“With hindsight, I know Adam would have killed me in a heartbeat, if he’d had the chance. ... The reason he shot Nancy four times was one for each of us: one for Nancy; one for him; one for Ryan; one for me.” — Peter Lanza, father of mass killer Adam Lanza
Dear Mr. Lanza,
First, may I tell you how deeply sorry I am for the loss of your son, Adam? As a mother myself, I cannot imagine my child committing suicide and the never-ending pain that action must bring with it. Here’s hoping you know how many people have prayed for your family since the terrible tragedy in December 2012.
I’m writing to say how glad I am that you finally spoke publicly about your youngest child. Like you, many of us hope that speaking out about your son’s mental illness will help other struggling families with afflicted children. I wonder how many of them fear their children might turn dangerous, too.
While reading the New Yorker article about you, I had to smile when you described Adam as “just a normal little weird kid,” who was intellectually curious and loving. Then, I felt sadness for you and your ex-wife, Nancy, as the writer described Adam’s increasing self-isolation — smelling things that weren’t there, washing his hands obsessively and his anti-social behaviors. When you had to tell his elementary school teachers to watch him for seizures, I guess you knew that Adam was more than a little “weird.”
From reading the story, it seems Adam’s 2005 diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome gave you some hope of finding meaningful solutions for your son. I realize you and your ex-wife had separated back in 2001, but I was glad to read that you stayed close to 13-year-old Adam and his big brother, Ryan.
So what the hell happened, Mr. Lanza? Why, on the morning Adam walked into his mother’s bedroom and pumped four bullets into her face and then gunned down 26 innocent children and their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, had you not spoken to him in two years? I don’t mean to be disrespectful here, but you were the grownup in this equation — the male figure in your son’s life — and you let weeks, months and years go by without communicating face-to-face with your obviously troubled son?
I read that he was angry with you after a dispute about how many classes he should take. That was all it took to shut him down — forever?
You said when Adam refused to see you, “I was hurt. I never expected that I would never talk to him again. I thought it was a matter of when.” But two whole years went by!
You knew Adam never accepted the Asperger’s diagnosis and he was prone to fanciful thinking. He wanted to take college courses. He wanted to join the military. You knew your wife had a lifelong hobby of shooting and that there were guns in the home. If you weren’t responsible for Adam, who, besides his now dead mother, was?
I’m not asking to be rude; I’m asking to understand how a parent can become so clouded in their thinking about a mentally ill child’s behavior that they allow that youngster to dictate the rules of the house. How does that even happen?
Sadly, I have to assume that similarly burdened parents are reacting the same way when they can’t find good quality mental health-care solutions for their kids.
The author of the article, Andrew Solomon, wrote about you that, “He constantly thinks about what he could have done differently and wishes he had pushed harder to see Adam.”
I truly wish you had pushed harder, too, Mr. Lanza. If only you had gone back to that big beautiful yellow home nestled behind the knoll in Newtown, Conn., you might have noticed, for example, that your 20-year-old, 6-foot-tall son weighed only 112 pounds at the end.
I checked the official Body Mass Index and was astounded to learn that Adam’s BMI was 15.2. People in the “underweight” category have a BMI of 18.5. Your son fell into the “starvation” and “anorexia” group. A study I read says prolonged semi-starvation brings on severe emotional instability, hysteria, anti-social behavior and depression — conditions it sounds like Adam already suffered. I have to believe if you had only seen him in that haunted-looking state you would have done something, right?
If you had gone to visit Adam during those last two years you also might have noticed that he had covered the windows in his bedroom with thick black plastic. You might have noticed his stack of violent video games, the newspaper articles he collected about school shootings or the photos he had of dead humans wrapped in plastic. A check of his computer might have brought up his spreadsheet about mass murders, the rights of pedophiles or the selfies he took while holding guns to his head. Your ex-wife might have finally admitted that Adam was refusing to eat or talk to her, communicating only via email from behind his bedroom door.
I’m sure you’ve probably read that lengthy report by the Connecticut State’s Attorneys Office about your son’s mass murder, Mr. Lanza. It concludes Adam was a kid immersed in his own spiraling and destructive hell, and your ex-wife was intent on trying to manage it all herself. So, how did you envision your son’s future?
You got it right, I fear, when you described Adam’s final fatal actions by saying, “You can’t get any more evil.” You wished he had never been born and admitted, “How much do I beat up on myself about the fact that he’s my son? A lot.”
I am truly sorry for your loss, Mr. Lanza, but it is the parents of those 20 murdered children and the families of the dead teachers I mourn for the most. They had everything to live for. Inaction by both you and Nancy and the nation’s mental health system ensured Adam was lost long ago.
I pray that this nation wakes up and comes to the realization that we either help the helpless like Adam or be condemned to suffer their sometimes inexplicable and explosive wrath.
— Diane Dimond is the author of Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.