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“But it’s real,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be understood to be real.”
March 9, 2014 9:36 PM   Subscribe

Adam Lanza's father, Peter Lanza, speaks with the New Yorker, his first interview since the Sandy Hook shootings.
posted by skycrashesdown (104 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Poor guy.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:07 PM on March 9, 2014 [13 favorites]


Interesting article, thanks for posting it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:28 PM on March 9, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm glad he chose Andrew Solomon to talk to. He has such insight into this kind of thing. My heart goes out to this man and Ryan as well.
posted by Shebear at 11:01 PM on March 9, 2014 [13 favorites]


Jesus Christ, that was harrowing. Thanks for posting.
posted by clockzero at 11:25 PM on March 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


I just can't wrap my head around having a child like this and being supportive/accepting of his mother taking him to a shooting range, whether you thought he was non-violent or not, let alone being ok with the weapons she had in the home. I wish the article had went into that at all (beyond saying sure take him to the shooting range because supporting the interests of autistics is helpful), because it's the only thing I really care to hear about from the father, because it's the most inexplicable part of the entire thing to me.

I also have trouble sympathizing upon learning he went two years without seeing his son.

I don't see the father as a victim here. I'm sure he is beating himself up every moment of every day, and I don't think that's inappropriate given his actions.
posted by imabanana at 11:56 PM on March 9, 2014


I don't see the father as a victim here. I'm sure he is beating himself up every moment of every day, and I don't think that's inappropriate given his actions.

And those objectionable actions would be what exactly?

According to the source text, he really didn't have that much of a choice in seeing his son. He purportedly thought about hiring a private investigator to follow his son so he could pretend that they could come across each other.
posted by converge at 12:06 AM on March 10, 2014 [8 favorites]


I don't see the father as a victim here. I'm sure he is beating himself up every moment of every day, and I don't think that's inappropriate given his actions.

We must have RTFA'ed two different articles. Did you fail to see the part where it was Adam's wish not to see his father, partially abetted by his mother? What would you suggest doing with a person, an adult, who doesn't wish contact with you? Put them in restraints during your visits so they have to interact with you? Adam had also stopped contact with his brother, and if I'm not misunderstanding you, that also reveals a fault in the brother's personality or morals and he should also spend the rest of his days "beating himself up"?
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 12:08 AM on March 10, 2014 [20 favorites]


All contact went through the mother. He could have shown up to his son's house and tried. He describes himself as passive in the article, so maybe we did read two different articles.
posted by imabanana at 12:13 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


Heart breaking read, so sorry for this man. Thanks for posting.
posted by cairnoflore at 12:17 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


But, important as those issues are, our impulse to grasp for reasons comes, arguably, from a more basic need—to make sense of what seems senseless

I feel bad for the father — I do — but it is the media that continues to play a causal role in these massacres, so long as the real elephant in the room continues to remain nameless. The 26 victims didn't die from some kind of mysterious affliction.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:19 AM on March 10, 2014 [21 favorites]


He seems to have passively endorsed the gun ownership in Nancy Lanza's house - I am assuming he was aware since he was aware of the trips to the gun range. If I'm wrong, then fair enough, but the article didn't feel the need to address it. It's inexcusable to have not had issue with that, if he knew. The kid was deeply troubled, personally I would have had issue with the guns because I'd have assumed the possibility of suicide was in play, given the updates detailed in the article that Nancy was giving him.

I can see opinions differing on whether it was acceptable that he never made the trip to see his son for two years, where he might have seen for himself the kid's deteriorating condition, but the guns and the trips to the shooting range? Nah.
posted by imabanana at 12:19 AM on March 10, 2014


I couldn't make it all the way through the article which I understand as a tribute to the writer.
All I could think of while reading what I did is this: they are also human beings.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmD16eSy-Mg

posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 12:24 AM on March 10, 2014


All contact went through the mother. He could have shown up to his son's house and tried. He describes himself as passive in the article, so maybe we did read two different articles.

“It would have been a fight, the last thing I’d want to be doing. Jesus. . . . If I had gone there unannounced and just, ‘I want to see Adam.’ ‘Why are you doing this?’ Adam would be all bent about me.”

It might seem, and, indeed be, self interest, but it's also a qualified reasonable way of dealing with the situation. Both parents clearly failed. This man survives, in a way.
posted by converge at 12:28 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


I can see opinions differing on whether it was acceptable that he never made the trip to see his son for two years, where he might have seen for himself the kid's deteriorating condition, but the guns and the trips to the shooting range? Nah.

