March 10th, 2014

Revisiting Sandy Hook: interview with Adam Lanza’s father

Peter Lanza, the father of Sandy Hook mass murderer Adam Lanza, was interviewed for this lengthy New Yorker piece.

The case remains a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. My guess, when all is said and done, is that Lanza was a rare combination of Asperger’s and psychopath, and it was the psychopath part that made the difference.

People like to think they could have done better parenting a son such as Adam, but hindsight allows us to think we’re smarter than most of us would be. In retrospect it’s easy to say he shouldn’t have been around guns, for example, but Adam Lanza seems to have shown not a hint of violence in his life until his rampage. His estrangement from his father was at Adam’s instigation, not Peter’s, and if you read the article you will see that Peter had been very involved in Adam’s life prior to that.

There are many many victims of this tragedy. One of them is Peter Lanza, although he’s not asking for pity:

Peter does not think that Adam had any affection for him, either, by [the day of the killings]. He said, “With hindsight, I know Adam would have killed me in a heartbeat, if he’d had the chance. I don’t question that for a minute. The reason he shot [his mother] Nancy four times was one for each of us: one for Nancy; one for him; one for Ryan [Adam's brother]; one for me.”

…[E]ven with hindsight, [Peter Lanza] doesn’t think that the catastrophe could have been predicted. But he constantly thinks about what he could have done differently and wishes he had pushed harder to see Adam. “Any variation on what I did and how my relationship was had to be good, because no outcome could be worse,” he said. Another time, he said, “You can’t get any more evil,” and added, “How much do I beat up on myself about the fact that he’s my son? A lot.”…

Peter has dreamed about Adam every night since the event, dreams of pervasive sadness rather than fear; he had told me that he could not be afraid of his fate as Adam’s father, even of being murdered by his son. Recently, though, he had had the worst nightmare of his life. He was walking past a door; a figure in the door began shaking it violently. Peter could sense hatred, anger, “the worst possible evilness,” and he could see upraised hands. He realized it was Adam. “What surprised me is that I was scared as shit,” he recounted. “I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. And then I realized that I was experiencing it from the perspective of his victims.”…

Peter declared that he wished Adam had never been born, that there could be no remembering who he was outside of who he became. “That didn’t come right away. That’s not a natural thing, when you’re thinking about your kid. But, God, there’s no question. There can only be one conclusion, when you finally get there.”

14 Responses to “Revisiting Sandy Hook: interview with Adam Lanza’s father”

  1. Bill West Says:

    Anyone who has dealt with problem children can recount the times that others have offered unsolicited wisdom. Many of those offerings have begun with the word “just”, meaning “simply. Two that I remember were “Just gotta love ‘em.” Or “Just beat the crap out of him.”

    There are good parents and bad parents. There are also lucky parents and unlucky ones. Some of the unlucky ones are the best parents I’ve ever met. Their kids are the luckiest kids of all, because their parents never gave up.

  2. expat Says:

    What a horrible thing to have to go through. I really have trouble with people who so easily second guess parents in such situations. And I wish there was a simple pill we could give the kids to make them well, but there isn’t. The most we can do is offer quiet support and thank God for the blessings we have had.

  3. OsoPardo Says:

    As the father of a problem child that made it through their teens, I extend my sympathy to Peter Lanza. It’s nearly impossible to control some teenagers short of tying them up & locking them in a room. Something in the teen age brain gets disconnected and some of them will do unspeakably stupid things with no thought of others or consequences…

  4. blert Says:

    Looking in from afar, I can’t say that any ordinary observer can tell if it was the kid or the parents.

    In my life I’ve known some very bad parents who were the true source of their son’s ‘disfunction’ — who none-the-less were able to convince themselves and the average Joe that their kid was the problem.

    I recommend Bradshaw “On the Family” and other similar titles.

    It’s as common as dust for disfunctional families to dial in on a son and objectify him with their own worst traits, scapegoating him.

    Whenever I see a troubled son — in a split family — I can take it as a given that he was the war prize.

    I’ve seen it up close.

    My old pal — from 7th grade — had just such a role. His father was a genius math whiz. So, when the mother won custody, she made certain that their son received ZERO math instruction… indeed… received virtually no education at all. It was one big party-time.

    By the records, their son was a total screw-up… performing at a first grade level in arithmetic… if that.

    At least she didn’t frustrate his reading of fiction. So his language skills were fine.

    He was able to go from zero to hero in math — with but a little bit of tutoring from yours truly. Until he got caught up, he was in social hell: hanging with the retards of short bus of infamy.

    %%

    Son #2 was whipped like an escaped slave for an outstanding score on the NMSQT. He needed medical treatment. It was discovered that at his advanced age, it was too late for legal intercession. (By the time the courts could possibly take any action, he’d be 18. So there was no purpose.) He was one messed up kid.

    In both of these cases, the neighbors were totally clueless. The school records were entirely misleading.

