Adam Lanza – failed by the mental health system, as was every one of his victims

Posted: March 11, 2014 in Political musings, Popular Culture et al
Tags: , , , , , ,

Adam Lanza was clearly a deeply disturbed person: why did he not get the help he needed?


When faced with unspeakable horror, we struggle to make sense of it by finding reasons. But sometimes the answers are unsatisfying. Sometimes the answer is simply “insane”.

The father of shooter Adam Lanza who was responsible for the appalling Sandy Hook elementary school shooting has spoken publicly for the first time since he released a statement the day after the massacre expressing sympathy for the victims’ families and puzzlement over his son’s actions, in a magazine interview.

A spokesman for Peter Lanza said Monday that Lanza would not be commenting further.

Peter and Nancy Lanza (who was also a victim of her son’s actions, one of six adults who were killed, along with 20 children) separated in 2001 and divorced in 2009.

He last saw Adam in October 2010 and wanted to maintain contact with him. But Nancy Lanza wrote him an email saying Adam didn’t want to see him, despite her efforts to reason with him. Several plans to meet with his son fell through. Peter Lanza said he felt frustrated and even considered hiring a private investigator to find out what his son was doing “so I could bump into him.” He said he felt that showing up unannounced at his son’s home would only make things worse.

Peter Lanza said Adam was 13 when a psychiatrist diagnosed him with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism not associated with violence. But he believes the syndrome “veiled a contaminant” that wasn’t Asperger’s.

“I was thinking it could mask schizophrenia,” said Peter Lanza, who lives in Fairfield County, Conn., and is vice president for taxes at a General Electric subsidiary, GE Energy Financial Services. Peter Lanza told the magazine that his son as a young child was “just a normal little weird kid” who used to spend hours with his father playing with Lego.


But as he grew older, Adam’s mental health problems worsened, according to Connecticut State Police documents.

Lanza was apparently motivated by a desire to kill more people than Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer, according to a report from the US at the time of the shootings.

Adam Lanza believed he was in competition with Breivik who killed 77 people in July 2011. Most of them were teenagers attending a summer camp.

Police sources briefed on the Newtown investigation reportedly told CBS that Lanza was obsessed with Breivik and wanted to exceed his death toll. Lanza targeted nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School because it was the “easiest target” with the “largest cluster of people.” Once the police arrived, he killed himself.

A Yale University professor diagnosed Lanza in 2006 with profound autism spectrum disorder, “with rigidity, isolation, and a lack of comprehension of ordinary social interaction and communications,” while also displaying symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the documents show.

Peter Lanza said his and Nancy Lanza’s concerns about Adam increased when he began middle school.

“It was crystal clear something was wrong,” he said. “The social awkwardness, the uncomfortable anxiety, unable to sleep, stress, unable to concentrate, having a hard time learning, the awkward walk, reduced eye contact. You could see the changes occurring.”

After the killings, police investigators discovered that Adam Lanza had written violent stories as a child and later became interested in mass murders. Lanza’s home computer reportedly held details of his gruesome plan. The State Attorney’s report on the computer’s contents makes grim, deeply worrying reading.

Several files — which investigators believe belonged to Lanza — are related to pedophilia, and dozens of others have violent themes.

A file titled “pbear” contains a document that advocates for pedophiles’ rights and the liberation of children, according to the report. “Pbear” is a term that’s short for “pedobear,” a popular meme on the online message board 4chan. Know Your Meme describes it as a cartoon mascot that is used as a signal when illegal pornographic content has been posted. (The meme is sometimes mistaken as a symbol for pedophiles, but it generally is not.)

Another document titled “Lovebound” contains a screenplay about a relationship between a 10-year-old boy and a 30-year-old man. A file called “babies” contains writings that describe being attacked by babies and efforts to defend against them.

And there’s even more strange content:

Adam Lanza pedophile documents on computer


The computer also contained instant message transcripts from 2010 and 2011 that show Lanza discussing homosexual fantasies. Another document titled “Selfish” describes why females are selfish.

The state’s report is thousands of pages long, but investigators still couldn’t conclusively determine Lanza’s motive for the Newtown, Conn. shooting. Lanza killed 20 children, five adults, and his mother before shooting himself at the school.

The question on everyone’s lips must therefore be, “how did this obviously profoundly disturbed young person slip through the gaps in the system, to perpetrate the massacre?” One does not have to be a weak-willed ultra-liberal to speculate that with better treatment, Lanza may never have committed his horrifying acts.