Let's not.
posted by converge at 12:32 AM on March 10, 2014 [7 favorites]


If my father, who I am estranged from, showed up on my doorstep at some point? Yeah, uh, that would be a problem for me. There's a reason I don't speak to him and I don't want that to change. Ninety nine times out of a hundred, nine hundred ninety nine out of a thousand, teens and adults who don't want contact with their parents a) have reasons for this, and b) are not future mass murderers. If there's no giant warning sign that says that you are needed in your child's life in order to prevent some awful tragedy, then respecting their choice not to see you is really the best thing to do.

A lot of domestic violence starts with someone refusing to respect another individual's choice not to associate with them. Just the fact that the kid was "troubled" doesn't change this. The vast majority of kids with behavioral or mental health problems, again, don't shoot people. Given that Adam Lanza did, for all we know, a different set of decisions could very well have just gotten a different set of people murdered.
posted by Sequence at 12:46 AM on March 10, 2014 [86 favorites]


I stand very far away from this story, and that piece remained balanced in order to provide insight and made me feel heartbroken for everyone involved. Thanks for sharing it.

Not to sound banal, but reading this article reminded me of shows like Homeland. You take a black box like the CIA, and combine it with the black box that is mental health, and you basically can't make heads or tails of anything. Do I know a fool-proof way to deal with a mentally sick child? Do I know how to stop mass murder? How about both at the same time? I may say I do, and even argue for a particular side convincingly, but when it gets down to it, I have only sorrow and possibly forgiveness to offer.

Having said that, a cursory google search on what was in Adam Lanza's bedroom is devastating; a Christmas check from mom for a gun, windows covered with trash bags, volumes of information on Columbine, a spreadsheet of other mass murders, gruesome pictures of dead people, a video game called "School Shooting," to name a few. I sympathize with those who want to blame the mother, and who view this article as an exoneration of a father who stepped out of the picture. It's almost as if this could not have been more obvious. Or more genuine. What a frightening thing to consider.
posted by phaedon at 12:55 AM on March 10, 2014 [7 favorites]


I don't see how you could have expected the father to do anything else unless you think he should have somehow saved the marriage, which of course was not entirely up to him. The kid was broken and scary and should not have had access to anything sharper than a rubber spoon.
posted by pracowity at 1:18 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Given that Adam Lanza was a legal adult, his father didn't even have the right to force unwanted contact on him, much less the obligation. And unfortunately, the mother had gotten locked into a sort of folie a deux situation where she was apparently unable or unwilling to acknowledge how dangerous and sick he had become, and in fact actively tried to prevent other people from discovering it.
posted by tavella at 1:29 AM on March 10, 2014 [16 favorites]


My heavens, this poor ordinary father. This poor regular man doing his best.

What does one, unpossessed of clinical training, DO with such a child? Everything they did - sought specialist help, worked with him, and tried to accommodate and provide the best opportunities - did not help. Even those clinically trained and noted in their field could not help. What is a father to do?

This is so, terribly sad, and I feel so much for this regular person who tried his best to do what he could with an unreachable child.

The letters of support from others were very heartwarming and the empathy shown by those who have been in a similar dark place gave me a good feeling about humanity.
posted by Punctual at 2:59 AM on March 10, 2014 [51 favorites]


I sympathize with those who ... view this article as an exoneration of a father who stepped out of the picture.

Do you have sources to refute the article's statement that Peter was trying very hard to be allowed to interact with his son? Adam wouldn't talk to him, wouldn't see him. Nancy went so far as to lie to Peter, saying that Adam didn't use email, in order to get Peter to stop messaging.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:38 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


A very well written article, thanks for bringing it to our attention.

I would add only this to the discussion, the most heartbreaking line in that piece was:

"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. That’s fairly recent, too, but that’s totally where I am.”"

Only those of you who have lost a child can come close to comprehending what type of journey it must be to travel from the grief of that loss to this position. My heart goes out to this man just as it does to the families of the victims.. may they all find peace.
posted by HuronBob at 4:27 AM on March 10, 2014 [37 favorites]


I feel very sorry for this man. In the article, it's obvious (to me) that Adam needed more intervention than he was ever given, but how do you connect the dots? How do you know that a child who writes stories about guns and says he likes to hurt other children will go on to be a mass murderer, when those are just moments out of his entire life?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:55 AM on March 10, 2014


The author of this article, Andrew Solomon, is also the author of a book called Far From the Tree, which is primarily composed of other interviews with parents of children who are very different from themselves. Autistic children, Deaf children, children with dwarfism or disabilities, Down syndrome or schizophrenia, but also transgender children, child prodigies, criminals, and children conceived in rape.

This reads to me like another chapter of that book. Parenthood is such a paradox; to love more than you love yourself someone who who isn't yourself, whom you can't control, whose suffering you can't take on yourself however much you wish you could. It makes us so vulnerable.

