The Sandy Hook mass shooting, which took place on December 14, 2012, in an elementary school in Connecticut, was a tragedy which appalled the whole nation and revived the debate about gun-control issues in the U.S. This attack claimed the lives of twenty-six people, most of whom were children not older than seven years old (CNN, 2020). Before this horrific murder, the perpetrator, Adam Lanza, was considered a reserved, shy teenager who made an impression on the people around him as being quiet and not showing any violent tendencies (Leger & Alcindor, 2012).
Yet, after the shooting, the police uncovered a lot of evidence suggesting that behind the mask of diffidence, Lanza was a cruel individual who had interests and inclinations, which motivated him to commit the crime. Lanza did not leave any note which described his motive, nevertheless, by assembling together all the information about his previous behavior, the factors which contributed to his actions can be identified. These include his history of mental health problems and struggles with anxiety, his relations with parents, particularly, mother, isolation at home, and perverse interests.
As it was mentioned earlier, the Sandy Hook shooting occurred in an elementary school, but before going there, Lanza killed his own mother at the house they shared. At 9:30, he arrived at school and began shooting, murdering his first victims in the building, the school psychologist and the principal who stepped out into the hall to see what was happening (CNN, 2020). Around this time, the local police received first calls about the event and dispatched several units to the crime scene.
During the next five minutes, Lanza entered two classrooms where he found the rest of his victims. In the first one, he killed fourteen children, a substitute teacher, and their aide, and in the second one, he shot to death six more students and their teacher, as well as their aide. The last classroom also became the place where he committed suicide using his pistol, this occurred at 9:40 (The Associated Press, 2013). The whole incident did not last longer than ten minutes but took the lives of dozens of people, which shows that Lanza carefully planned his attack and knew what he wanted to do.
When assessing the factors which led to the tragedy and motivated Lanza to commit the atrocious act, the majority of experts agreed that his mental health was a major issue. From his earliest years, Lanza exhibited problems with development, as a child, he would reject kisses and hugs and spoke a language which only his mother could comprehend. According to one of the doctors who observed his behavior during this period, Adam was showing signs of social-personal development issues (Katersky & Kim, 2014). Nevertheless, Lanza was a diligent student, and his capacity to receive good marks interfered with the doctor’s perception of his case.
As a result, during his early life, he did not undergo any serious neurological assessments, which prevented him from getting treatment or a special schooling plan which would cover his needs. Moreover, when he was transferred to Sandy Hook Elementary School from his preschool, his personal records, containing information about his developmental issues, were not sent there (Griffin & Kovner, 2014). This hindered school psychologists’ ability to detect Lanza’s disabilities and provide necessary assistance to him, which could potentially help him get better.
Despite the fact that school psychologists failed to correctly determine the behavioral deficiencies of Lanza, there was another opportunity for doctors to provide him with psychiatric treatment. When he was fourteen years old, his mother took him to the Yale Child Study Center, where he underwent a thorough assessment by two medical professionals (Schwarz & Ramilo, 2014). They both concluded that Lanza had a severe case of autism and antisocial tendencies, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder, which made him repeatedly wash his hands and change his clothes several times a day. As a result, doctors prescribed him a treatment plan, which included taking medication and receiving support from psychiatrists.
Yet, these recommendations were rejected by Lanza and his mother, who did not want her child to become dependent on drugs and decided to homeschool him instead (New Haven Register, 2014). Since the necessity to provide Lanza with appropriate therapy was discarded by his mother, his anxiety and depression, which manifested themselves as early as in the eighth grade, continued to develop. Mrs. Lanza decided to help her son by allowing him to study at home, yet despite positive short-term results, this approach did not address the underlying issues of Lanza’s behavior.
His relationships with parents played a significant role in his gradual transformation from an autistic child to a mass murderer. His parents divorced and agreed upon joint legal custody of their son when Lanza was seventeen (Rossen & Powell, 2012).
According to his father, after the separation, Adam began distancing from him to the point he had not seen him since 2010 (Solomon, 2014). Adam’s mother took complete control over the situation and, as it was mentioned earlier, wanted to keep her son at home due to his anxiety caused by the school environment. Parents encouraged his interest in firearms, there were numerous guns at home to which Adam had access, and regularly took him to a shooting range (The Office of the Child Advocate, 2014). Mrs. Lanza was particularly concerned about Adam’s behavior and sought to satisfy all of his needs and protect him from all the potentially stressful situations.
