The following is an excerpt from Kaitlin Roig’s book, Choosing Hope,
describing the moment Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School on
December 14, 2012. She was the first grade teacher in classroom 12, the
one adjacent to Victoria Soto’s:
“First comes the initial blast of gunfire, then the sounds of shattering glass. The hair on my arms stands up. I know right away what I am hearing. Columbine is happening in the place we called Pleasantville. How can it be? Someone with a weapon is shooting their way into our perfect school. My classroom is the first one in the building. We are in grave danger, I think, sitting targets. I jump up, run to the door, pull it closed, and switch off the lights. Thank God for the piece of dark blue construction paper I taped to the door window months ago in preparation for a lockdown drill and forgot to take down. I can’t lock the door. My keys are clear across the room, on top of my desk, and there’s no time to fetch them. For what? A locked door is no match for a magazine of bullets. If we’re going to live, we have to find a hiding place. Fast. I look around the classroom. My students don’t seem to understand what is happening. One, the little girl I call our fashionista, because she wears things like leopard prints and leggings, stands there smiling. I can’t tell if she is somehow oblivious to the sounds or scared frozen. The windows don’t open wide enough for a first-grader to climb through, and who knows what or who is waiting outside? Evil is coming for us and there’s nowhere to go.
Where can we hide? Where can we hide? There’s only one place. The bathroom - a tiny, tiny first grade-sized lavatory with only a toilet and a toilet-paper dispenser inside. Its dimensions are about the size of two first-grade desks pushed together. Maybe three feet by four feet. There is so little space that the sink is on the outside, in the classroom. I have never even been inside of the bathroom before. An adult wouldn’t fit comfortably. How in God’s name will I get sixteen of us in there? It is our only chance. The impossible will have to become possible.
Everything is happening so quickly. We are under siege. I turn to my students, who look up at me with pleading eyes. ‘Into the bathroom! Now!’ I say.
At first they protest. ‘In there?’ ‘How?’ ‘Why?’ ‘What do you mean, Miss Roig?’
‘Bathroom! Now!’ I say, repeating myself. They understand that the teacher means business. I rush them toward the back of the classroom. Shots are being fired outside our classroom door. There’s no time. ‘Hurry!’ I say, pushing them into the tiny space with the toilet in the center. ‘Hurry!’ But I know that no matter how quickly my students respond, it will still take two or three minutes to get everyone inside, minutes I feel sure we don’t have.
We all push into the bathroom, and when there isn’t a millimeter of space left, I begin lifting my students and piling them inside. I place one student, then two, then three on top of the toilet and hoist up my littlest girl and sit her on the toilet-paper dispenser. We are all crushed together with not even enough room left to take a deep breath. I reach out to pull the door closed, but the door isn’t there. Oh my God. In my rush to try to save us, I didn’t even notice. The door opens into the bathroom. We are blocking it with our bodies. I feel myself beginning to panic. Here we are, stuffed into a room, with a madman bearing down on us, and the door that is supposed to hide us is obstructed by us and can’t close.
My heart pounds against my chest, but I cannot afford to lose my composure, not if we are to have a chance of getting out of this alive. First-graders model their teacher’s behavior. If I panic, they’ll all panic, and we’ll be dead. One by one, I pick up the students who are blocking the door and move each one behind it until I am finally able to push it closed. But just before I do, I reach outside for a large storage cabinet on wheels that is nearby and pull it as close as I can to the front of the bathroom door, hoping that maybe it will conceal the door. ‘Now,’ I say, ‘We have to be absolutely quiet. We can’t say a word.’ I can’t help but wonder if, by trapping us in the bathroom, I have just sentenced us to certain death. What if the shooter realizes that the storage cabinet is a ruse and shoots right through it?