The Bible says something about the sins of fathers being visited on their children, but really it is much more the other way around. Parents can suffer so much for the sins of their children.

I think somewhere it says in that book that their triumphs are their own, but their failures are ours.
posted by OnceUponATime at 5:20 AM on March 10, 2014 [25 favorites]


His son was damaged in so many ways. This is so obvious in retrospect. 'If' is such a powerful and ultimately meaningless word. He didn't, he couldn't and now he can't ever. He has to live with everything after and I feel so, so sorry for him.
posted by h00py at 5:29 AM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


Autistic children, Deaf children, children with dwarfism or disabilities, Down syndrome or schizophrenia, but also transgender children, child prodigies, criminals, and children conceived in rape.

Apart from "criminals", none of these even remotely describe "sins of their children."
posted by talitha_kumi at 6:20 AM on March 10, 2014 [5 favorites]


she didn't describe the book as being about sins of the children.
posted by nadawi at 6:27 AM on March 10, 2014 [16 favorites]


I just can't wrap my head around having a child like this and being supportive/accepting of his mother taking him to a shooting range, whether you thought he was non-violent or not, let alone being ok with the weapons she had in the home. I wish the article had went into that at all (beyond saying sure take him to the shooting range because supporting the interests of autistics is helpful), because it's the only thing I really care to hear about from the father, because it's the most inexplicable part of the entire thing to me.


I don't think most people who go to shooting ranges conceive of doing so as an inherently aggressive act, or the expression of an aggressive impulse. Your presumption seems that his father should have known he had a predisposition to violence because he liked to shoot guns. But in think most people who like them find a comfort in them because they of a sense of safety they themselves gain, a feeling they can protect themselves and those they love. They cast themselves in the role of defender, not aggressor.

A lot of the dark stuff about Adam Lanza -- the obsession with killings and guns --- we known now, after the shootings. He his that stuff from his parents; to them he spoke only of wanting to join the military. His mother was blind, I think.

But overall, I disagree with the sentiment that the parents should have known, must have known. I don't think you can ever ask a parent to give up all hope in their child, to look at them and say there is a crack in you that I can never mend. Because: there's a million parents with troubled kids out there, a million who've wondered to themselves if maybe their kid could kill someone. And 999,900 of them were wrong. 999,000 times, there was something more that could be done, their kid wasn't a monster, and loving them didn't fix everything but did help. You can't demand parents give up hope.
posted by Diablevert at 7:23 AM on March 10, 2014 [11 favorites]


Yes, sorry, the description of the book and the musings about "sins" were two separate reactions to this piece.

My first reaction was about how this article feels connected to that book, about the challenges of loving children you may never be able to fully understand and whom you may not be able to help, or not in the ways you wish you could. The many diverse reasons for that difficulty in understanding and helping are not like each other, and are not equated to each other in the book, and I did not mean to equate them either. No matter what, it hurts to be unable to understand, and to feel helpless.

I read the book because I wanted to try to understand my relationship with my kids' genetic disease. The author wrote the book because he wanted to understand how his parents felt about his homosexuality. Different.

The second part of my comment was about this particular parent and his suffering. To feel helpless, but at the same time, responsible...

By the way, the book also features an interview with Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold's parents.
posted by OnceUponATime at 7:26 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


Heartwrenching stuff.

Also, while I'm not aspergers/autistic, in a lot of describing Adam as a child and the things he enjoyed and did not, I'm reminded of what Jello Biafra said in relation to being a 'weirdo' hearing about Columbine:

"This could have been me... Why NOT me?"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:06 AM on March 10, 2014 [4 favorites]


But overall, I disagree with the sentiment that the parents should have known, must have known.

I think, like so many things, the impulse to assume that the parents must have or should have seen it coming is just a desire to avoid the idea that this could happen in our own lives. We tell ourselves that he should have seen it coming more to assure ourselves that we'd see it coming than anything else.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:13 AM on March 10, 2014 [30 favorites]


From the article:
I spotted a box of family photographs. He used to display them, he told me, but now he couldn’t look at Adam, and it seemed strange to put up photos of his older son, Ryan, without Adam’s.
Once again, my sympthies go to Ryan Lanza here. His family has been destroyed.
posted by maryr at 8:15 AM on March 10, 2014 [7 favorites]


Excellent choice of quotes for the title, BTW, skycrashesdown.
posted by maryr at 8:16 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't think most people who go to shooting ranges conceive of doing so as an inherently aggressive act, or the expression of an aggressive impulse. Your presumption seems that his father should have known he had a predisposition to violence because he liked to shoot guns. But in think most people who like them find a comfort in them because they of a sense of safety they themselves gain, a feeling they can protect themselves and those they love. They cast themselves in the role of defender, not aggressor.

