newtown school shootings

Adam Lanza

Date: December 14, 2012

Age: 20

School: Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, CT

Killed: 27

Wounded: 2

Outcome: Suicide

Though Adam Lanza was bright, he struggled with profound impairments all his life. He barely functioned socially, rarely spoke, could not tolerate being touched, and has periods of total withdrawal in which he became unresponsive. He was hypersensitive to light and sound, and yet he had a blunted sense of pain. Lanza struggled emotionally in academic settings, as a young adult wondered why he was ‘such a loser.’

Lanza’s parents separated in 2001, when he was nine years old. He lived with his mother and maintained contact with his father until 2010. At that point, Mr Lanza had reportedly begun seeing another woman, and Lanza cut off contact with both his father and older brother.

Lanza’s uncle served in the military and then as a police offier. Lanza admired him and was obsessed with the military. He covered the walls of his basement with military posters and played military video games for hours. He even wanted to join the marines. Though his mother took him target shooting, she dissuaded him from applying to the military. Why did he want to join the marines? Perhaps because that would transform him from a nobody into a somebody. As described by reporter Matthew Lysiak, Lanza created an alter ego as his online persona: ‘The skinny and frail teenager chose to create an imposing, bulky, muscle-bound soldier dressed in desert camouflage.’ No one can argue with the manliness of a marine.

Perhaps Lanza’s need to feel powerful was also behind his interest in Satanism. A classmate said that Lanza created a satanic website with ‘the word Devil on it in red gothic- style letters against a black background. It gave me the chills.’ Lanza was also fascinated by mass-murders. A search of his home revealed a remarkable spreadsheet, seven feet by four feet, covered in nine point type, with Lanza’s collection of data about 500 mass murderers.

Lanza, was not merely shy - he struck people as very odd. One person recalled, ‘There was a weirdness about him.’ Another said, ‘I don’t even think withdrawn is the right word. Removed.’ Someone else stated, ‘He was like a ghost.’

In 2005, Lanza was diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder. This is a ‘pervasive developmental disorder’ which is in the same category that includes autism. Though Lanza’s symptoms could be accounted for by PDD, they also could indicate schizophrenia. Alternatively, perhaps as a child he was on the autism spectrum but as an adult went on to develop schizophrenia. His mother suspected that he wasn’t simply autistic, wondering ‘whether her son had outgrown what had been previously diagnosed as borderline autism into something much more extreme.’ Similarly, Lanza’s father father questioned the diagnosis of Asperger’s: ‘I was thinking it could mask schizophrenia.’

As a child, Lanza played the saxophone, performed in theatre, and was active in a technology club in school. As he grew older, however, he withdrew from these activities, and his functioning declined. This deterioration, as well as his profound social impairment and the inability to converse, suggest schizophrenia. Schizophrenics often have ‘poverty of speech,’ meaning they fail to engage in normal conversation and may barely speak at all. Lanza’s periods of withdrawal and non responsiveness may have been catatonic episodes. He also had blunted or flattened emotions, which is another symptom of schizophrenia.

It is not known is Lanza had hallucinations as an adult, though as a child he smelled odours that were not present. Perceiving nonexistent smells constitutes what are called olfactory hallucinations. There is no clear evidence of delusions. 

Without such a document from Lanza, how do we make sense of his attack? He may have sought ‘revenge’ for mistreatment as Sandy Hook, but there is no consensus regarding how much he was picked on. In addition Lanza ‘indicated that he loved school,’ his family remembered his years there as ‘the best times of his life,’ and his father stated, ‘Adam loved Sandy Hook.’

People have speculated that perhaps he was jealous of the students his mother volunteered with at the school. Another possibility is that he felt so impotent that he sought out the only targets he believed he could handle- first graders.

Yet another possibility has to do with Lanza’s enigmatic sexuality. His computer contained ‘materials regarding the topic of pedophilia and advocating rights for pedophiles.’ He also owned a script and a movie that portrayed sexual relationships between children and adults. Was Lanza sexually attracted to children? Was his attack driven by sexual frustration, killing those he desired but could not have?