    Now that the boy is dead the survivors are in a position to unload all of their faults upon the youth.

    If he was really as screamingly crazy as now claimed — why was he not receiving much more professional intervention? It’s not as if the family was short on money. Daddy was, and is, LOADED.

    So, naturally enough, he’s off to London — and the problem child is left behind.

    @@@

    My life experiences tell me that I can’t trust any survivor to even know the truth.

    &&&

    What inflames my passion is the inept response to the unfolding mayhem at the school.

    It’s in the very nature of family wars that all outsiders get a totally distorted picture of what is going on.

    So, it’s to be expected that America will have to endure repetitions of these horrific rages.

    We have to stop the arrogant nonsense that gun-free zones suppress violence. The reverse is true: they attract the crazy and the fanatical Muslim.

    The reason Atta and his crew attacked airliners was BECAUSE they were gun-free flying tubes. That meant that even trivial box-cutters gave the Muslims escalation advantage. (In a land of clipped finger-nails even a butter knife makes you king.)

    As for daddy’s interview, he comes off to my ear as a Nazi at Nuremberg. He was uniquely an insider — yet professes that just standing around makes him an innocent.

    $$$

    Lastly, it’s typical for a son to become part of a love-hate triangle between the parents. I’ve seen that, too.

    In such a dynamic, the kid acts out every time the marriage is stressed. This causes the parents to stop arguing and to re-focus upon the ‘troubled’ youth. Since this plays on a subconscious plane, not one of the three realize what’s going on. This dynamic then builds and builds — with clueless professionals utterly puzzled as to what is unfolding. One would have to move in to their house and experience the dynamic — a four to six month project — to begin to understand what’s going on.

    This situation is not rare for high IQ families… which is what we’re dealing with with the Lanza family. A truly dull child would not be able to play up and into the ‘adult’ mind-games.

    When this situation falls to pieces, you’ll hear the refrain: “What happened?”

  5. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    The father’s grief and self-criticism are palpable.

    Anyone who knows parents of a teenager or young adult with mental illness is aware of the almost insuperable obstacles to getting appropriate treatment, even if the professionals can figure out what the appropriate treatment is — which here, apparently, would have required reading Adam Lanza’s exceptionally inscrutable mind. And anyone who has raised any child, healthy or not, knows that it’s a whole lot easier to pass judgment in hindsight than it is to figure out what’s best to do as you fumble along through the years in a haze of love and fear and fatigue. It’s easy and comfortable to blame Adam Lanza’s father for his distance, or the mother for her guns, or both for something, anything — so much more comfy than having to accept that sometimes these events are incomprehensible and unpreventable and not the obvious fault of anybody. That would mean it could happen to you, too, or to someone you love — unacceptable for some, who must comfort themselves with judgment unsupported by any facts.

    Of course I don’t mean to suggest that broken kids are never the parents’ fault. I spend my days reading court papers about neglectful, abusive and murderous parents who most often were made into what they became by the abusive generations that came before them. But here, the only clear evidence of fault is that projected upon the parents by our own fears and our reluctance to accept the unacceptable.

  6. Gringo Says:

    This situation is not rare for high IQ families… which is what we’re dealing with with the Lanza family. A truly dull child would not be able to play up and into the ‘adult’ mind-games.

    Blert’s commenting about different dynamics for bright children reminds me of one of my teaching experiences. Training manuals for teachers tell time and again to not use sarcasm on children. In general, this is a good idea. However, I occasionally used sarcasm when dealing with magnet school -very bright- students. They were bright enough to catch it. I never used sarcasm on regular students- it would have gone over their heads.

    Regarding what happened with Adam in the family dynamics, most of us- or none of us- will never know.

  7. neo-neocon Says:

    blert:

    You write: “If he was really as screamingly crazy as now claimed — why was he not receiving much more professional intervention? It’s not as if the family was short on money.”

    But no one is claiming that Adam Lanza’s behavior prior to the moment he began to kill was crazy at all, much less “screamingly crazy.” That was the point. Adam Lanza presented as a completely non-violent child, teen, and young man who was always in touch with reality, who had Asperger’s syndrome of a fairly typical-seeming type.

    Nothing especially crazy about him, nothing that would raise that sort of alarm—at least, nothing any other human being (and that includes therapists and other health care professionals) could see prior to the murders.

    What’s more, it was recognized from his early childhood on that something was unusual with him and he was not neglected in terms of seeking help for him. He was already getting special speech and occupational therapy from kindergarten on, so he must have been coded. He seemed happy enough till junior high, at which point his parents took him for further evaluation.

    From the article:

    When Adam was thirteen, Peter and Nancy took him to Paul J. Fox, a psychiatrist, who gave a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome (a category that the American Psychiatric Association has since subsumed into the broader diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder)…

    But Adam would not accept the diagnosis.

