In the wake of the horrific mass murder in Newtown, Connecticut, in which a young man named Adam Lanza killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, then apparently took her guns, burst through security at Sandy Hook Elementary School and murdered 20 children and six adults, people are understandably asking “Why?”
One attempt to answer was a blog post originally titled “Thinking the Unthinkable,” but widely reposted under the title “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” This post, by the mother of a thirteen-year-old gifted child with violent tendencies, made the Internet rounds with amazing speed, as people were eager to hear a mother’s perspective on the Newtown tragedy — especially since Adam Lanza’s real mother was his first victim and we could no longer hear from her.
Then, of course, there was the inevitable backlash — predictably, in the form of posts like “You Are Not Adam Lanza’s Mother” — which accused the original poster of, among other things, dangerously linking mental illness with mass murder.
Adam Lanza’s mother is gone. But what about Adam Lanza’s father?
Whenever a killer kills without any apparent justification or excuse, we understandably grieve for the victim’s family and friends. We never give much thought to the family of the killer, and the effect their loved one’s actions will have on them for the rest of their lives. When Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed the mother of his child and then killed himself, little mention was made of Belcher’s mother, even though she apparently witnessed her son shooting his girlfriend. In the slew of articles that followed Belcher’s murder — articles that focused on what a great guy Belcher was, or that asked why we weren’t talking more about the victim — the horror Belcher’s mother experienced watching her son kill Kasi Perkins, then learning that her son had taken his own life, was never discussed, much less explored.
Similarly, very little attention — if any — is being paid to Adam Lanza’s dad, Peter Lanza. Reports indicate that Peter and Nancy Lanza divorced amicably after 28 years of marriage, with Nancy retaining custody of Adam. Peter Lanza learned that his son had committed the terrible Newtown massacre from a reporter.
Peter Lanza, in a statement issued the weekend of the shootings, said that like everyone else, he was trying to comprehend what had unfolded.
“We too are asking why,” he said. “We have cooperated fully with law enforcement and will continue to do so. Like so many of you, we are saddened, but struggling to make sense of what has transpired.”
It’s worth remembering that Adam Lanza — who was only 20 years old — ended his life before it had fully begun. We may never know whether or not Adam suffered from a mental illness or disorder, or — if he did — whether mental illness led him to commit these heinous crimes. Having spent a lot of time with children who are managing mental illness, I know there is no reason to assume this tragedy occurred because of mental illness. But I also understand the fears of parents like the “Thinking the Unthinkable” mom, or the family profiled in a New York Times article from earlier this year, “Can You Call a 9-Year-Old a Psychopath?” — namely, that diagnosing and treating mental illness and other disorders in children is equal parts art and science, and that even the experts don’t know all the answers.
As a parent, I can’t stop thinking about the children of Sandy Hook Elementary — those who perished, and those who are left to cope with PTSD and other effects of this tragedy. But I also can’t stop thinking about Adam, who was once a little boy himself, a child whose parents had hopes and dreams for his future. Adam Lanza left behind people, including a grieving father, who are now wondering what else they could have done, what more they should have done, to save Adam and prevent this tragedy from occurring.
Whether or not tighter regulations on assault rifles could have saved the children, teachers and administrators of Sandy Hook Elementary School will be the subject of much-needed public policy debate. But the unavoidable truth that Peter Lanza and the Lanza family are grappling with right now, is that, while something might have been done to save the people of Sandy Hook Elementary, there may be nothing that anyone could have done to save Adam.
I hope, in days or years to come, Peter Lanza does decide to come forward and tell his story — to let us know who Adam Lanza was. In the meantime, let our hearts be with all of the families who lost their loved ones in Newtown this past weekend — including the Lanza family.