I have a friend with severe Aspergers. He is literally obsessed with guns. He researches guns. He builds his own guns. He builds his own body armor to test the guns. He owns more guns than anyone else I know. He has worked in a firearms shop. He does custom modifications for guns. When I think of him, literally the first word I think of, association-style, is guns.

But for him, it mitigates rather than increases his social issues. When he's talking about guns with other gun enthusiasts, he's almost normal. He has a way to socialize without having to talk about emotions or the weird ways people behave. It's all "Does this gun fire faster or better than the other one? How can I tweak things to put a WWI bayonnet on a WWII rifle?"

He does very, very well. I'm not frightened at all, I don't think he will in any way erupt into violence. He's been doing this for fifteen years. It honestly helps and calms him.

And that's the thing. How do you tell an Adam Lanza from my friend? His mother, it says, lived for the day. Trying to make him feel better in the now, not worrying about later. I can only imagine, if Lanza was freaking out about everything she did, how much she would have cherished two precious hours a weekend where she thought he was just a normal kid.

This article is heartbreaking, but also freakish. There were no clear signals. How do you tell the morbid kid who is violent with an interest in video games and war, from the nonviolent morbid kid interested in video games and war?
posted by corb at 8:16 AM on March 10, 2014 [14 favorites]


He thinks Nancy’s pride prevented her from asking for help. "She wanted everyone to think everything was O.K."

Chilling similarities to the mother in the Sky Walker thread. Why does society keep telling women that it's all their fault responsibility?
posted by Melismata at 8:20 AM on March 10, 2014 [7 favorites]


But overall, I disagree with the sentiment that the parents should have known, must have known.

They tried, it seems, and it is hard to say what the normal course of action is under abnormal circumstances. It is like getting mad at the townsfolk for letting the volcano erupt. You get sucked into a vortex for so long, you can no longer see order, normal, or calm.

I think the guns in the house were definitely a bad idea, but if someone is bent on destruction, they can find another way to do it.

The article had one good point: it does seem like Adam was becoming an autistic schizophrenic and the Autism masked the schizophrenia.

It is a horrifying living nightmare to have to call a reality for so many people...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:25 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Chilling similarities to the mother in the Sky Walker thread. Why does society keep telling women that it's all their fault responsibility?

"The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world" is as old and powerful a lie as Dulce et decorum est. To shape their children was the only power available to women for centuries. Some women have more, now, but the failure to shape is still laid at their feet.
posted by Diablevert at 8:26 AM on March 10, 2014 [8 favorites]


The fact of the matter is, many of the services that Adam Lanza likely needed were probably not as readily available as they are now. A relative of mine was born in the mid-80s, started school in the late 80s to early 90s, and his teachers had the gall to tell his mother that he was just a stupid kid --- when in fact he had severe dyslexia. But services for even dyslexia were still far and few between that he was placed in a private school for a year before being admitted to a very expensive school that dealt specifically with learning disabilities of that sort.

This wasn't even 30 years ago. The fact is, most of the kinds of services that Adam Lanza likely needed didn't start hitting public schools in full force to the extent that they were really needed until fairly recently.

And in the private sector for those same services, there are significant hurdles to overcome in making those services more acceptable. MA passed ARICA (An Act Relative to Insuracne Coverage for Autism) in 2011 that guarantees my son a whole host of therapies for only our regular copay with no limits in sessions or monetary caps allowed from the insurance companies --- therapies, particulary, ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis), that have been critical to his development and is one of the most expensive therapies there is (about $250 for a three hour session) because it is so time intensive can be really difficult to get covered by insurance when there isn't a law in place saying it has to be. The company we seek the ABA through routinely has to bill the insurance company several times to pay for a session because under their plan, ABA is not covered --- but since they are operating in Massachusetts, they are required by law to cover it so there is constantly this argument happening to the degree that we will receive a copay bill for a session that occurred 8 months ago....... This law was passed a year before my son's diagnosis -- my son is five. How on earth would we have gotten these services 15 years ago?

Georgia failed to pass a similar law a year ago for the usual fears of employers will fire employees, premiums will go up, etc. I think there has since been a compromised version of this passed in GA, but I cannot imagine what it must be like to navigate the fields of available services either at a time when such things were incredibly new and limited in options OR in a place where coverage is severely limited in options or scope by insurance companies.

Outcomes for people with autism can be so vastly different now depending solely on where they happen to live and what services happen to be available and what laws exist to help them get the services that are available.