Ultimately, the overprotective nature of Mrs. Lanza’s approach to her son contributed to his extreme isolation from his peers and society in general. During the last months prior to the attack, he even blacked out all the windows in his bedroom and avoided any contact with the outside (Jorgensen & Stulberger, 2019). He spent most of his time online, where he actually maintained communication with other people.
One of them claimed that Lanza’s Tumblr accounts contained posts about how he dreamed about Columbine and was interested in mass murders (Weill, 2017). Lanza played violent video games, which also might reinforce his violent inclinations and tendencies towards hurting other human beings. Moreover, despite living in the same house with his mother, he preferred talking to her through email (Rojas & Hussey, 2018). The evidence shows that Lanza’s mental state gradually deteriorated and was further exacerbated by his online activity. His isolation allegedly led to complete emotional detachment from others, which made him lose any empathy for people who suffer.
Since the incident, many documents have been revealed which highlight various interests of Adam Lanza, which manifested themselves in his writing and online activity. When he was in the fifth grade, he wrote a short book titled Big Book Of Granny, which had many scenes with violence targeted against children (Kovner & Altimari, 2018). He also kept and updated a list of all mass murders which took place since 1786, which described small details about each act.
Apart from violence, he was also obsessed with maintaining low body weight, which almost made him anorexic. He hated heavy people and thought that fat was dirty and parasitic, believing that starving was an act of willpower. Another topic which attracted Lanza’s attention was pedophilia, police discovered that he wrote a play which described romantic relations between a 30-year-old male and a 10-year-old boy (Kovner & Altimari, 2018). It is clear that such perverse interests were significant contributing factors to his abnormal behavior and eventual decision to attack the school. His unstable mental condition, aggravated by his violent inclinations and coupled with his ability to effectively utilize firearms, ultimately led to the tragedy.
The Sandy Hook shooting became a nation-wide tragedy which was committed by a person who had mental health issues, complicated relations with parents, and violent tendencies, which were the main factors behind his behavior. Adam Lanza was diagnosed with severe cases of autism and obsessive-compulsive syndrome, yet his mother opposed any form of treatment. When he was no longer able to function normally in a school setting, instead of contacting doctors, she opted for homeschooling.
She tried to minimize the risk of subjecting Adam to any stressful situation, which eventually led to his complete isolation from the outside world. Over the years, he developed interests in mass murders and even kept a record of such incidents which contained small details. Lanza also was a gun enthusiast who was skilled in managing firearms and practiced at shooting ranges. Eventually, his worsening mental state, which, stimulated by his infatuation with killings and violence towards children, which he expressed in his writing, caused him to start planning his attack. Lanza’s case shows that schools and medical professionals have to do more in order to better detect violent tendencies in children and teenagers.
CNN Editorial Research. (2020). Sandy Hook School Shootings Fast Facts. CNN. Web.
Griffin, A., & Kovner, J. (2014). New report on Lanza: Parental denial, breakdowns, missed opportunities. The Hartford Courant. Web.
Jorgensen, E., & Stulberger, E. (2019). I-Team: Childhood documents reveal Sandy Hook shooter’s descent into depravity. NBC New York. Web.
Katersky, A., & Kim, S. (2014). 5 disturbing things we learned today about Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza. ABC News. Web.
Kovner, J., & Altimari, D. (2018). Courant exclusive: More than 1,000 pages of documents reveal Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza’s dark descent into depravity. The Hartford Courant. Web.
Leger, D. L., & Alcindor, Y. (2012). Adam Lanza: Withdrawn teen a mystery then and now. USA Today. Web.
New Haven Register. (2014). Report: Yale’s recommendations for support of Newtown shooter largely unheeded. The New Haven Register. Web.
Rojas, R., & Hussey, K. (2018). Newly released documents detail Sandy Hook shooter’s troubled state of mind. The New York Times. Web.
Rossen, J., & Powell, R. (2012). Source: Adam Lanza had cut off ties with his father. Today. Web.
Schwarz, H., & Ramilo, M. (2014). Sandy Hook shooter treated at Yale. The Yale Daily News. Web.
Solomon, A. (2014). The reckoning. The New Yorker. Web.
The Associated Press. (2013). Timeline of events at Sandy Hook elementary school. The Associated Press. Web.
The Office of the Child Advocate. (2020). Shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school. Web.
Weill, K. (2017). Adam Lanza’s terrifying online life revealed: Mass shooting spreadsheets, columbine collages, and murder Tumblrs. The Daily Beast. Web.