Someone shouts, ‘Shooter! Stay put!’ Is that our principal? The school nurse? Another teacher? The sounds are too muffled to tell. Then, ear-splitting, rapid-fire shots, like a machine gun - di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di - over and over and over. We hear pleading. My students stay perfectly quiet. First-graders are black -and white. They understand that someone very bad is searching for us and in order for us not to be discovered they stay perfectly quiet. In our silence, we hear voices, although whose is unclear. They are muffed voices. People are pleading for their lives. ‘No!’ Please, no! Please! No!’ If my students are to keep even relatively calm, they must not know that my insides are shaking and I’m sure we are all about to die. It’s a very difficult thing, putting on a cool front in the midst of what I know is life and death. With the inescapable sounds of carnage happening all around us, my little ones are feeling desperate. ‘What is happening?’ one of them whispers. My fashionista begins to cry. I cup her face in my hands and look into her teary eyes. ‘We’re going to be okay,’ I promise. I never make promises I can’t keep, especially not to children, but this is a matter of life and death. The boy who straddles the top of the toilet is shaking so hard that he accidentally flushes. Once, then again. We all hold our breath. Shhhhhhhhhh!!!!!Did the shooter hear? I look at the boy and his face says it all. I’m scared and I’m sorry and I don’t know what to do. ‘Miss Roig, I don’t want to die today,’ one of my students whispers. ‘I just want my mom,’ another one says, fighting tears. ‘I don’t want to die before Christmas,’ says my student who has been talking about the holiday for months. We are squeezed together like fingers in a tight fist. My kids want out of this sweltering, sealed-up box we’re in. ‘I’ll lead the way!’ one of the boys whispers. ‘I know karate,’ says another boy. Hadn’t it been only moments ago that he told us the story of finding a dollar under his pillow for his two front teeth? ‘No,’ I say gently. ‘There are bad guys out there and we need to wait for the good guys to come.’ I can’t bear to think that their last moments will be spent this way: in fear. I must reassure them, even though I don’t believe my own words. ‘It’s going to be okay. We’re going to be okay,’ I say. Then, because I believe that death is imminent and I want to do whatever I can to make them feel safe, I tell them how much they have meant to me. ‘I need you to know that I love you all very much,’ I say. In comforting them, I have also brought comfort to myself. ‘Anyone who believes in the power of prayer needs to pray right now,’ I say, ‘and anyone who does not needs to think really happy thoughts.’ I put my hands together and start to pray. The kids are too crammed together to move their arms, but most of them close their eyes and I assume they are following my instruction. The shooting continues. Now I am prepared to die.”
A neurological/developmental evaluation in early April 1997, just before Adam’s fifth birthday, noted that Adam was an extremely active young child—he never slept through the night, continued to make up his own language, and reportedly did not like to be held, kissed or hugged. He was observed and reported to have odd repetitive behaviors and severe temper tantrums. Adam was reported, at times, to “sit and hit his head repeatedly.” He did not tolerate touch or textures and refused to dress. Teachers reported Adam was “very quiet during groups.
SHOOTING AT SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL • REPORT OF THE OFFICE OF THE CHILD ADVOCATE
What people mean when they say right after a mass shooting isn’t the time to discuss gun control.
They don’t mean that because a problem is happening we shouldn’t talk about the problem. That would be crazy.
What they mean is that right after something that traumatic people are crazy.
I remember after the Newtown Connencticut school shooting my Grandma was over at our place. She saw a box on the kitchen counter that said “Special Gunpowder”
Grandma: “Gunpowder, What’s this?!?”
Us: “It’s a kind of tea…it’s rolled into little pieces that look kinda like black powder grains…”
Grandma: “I don’t know how you can stand to have it in the house after what happened to all those children.”
My point is that after a tragedy that stunning my Grandmother couldn’t manage a rational response to tea. We can’t expect reasonable conversations about anything as fraught and complicated as America’s gun culture until people calm down.
People will want to do SOMETHING even if it’s as pointless and ineffective as throwing out some perfectly good tea.
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.
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.