Adam Lanza’s rampage leaves burning questions: Why?
By Petula Dvorak,
Why did he do it? That’s what we need to know.
Because it’s got to be out there, the key, the one piece that explains how on earth Adam Lanza could kill his own mother, then unleash one of the bloodiest attacks in recent memory on a school full of little kids.
We learned from a law enforcement official last week that Lanza had been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a condition associated with a mild form of autism.
“Ah-ha!” too many people said.
The autism community (and it’s a big one — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated this year that one in 88 kids in America has been diagnosed with autism or an autism-related disorder) recoiled.
“I was dismayed because, of course, I don’t want people to be afraid of my child and his diagnosis,” said Lynne Lotenberg, who lives in Arlington and has a 13-year-old son on the autism spectrum.
She saw all the headlines and commentary about how autistic kids lack empathy and emotion. It sounded harsh — and wrong.
“They are capable of caring deeply, [but] they don’t express it in a typical way,” Lotenberg explained. And although it’s difficult to generalize about all the traits of someone with autism, violence is rarely one of the defining characteristics, Lotenberg and a lot of medical experts agree.
“The bottom line is [our organization] has been around for more than 30 years — that’s about 11,000 days — and we have never seen anything like this,” said Ian Paregol, executive director of Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children in Montgomery County. “There’s no link between planned violence and that kind of diagnosis.”
Autistic children, in the midst of incidents, typically turn inward and retreat from people, or harm themselves, Paregol said.
But a Maryland woman who wrote to me about her child offered her own version of “why.”
“As soon as we heard the news of [the] shooting, my husband and I looked at each other and said: ‘How much do you want to bet that kid had autism?’
“Like the Lanzas, we are parents of two grown sons; the older one being independent and successful, while the younger one is on the autism spectrum,” she wrote. “Like the shooter, our son . . . is very high-functioning but has highly impaired social skills and the emotional level of a toddler.”
She went on to describe her son’s violent tantrums and the struggle she went through — even moving from one state to another — to get better care for him.
He gets round-the-clock care paid for by the state of Maryland now, but the family pays out-of-pocket for additional therapy.
“We are always horrified to hear about our son’s bouts of violence, in which his purported motives are completely beyond the understanding of rational human beings,” she wrote. “But [he] is not rational. He attacked a staffer just two weeks ago because he hates Christmas; he hates Christmas because he thinks everyone is happy except him; this staffer just happened to be the last person to tell him to do something he did not want to do.”
A mother in Idaho declared herself a kindred spirit with Nancy Lanza, the mother who was shot with her own weapons by the son she used to take target shooting.
In “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” posted online by the Blue Review, Liza Long gives a harrowing account of life with her 13-year-old son, who pulls knives on her and threatens to kill himself. His violent rages routinely send his young siblings running to the car to lock themselves inside for safety. Long says she still doesn’t know what is wrong with her son, but one social worker told her that the only way to get him meaningful treatment is to have him arrested.
Does any of this shed light on the mystery surrounding 20-year-old Adam Lanza’s rampage? Hard to say.
Police in Connecticut never had reports of him attacking anyone in a tantrum like the one in which Long’s son attacked her. People who knew him described him as socially awkward, not really able to fit in with his peers and maybe a little withdrawn. But not violent.
Did he have a festering mental illness that went untreated? If so, it wasn’t for lack of financial resources.
Nancy Lanza was a divorcee who got a good settlement from Adam’s father, Peter, a General Electric executive who earned $445,000 in 2009. She didn’t work and was scheduled to get nearly $300,000 in alimony this year. She could have afforded good care for Adam if he needed it.
Maybe she was in denial about her son. Maybe she didn’t see it coming. Maybe her high-powered weaponry was at the root of the rampage. Maybe we’ll never understand what happened. Or why.
For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.