Yes, Adam Lanza's parents should have gotten him help -- but the help he needed likely far exceeded what the school could offer him (and the recommendation to home school him was likely the worst possible advice they could have received with no outside supports), and it does seem they tried to the best of their abilities to get him that help. But I question severely what options would even have existed in the mid-90s when things like ABA therapy were still gaining ground as being really useful in teaching social skills to kids like Adam Lanza. Sure, it was developed in the 1940s, and sure it gained wider spread use in the 1960s, but even now --- getting it covered by insurance to the extent that kids need it in order for it to have any benefit is maddening in some places.

And if he had an underlying disorder that was also affecting him ---- the entire situation sounds like a terrible combination of mental health issues that could only be handled so much by different clinics. The blame here isn't squarely on the parents. It can't be.

Not only that, but there's also a possibility that even had he received all the possible help he could have needed --- there is a possibility that he still could have done this or something like it.

I totally get Peter Lanza's assessment that Nancy Lanza focused on getting through the day with her son -- focused on not upsetting him because of a meltdown that might ensue, focused on just getting him something to eat, focused on smoothing over the moments that in a neurotypical kid would just smooth over in minutes that for him could take hours. I understand that because I have been through those days, too, first with a nearly non-verbal three year old and now a five year old who can be very fixated and talks a little strangely but who is overall happy and increasingly learning how to adapt to situations. But I had and continue to have the huge benefit of outside supports: a great preschool, our private ABA therapist and our private speech therapist, and friends and family --- having all of that makes it easier to not just look at the day but to take the long view.

Nancy Lanza had very little of that. I'm not sure how much of it she could have gotten even if she had tried any more.
posted by zizzle at 8:48 AM on March 10, 2014 [34 favorites]


Not only that, but there's also a possibility that even had he received all the possible help he could have needed --- there is a possibility that he still could have done this or something like it.

Well, that's the other thing, too. If we say the father should have been more involved, the son should have gotten "help" what do we mean by that? Even at what turned out to be the end, the mother wasn't afraid of him. The killer himself refused to admit he was on the spectrum, had no desire to enter therapy. Would she have allowed him to be committed? Even if she had, did he do anything prior to the crime that would let him be, under the law?

There's an element of folie à deux in this --- two people drowning because they won't let the other go, fighting each other to break free and fighting the rescuers who try to free them. You have a sense that the introduction of some other element, some other person either of them could have been a different person with, could have broken the spiral. But they pushed other people away.
posted by Diablevert at 9:16 AM on March 10, 2014 [4 favorites]


I wish to also emphatically say that even if he was on the spectrum, that may have had nothing to do with these actions. The far exceedingly vast majority of people on the spectrum are not violent --- far from it, actually.

Even the vast majority of people with schizophrenia are not violent.

Having these disorders does not offer an excuse or even an explanation for these actions, though they may offer some insight as to the make up to this particular person.

We are likely to never know what caused Adam Lanza to go off the rails that day --- not know how long it was planned for --- why he chose that target.

But when people say, "he needed help," which we can all agree on --- there's seldom any discussion as to a) what kind and b) what would have been available. And when during his life? Early intervention is shown to have great outcomes longterm, but it doesn't sound like much was available to him, or if it was, his parents didn't know how to navigate the system to get it for him. And it gets harder for those same interventions to have as great an effect the older someone gets. And at a certain point, the person has to want the help.
posted by zizzle at 9:26 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


I wanted to chime in because my aunt is going through a similar thing with a cousin who just died. My cousin was an alcoholic, bulemic, and at times a very violent person. Her siblings and parents couldn't be any more the opposite. We never really figured out what the deal was. Typically, I'm very much a proponent of the Stress-Diathesis model, but she was the exception. Growing up it was always E getting into trouble, E stealing from relatives, E lying about something trivial, E getting in fights...

They had counseling, progress reports, Special camps, she was on medication for a while. Nothing ever improved. She wasn't abused, she had a normal somewhat privileged upbringing, parents didn't drink/smoke... There seemed absolutely no explanation for why she was the way she was.

Almost 2 weeks ago, she drove drunk and caused a head on collision, killing herself and one of the passengers in the other car. My aunt and Uncle had done everything in their power, perhaps more than what would be expected of parents, to help my cousin. I can say with confidence they could not have prevented this. Yet, my aunt expresses remorse and guilt for the other grieving family. She's a wreck (poor choice of words, I realize).