    Peter and Nancy, who remained amicable in dealing with their children’s needs, looked into special schools, public and private. Peter went to a meeting of the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership (GRASP) to talk to adults on the spectrum and to try to imagine a life for his son. He hoped that “eventually we could get him into GRASP and he would form relationships and maybe get married to somebody else with Asperger’s.” Nancy considered moving to a town fifty miles away, where the school system had strong programs for children with special needs, but concluded that the disruption involved would cancel out any benefits. She briefly enrolled Adam in a Catholic school that seemed to offer more structure, but that didn’t go well, either. Fox recommended homeschooling, arguing that the disadvantages of sending Adam to a regular school were worse than those of isolating him from his peers. From eighth grade on, Nancy taught Adam the humanities and Peter met with Adam twice a week to handle the sciences.

    So, to recap: as soon as Adam seemed more unhappy than he had as a young child, they took him to a psychiatrist and received a diagnosis that seemed correct. They followed all his recommendations, including the homeschooling. They were amicable in their dealings with each other around Adam. When Adam was fourteen (that’s just a year later) they took him for further evaluation at Yale’s Child Study Center. Then “Kathleen Koenig, a nurse specialist in psychiatry at Yale, gave some follow-up treatment. While seeing her, Adam tried Lexapro, which Fox had prescribed.”

    So he had a bad reaction to the medication and thereafter refused to take any medications. Adam continued to be in denial about his diagnosis and to refuse medication and talk therapy as well after that.

    I have no idea how you got the idea (a) that anyone was calling Adam’s behavior “crazy” prior to the murders, or thought he was at risk for violence; (b) that his parents used him as a pawn or “war prize”; or (c) that Adam could have received any more psychiatric intervention than he got, under the circumstances (or that it would have done any good). He could not have been involuntarily committed with this particular set of circumstances. He could not have been forced into more therapy, nor into taking meds.

    Adam’s problems appear to have been almost certainly something he was born with. Of course, a parental environment can make things somewhat better or somewhat worse, depending on how the child is treated. But Adam’s parents appear to have done a very good job under very very trying and largely unrewarding circumstances. I could come up with various criticisms (for example, the withdrawal of the father in the last two years at Adam’s request, and the stronger and stronger isolation of Adam along with the mother). But no parent is perfect, and considering the trying circumstances, they seemed to be doing fairly well by him. In no way can they said to have neglected taking him for professional help, especially since the more help he got the more negative he became about receiving any more help.

    You write towards the end of your comment, “As for daddy’s interview, he comes off to my ear as a Nazi at Nuremberg. He was uniquely an insider — yet professes that just standing around makes him an innocent.” I fail to see anything of the sort. It is almost the opposite. Where does Peter Lanza say he is innocent? In fact, he seems racked with guilt. If he can’t put his finger on what he might be guilty of, it’s probably because there isn’t any specific thing, nor is it clear that any other path would have led to a different outcome, except that Peter Lanza would probably have been blown away that day, too. To compare him to Nazis at Nuremberg is totally inappropriate.

  8. Mac Says:

    “a haze of love and fear and fatigue” Great description, Mrs. Whatsit. If someone offered me a chance to be young again on condition that I raise teenagers again, I might well turn it down.

  9. Charles Says:

    Even after reading this, I cannot imagine the nightmare that he is going through. I cannot even begin to imagine the nightmare his ex-wife must have gone through in the moments as her own son killed her.

    It must have been hard for him to give this interview. Hopefully, by going through this he will find some peace.

    Yep, it is far too easy for those of us NOT involved to make a snap judgment.

  10. Beverly Says:

    We’ll never know.

    It’s unspeakably sad.

  11. G Joubert Says:

    “I have no idea how you got the idea (a) that anyone was calling Adam’s behavior “crazy” prior to the murders,…”

    I seem to recall media reports at the time of the event to the effect that, precisely because of his recent behavior, the mother was making arrangements to have him admitted to an inpatient facility– something he did not want. And which was speculated to be a precipitating factor to his rampage. Is that theory off the table now?

  12. neo-neocon Says:

    G Jourbet:

    Those reports seem to have been the equivalent of rumors, as far as I can tell. I’ve never seen anything reliable that substantiates them at all.

    More to the point, in the New Yorker article this post is dealing with, nothing of the sort is mentioned. In blert’s comment above, he wrote [emphasis mine] “If [Adam Lanza] was really as screamingly crazy as now claimed.” “Now claimed” would be assumed to refer to the New Yorker article, or other comments in the thread, and nowhere in the article or in the comments does anyone make such a claim.

  13. Tonawanda Says:

    Interesting thread with great posts.

    Mrs. Whatsit’s was beautifully written and so ringing with truth.

  14. Ymarsakar Says:

    Changing other people is pointless and often a waste of energy even if there is a point.

    It’s far more effective to change yourself, and make yourself a harder to kill target.

    Those who rely upon the police and the military for protection, have no control when the S hits the fan. All they can do is whine about it later, at the funerals.

    Those who wish to live life, must get their hands dirty, for once in their life.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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