Mental illness stats for America. The percentages don't look that different anywhere in the Western world.

Mental illness statistics for America. The percentages don’t look that different anywhere in the Western world.

Indeed, let us say it, and say it clearly: because it is only by confronting this awful truth that we may prevent future events that leave us equally devastated.

Much as it rails against our desire to levy on him the violence he levied on others, our desire to abuse, and to revenge ourselves on him and his memory – all perfectly understandable responses – the hardest truth of all is that, lost inside his insane fantasies, Adam Lanza was a victim here, too.

And the little children and others he killed would be alive today if the mental health system had not failed him.

And there are people walking around today who will die violently in the future if we do not act to improve it now.

We will surely never be able to prevent all such events. But we can certainly do better than we are doing now. And let us also remember that, properly treated, whether in a hospital or in the community, even people with profound mental disorders can and do recover to live a life with quality and calm.

And let us also remember, this day, before we demonise them, that the mentally ill are statistically far more likely to be the victim of violence than they are to be the authors of it.

Uncomfortable truths, perhaps. But truths, nevertheless.

  1. James Mahoney says:

    I am totally baffled by your characterization of Lanza as a victim, a “profoundly disturbed young person [who slipped] through the gaps in the system to perpetrate a massacre.”

    Pray tell, how did “the system” fail him and make him a “victim?” Mental health professionals diagnosed and treated a condition that appeared to be the issue. At least one of his presumably well-off parents–meaning that they presumably could afford treatment–knew that “it was crystal clear that something was wrong” as he got older, yet apparently didn’t continue to pursue treatment options until they found one that worked?

    Unfortunately, of the millions who receive treatment by “the system,” some will slip through. The vast majority of them will not commit crimes, let alone murder or mass-murder innocents. The infinitesimal percentage who do so are not victims; their victims are victims, not of “the system,” but of the deranged mind that was singularly undetectable (or undetected) among the many similarly afflicted, successfully treated people.

    Was Lanza insane? Clearly. Does that make him a victim? I think not.


    • You are entitled to your opinion, of course, James. My point, however, is ignored by your comment. Clearly Lanza was too disturbed to understand his own predicament. That must have been obvious to the health professionals in his orbit, his parents (one of whom, if you read the article carefully, was denied access to him), and many others. That is why the system failed him. A simply lack of available oversight. There is no evidence whatsoever that his delusions were undetectable. They were undoubtedly undetected. I throw the challenge back to you. Why?


    • I would ask you specifically to respond to this assertion in my article.

      “We will surely never be able to prevent all such events. But we can certainly do better than we are doing now.”

      Do you disagree?


  2. Very well said, Yolly, both in your article and in your response to James. I spent over 40 years working in the mental health field in the USA, and saw money dry up for community-based treatment services. It was sad, discouraging, and cruel to the sufferers of mental illness. We had a couple of instances in Seattle in which a mentally ill person off his meds killed someone. I’ve experienced good treatment and follow up programs closed down for lack of funds. Government considers the costs too expensive. In my opinion, they are not. Thanks for pointing that out to us one more time.


  3. James Mahoney says:

    Can we do “better” than we are doing now? There’s always a “better” that can be reached, Yolly. And in the general context of mental health, I don’t disagree at all that better treatment and outcomes can and will result from progress in the field.

    But your assertion that we certainly can do better than we are doing now to prevent such events through a more-effective mental health service strikes me more as a philosophical observation than an indictment of “the system.” As you point out–quite accurately, I think–people with profound mental disorders can and do recover to live a life of quality and calm. Unfortunately, some never will. But even among those troubled souls, very, very few commit atrocious acts. (That statistical reality is small consolation for the true victims of their crimes.)

    Looking at the graphic you included here, excluding the ADHD number, 85.6 million Americans suffer from a mental disorder (or 61.2 million if you think that the graphic’s 26.2% affected by a mental disorder includes all the others). Those like Lanza are in the single digits. Do other mentally disturbed people commit heinous crimes on fewer people? Of course they do. Do they slip through the “system” prior to those acts? Some do, others less-predictably so (example: last year, a patient who was being treated with apparent success killed, unprovoked, a health worker in the halfway house).

    Does the mental health system need more and better services so that anyone who needs help can get it? Of course. We are in agreement that ’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. But in the real world of competing societal demands, mental health services are only one deserving better budgets.

    None of this makes Lanza a victim.


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