegetative.” Later the same day, she wrote, “He did nothing but sit in his dark room staring at nothing.” Adam stopped taking Lexapro and never took psychotropics again, which worried Koenig. She wrote, “While Adam likes to believe that he’s completely logical, in fact, he’s not at all, and I’ve called him on it.” She said he had a biological disorder and needed medication. “I told him he’s living in a box right now, and the box will only get smaller over time if he doesn’t get some treatment.”

    To me, it seems Adam was in control of that household, if not himself, and Nancy was the proverbial frog in warming water who couldn’t — or wouldn’t — see how drastically their situation was changing.

    It would be interesting to hear from the older brother.

    Mostly, I agree with Peter’s comment that he wishes Adam had never been born. Photos of Adam later in his life disturb me. He looks so uncomfortable in his own skin, and intruded upon by the camera.

    I was glad to hear that Adam had enjoyed being a child.

    There may have been no good end to Adam’s situation. I don’t know what any parent does with such a damaged and unnervingly intelligent child. Formidable adversary.

    Of course, access to guns was stupidly negligent. If Adam could not legally obtain a gun — and he failed in a purchase attempt shortly before the massacre — it’s criminal that Nancy left high powered weapons available at their home. If she’d lived, I would not have minded her being sued into living in a cardboard box.

    I don’t hold Peter in as much contempt as others. Adam ruled that roost.

    And the Lanzas’ money shielded Adam from further interaction with the psychiatric community. That would not have happened were Adam middle or lower class. He would have had a run-in with the school or the law by his age.

    Maybe he would have come upon a psychiatrist who could help him — or his parents — and maybe not. Psychiatry is as much an art as a science.

  93. 93
    Elizabelle says:

    Ah, glad to see some company on the thread.

    Here’s excerpt on Asperger’s and comorbidity:

    “Asperger’s makes people unusual, but it doesn’t make people like this,” [Peter Lanza] said, and expressed the view that the condition “veiled a contaminant” that was not Asperger’s: “I was thinking it could mask schizophrenia.” Violence by autistic people is more commonly reactive than planned—triggered, for example, by an invasion of personal space. Studies of people with autism who have committed crimes suggest that at least half also suffer from an additional condition—from psychosis, in about twenty-five per cent of cases. Some researchers believe that a marked increase in the intensity of an autistic person’s preoccupations can be a warning sign, especially if those preoccupations have a sinister aspect. Forensic records of Adam’s online activity show that, in his late teens, he developed a preoccupation with mass murder. But there was never a warning sign; his obsession was discussed only pseudonymously with others online.

    Both autism and psychopathy entail a lack of empathy. Psychologists, though, distinguish between the “cognitive empathy” deficits of autism (difficulty understanding what emotions are, trouble interpreting other people’s nonverbal signs) and the “emotional empathy” deficits of psychopathy (lack of concern about hurting other people, an inability to share their feelings). The subgroup of people with neither kind of empathy appears to be small, but such people may act out their malice in ways that can feel both guileless and brutal.

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