Even stranger still, Lanza’s computer contained two fictional pieces about having to defend himself against babies who were attacking him. Did he have paranoid delusions about babies and children? Did Lanza murder children as an act of self defence? As early as 5th grade, Lanza cowrote a story about a murderous character who said, ‘I like hurting people…especially children.’

Adapted from ‘School Shooters, Understanding High School, College and Adult Perpetrators’ by Peter Langman.

‘’I hate going through these extremely rare instances of wild mood swings that I have. I think this was the only time this year for me. I was as depressed as I get during my last post, and I’m fine with the interminable depression that I normally have, but now I’m incoherently giddy with glee. Well, relative to my baseline… Except now that I’m giddy, I can’t really say that I hate it because I think everything is delightful.

If depressives cut themselves to feel better, I wonder what cutting a happy-go-lucker would do. Santa’s supposed to be jolly. I hope he visits me tonight so I can find out.‘‘

Every class was interrupted when at least one student, and usually three or four, had a breakdown after hearing an unfamiliar noise coming from upstairs, or the hallway, or the parking lot, and understandably so. When we first got to the new school, we were unaware that construction work was being done in the classroom above ours. The sound of someone dragging a box across the floor upstairs was enough to send one little boy into a fetal position. He curled up into himself, shaking and sobbing hysterically.
—  Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis describing what it was like for her first-graders returning to class after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in her book, Choosing Hope.
Before Newtown: Connecticut’s First School Shooting

27-years before Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary and murdered 27 people, there was another, little discussed school shooting in Connecticut. 

On December 11, 1985, 13-year old Floyd Warmsley was told by his principal to remove his hat, which was against school rules. The eighth grader was “reluctant to do so”, so he walked home, stole his fathers Tec-9 assault pistol, walked back to Portland Junior High School and entered the principals office. 

He pulled the gun from his trench coat, and pointed it at the principal. Another teacher pushed him out of the way and they both hid in an office. Warmsley then shot and injured the school secretary, before going to the upper level of the school, randomly shooting at lockers and taking a student hostage. 

The school janitor, David Bangston, was returning from his break just as the vice principal announced via the intercom that there was an active shooter in the building. Warmsley aimed down the hallway and shot Langston from about 200 feet away, killing him instantly. Several hours went by as the parent of the student he took hostage pleaded with him over the intercom system. Eventually Warmsley threw the pistol out of the window and surrendered himself to the authorities. 

Floyd Warmsley was tried as a juvenile, found guilty and sentenced to four years in a juvenile facility. He was released after three years for good behavior. 

Adam Lanza’s mother wrote in an email to the doctor that he did not have a “preoccupation with one interest, the inability to carry on a two-sided conversation, or the absence of caring about other’s expectations.” Indicating that she questioned whether he really had Aspergers syndrome or not. The Yale APRN that worked with Adam was also not certain that he had an Autism Spectrum Disorder (including Aspergers of course.) Rather, they thought he was severely debilitated by anxiety and OCD.

The Yale interview process was extremely difficult and stressful for Adam. His palms were sweating so much that his shirt was wet and he looked like he could have cried at any moment. His mother stated that it felt like he was being tortured.

Obama outlines gun control actions

President Obama announced measures aimed at expanding the number of gun sales subject to background checks and providing more funding for mental health treatment. Obama wiped away tears as he talked about the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. “That was the worst day of my presidency, and it’s not something that I want to see repeated,” he said.

Follow reaction to Obama’s executive actions on Breaking News.

Throwback article: December 15 2012

He was dark and disturbed, a deeply troubled boy from a wealthy family who unnerved his neighbors and classmates.

Mass murderer Adam Lanza, 20, was a ticking time bomb, people who knew him told the Daily News.

“This was a deeply disturbed kid,” a family insider told the Daily News. “He certainly had major issues. He was subject to outbursts from what I recall.”

Lanza, who friends and officials said suffered from Asperger’s syndrome or a personality disorder, had a tortured mind.

He was socially awkward and at times unstable, but also extraordinarily bright.

“He was smart,” the insider said. “He was like one of these real brainiac computer kind of kids.”

A “longtime” family friend said Lanza had a condition “where he couldn’t feel pain.”

“A few years ago when he was on the baseball team, everyone had to be careful that he didn’t fall because he could get hurt and not feel it,” said the friend. “Adam had a lot of mental problems.”