Sometimes you get a cookie with no chocolate chips in the batch. It's impossible to accept that as a parent... that maybe you just have a broken child, no way to RMA it... so I think it's better the people around parents going through this keep that in mind, and try to offer a shoulder when they can. The questions these parents will be asking the universe don't have answers, and that can be a chilling and lonely experience to endure.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:32 AM on March 10, 2014 [17 favorites]


Until you have a child with mental issues you have no idea how they can hold an entire family hostage simply out of fear of causing a meltdown. That fear can make the choice to simply not engage with that child just so you can get through a meal/school day/family gathering/etc. almost impossible to resist. I'm not excusing anyone but that temptation is real and the Lanza family was caught up by it.
posted by tommasz at 9:39 AM on March 10, 2014 [22 favorites]


I can say with confidence they could not have prevented this.

Which brings up the topic of why aren't more of the mentally ill forcibly institutionalized. But that's a huge topic, one that can't be solved here or anywhere else these days.
posted by Melismata at 9:42 AM on March 10, 2014


Melsimata --- because we tried that and it didn't work out so well for anyone or society.

And because these types of cases are so rare, no matter what "Criminal Minds" has you believing, that doing so would be tantamount to jailing people whose only crime is having a disease that is actually manageable.

It's unconscionable to even offer that as a solution.
posted by zizzle at 9:46 AM on March 10, 2014 [10 favorites]


Which brings up the topic of why aren't more of the mentally ill forcibly institutionalized. But that's a huge topic, one that can't be solved here or anywhere else these days.

Young men commit the majority of violent crimes but no one seriously suggests the forcible institutionalization of young men who haven't done anything wrong.
posted by Mavri at 10:02 AM on March 10, 2014 [6 favorites]


Until you have a child with mental issues you have no idea how they can hold an entire family hostage simply out of fear of causing a meltdown. That fear can make the choice to simply not engage with that child just so you can get through a meal/school day/family gathering/etc. almost impossible to resist. I'm not excusing anyone but that temptation is real and the Lanza family was caught up by it.

Or a sibling, or a parent, or almost any close relative. And it doesn't even have to be issues a obvious as being on the autism spectrum. My dad and brother both have various, far less severe issues; in my father, they went untreated until he was in his 50s, around the same time my brother got diagnosed and my dad realized that he had some of the same issues. For the first decade and change of my life, getting through the day meant avoiding the triggers. And at least in our house, that was something like navigating the Tomb of Horrors, in that damn near anything could be a trigger and there wasn't any apparent link between the trigger and the severity of the reaction. I consider myself lucky in a lot of ways; I wasn't ever physically abused, my family members got treatment and responded well to it, we had the social and financial support systems around to help them, and we eventually made it out of the woods, at least for some values of "made it out." I read this story and just saw so many places where the Lanzas could have gone down the path our family went down, and so many places where we could have been the ones in their place. It was heartbreaking.
posted by protocoach at 10:03 AM on March 10, 2014 [10 favorites]


Which brings up the topic of why aren't more of the mentally ill forcibly institutionalized.

What? Wow, no that is not a solution.
posted by sweetkid at 10:04 AM on March 10, 2014 [8 favorites]


why aren't more of the mentally ill forcibly institutionalized.

that's an awful solution - but even if you wanted to float it, institutionalized where? it's not like we're lousy with them these days. i have an elderly family member with developmental disabilities who was in an institution for 45+ years until it closed about a decade back, and no other similar facility would take him. now he's in a nursing home with none of the support he needs, spending basically all of his time tied to a bed. my elderly grandmother (his sister) tried everything she could think of to find a suitable place for him, all while trying to care for her ailing husband with alzheimers (who also didn't have the support and care he needed - which put both of them in great danger a bunch of times).

there's this graph showing populations in institutions and prisons. the state of mental health care is pretty fucking dire.
posted by nadawi at 10:08 AM on March 10, 2014 [13 favorites]


Read this article at lunch at work and having trouble not crying, especially after reading the conclusion.
In the end it seems likely that had their family unit remained intact, nothing would have happened.
posted by Riton at 10:13 AM on March 10, 2014


Why do you say that? They were very much attempting to deal with Adam's behavior well before they actually separated.
posted by Big_B at 10:19 AM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


In the end it seems likely that had their family unit remained intact, nothing would have happened.

I have a hard time believing that. Intact families aren't magical cures for mental illness. As for institutionalization, it seems clear that some severely ill people do need 24/7 care, but we did a shit job of it when we used to lock them up, so I'd be more interested in spending that money on a personal assistant/nurse/companion who is trained to watch for signs of trouble and lives with the family, because isolation makes mental issues worse.

But we're in the dark ages when it comes to actually doing mental health care in this country, so fat chance of that.
posted by emjaybee at 10:35 AM on March 10, 2014 [6 favorites]


Well, that's the other thing, too. If we say the father should have been more involved, the son should have gotten "help" what do we mean by that? Even at what turned out to be the end, the mother wasn't afraid of him. The killer himself refused to admit he was on the spectrum, had no desire to enter therapy.

Yeah, we're talking about an adult with no history of harming himself or others who does not acknowledge that he has a disorder and refuses treatment. Forced institutionalization is not an option until actual violent behavior is manifested. He's incapable of living independently, and the family has the resources to support him. What they hell could they have done to get him "help"? He was refusing all help offered, and he had the legal right to do so. His one experience with psychopharmaceuticals was disastrous. Could they have threatened to withdraw support unless he sought therapy? Kicked him out of the house? I don't know how they could have even considered these possibilities; he was plainly incompetent. They were trapped.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:48 AM on March 10, 2014 [5 favorites]


That poor man. That poor woman.

Having been in a place to make a similar tradeoff to that Nancy Lanza thought she was making... I dunno. It's hard. Especially when you think you know that "forever" is fucked beyond repair it's really hard not to take the now. I mean tomorrow's going to be fucked regardless, does it really matter if you let it be epsilon more?
posted by PMdixon at 10:53 AM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's unconscionable to even offer that as a solution.

I have to say I disagree with this. Involuntary institutionalization should never, ever be the first choice, obviously. But it needs to be part of the available options in those (rare) cases when other options have been tried and have failed and the threat the individual poses to his or herself, let alone their family and the community, is both severe and immediate. Institutionalization might have saved Adam Lanza, Austin Deeds, and many others.

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/04/mental-health-crisis-mac-mcclelland-cousin-murder

I'm not saying lock them up and throw away the key, obviously (OBVIOUSLY). But a blanket "no" on institutionalization is not the answer either. And yes, we need to fund and properly staff these places, of course, per nadawi's comment. However, there is reluctance to discuss institutionalization as part of the set of options for those cases in which counseling, medication, and other treatments have been tried and have failed and the individual's crisis is so severe that loss of life and/or harm to themselves and others is a real possibility. The reluctance is understandable, given the awful history of institutionalization in this country and the deep inadequacies in the patchwork system we do have. But refusing to consider institutionalization for those cases in which other options have tried and have failed and there is significant risk to the health and well being of the person suffering from mental illness doesn't make the need for it any less.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:54 AM on March 10, 2014 [5 favorites]


But we do involuntarily institutionalize people. The issue here was that no one at the time realized that the crisis was as severe as it was. No one rejected institutionalization as an option at the time, so these comments seem to me to be a non sequitur.
posted by prefpara at 11:04 AM on March 10, 2014 [9 favorites]


That's a brutal read. I think there are traces, though, of an "argument for the defense" for the father rather than an impartial assessment. For example - it seems to me the role of the divorce and the father's apparently reduced role in bringing up the kids must have been a big part of what happened here - not so much directly by causing Adam to become murderous, but by isolating the mother if nothing else.
posted by Mid at 11:08 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


The comment was "why aren't more of the mentally ill forcibly institutionalized."

The answer: the vast majority of the "mentally ill" do not need to be. I say this as someone who has had a relative in a psychiatric facility for close to a year while her meds and delusions were straightened out, who was never, even when off her meds, violent but disoriented, disorganized, and homeless.

That was necessary for our family, and it took a lot of effort to have happen. But it wasn't "institutionalized" as much as it was a hospitalization.

I do not have a blanket opinion for no institutionalization ever. Acute situations where someone definitively poses a risk to themselves or to others is sometimes required. But assessing that is the crux of the problem when someone is not in treatment. Nancy Lanza led a fairly solitary life, so who should have forced Adam Lanza into a facility? He never comitted crime. As far as we know, he never acted violently toward anyone. Plenty of people who are interested in mass murders and serial killers are not themselves violent or dangerous people --- many of them, in fact, are forensic researchers, psychologists, etc.

But there was no way for anyone to know that Adam Lanza would act in this manner. None. Consider how difficult it can be for people to know when someone is going to commit suicide. We had three cases recently in Newton (not to be confused with Newtown) Massachusetts. In at least one of those cases of suicide, there were no indicators beforehand, so there was no treatment history at all.....how otherwise should that family have proceeded?

These are not simple matters for which there are simple solutions and institutionalizing a bunch of people who could fall under the blanket of "mentally ill" (what would that definition include, by the way?) is not a solution at all.

And what about people who are not mentally ill who commit crimes? What about all the men who kill their wives and girlfriends each year in domestic violence cases? Many of those men have issues, but nothing that would be defined as "mentally ill" in the way its agreed Lanza must have been.
posted by zizzle at 11:09 AM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


I was speaking more to the comments in this thread - I haven't seen any articles that have addressed whether institutionalization was suggested as an option for Adam.
posted by longdaysjourney at 11:09 AM on March 10, 2014


(Though I totally agree with "that poor man.")
posted by Mid at 11:10 AM on March 10, 2014


i'm part of a family with a "broken" person. my parents staying together in no way bettered that and in many ways worsened it, i think. i hid the fact that he abused me for years because he told me that telling would break up my family and it'd be all my fault. learning later that my parents stayed together "for the kids" for 15 years after they were sure they wanted to separate was a gigantic blow.
posted by nadawi at 11:14 AM on March 10, 2014 [5 favorites]


However, there is reluctance to discuss institutionalization as part of the set of options for those cases in which counseling, medication, and other treatments have been tried and have failed and the individual's crisis is so severe that loss of life and/or harm to themselves and others is a real possibility.

These are exactly the circumstances under which a person can currently be institutionalized against their will. Melismata seemed to be suggesting that people who do not fit this criteria, like Adam Lanza, should be forcibly institutionalized. None of us who objected said that no institutionalization should ever happen, only that "why aren't more of the mentally ill forcibly institutionalized" is a question suggesting that the criteria for institutionalization should be broadened. People with mental illness and their families and advocates are understandably going to push back against that hard.
posted by Mavri at 11:21 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


> In the end it seems likely that had their family unit remained intact, nothing would have happened.

I think that had their family unit remained intact, something would have happened, and it would have happened far sooner than it actually did. Nancy's focus on short-term peace seemed to turn into a delusion that everything would be OK, and I think it would've been far harder for her to maintain that delusion if someone else had witnessed the same events.

(It's true that Peter was involved in his son's life for a decade after he moved out, but only on the weekends, and he relied on Nancy — an unreliable narrator, to say the least — for accounts of Adam's behavior during the week.)

The something that would've happened could well have been violent, could well have involved guns, but likely would not have gone outside of the house. Adam wouldn't have had the isolation to plan the spree killing without disruption, nor (I suspect) would he have had the arsenal to make it possible.

(That said, the counterfactual I'm talking about is "had Nancy and Peter continued to be fulfilled by their marriage," not "had they wanted to split but remained in the same household nonetheless." I'm not trying to second guess; just wondering how the dynamics would have been different if Nancy hadn't been alone with Adam for so very long.)
posted by savetheclocktower at 11:21 AM on March 10, 2014


It's this paragraph that bothers me a little:

Meanwhile, Peter and Nancy’s marriage was starting to unravel. Peter’s own father had been relatively disengaged from his wife and buried himself in work, and Peter didn’t have a strong model for family life. “I’d work ridiculous hours during the week and Nancy would take care of the kids,” he told me. “Then, on the weekends, she’d do errands and I’d spend time with the kids.” Peter frequently took the boys on weekend hiking trips. In 2001, Peter and Nancy separated. Adam was nine; when a psychiatrist later asked him about it, he said that his parents were as irritating to each other as they were to him.

The marraige "was starting to unravel" is passive voice, with all that entails. The next sentence is basically just excuse-making. Then you get to the point: he had reduced inolvement with the kids during marraige, then separation, then divorce - leaving the mother alone to deal with Adam. I'm not saying this means he's at fault or something, but this whole aspect seems glossed-over.
posted by Mid at 11:22 AM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


Well, but the author of the article wrote that.
posted by sweetkid at 11:31 AM on March 10, 2014


Which brings up the topic of why aren't more of the mentally ill forcibly institutionalized.

Because you're condemning someone to life imprisonment without the ability to defend themselves.
posted by corb at 11:36 AM on March 10, 2014 [6 favorites]


also mentally ill does not equal violent for like the millionth time.
posted by sweetkid at 11:39 AM on March 10, 2014 [10 favorites]


Reading this, I sympathetically feel claustrophobic hopelessness--and horror--on behalf of the parents. It's terrifying, which is why I think it is human nature for us (much like with crime victims) to try to come up with a checklist of what they did wrong, that we would never have done.

Of course they embraced the diagnosis of "sensory processing disorder," and then OCD+autism spectrum, which at least provided hope for an adapted but satisfying life for Adam and that wasn't so far away from the common public discourse and acceptance about children with differences, in their socioeconomic bracket (I'm particularly moved by the father attending a support group for adults on the spectrum and coming away with the hope that he could find friends and romantic partners among that crowd, eventually)--even as Peter Lanza admits the diagnosis of "weird, sensitive kid" probably masked and prevented treatment of much more serious mental or neurological illness. Of course Nancy Lanza wanted to believe that she could just "live with Adam for a long time"--can you imagine, even if there were long-term residential options for adults that seemed attractive to an upper middle class family and had slots available, how counter-instinctual it might feel for an enmeshed, soft-hearted parent in denial to institutionalize him when he couldn't even handle doorbells ringing or his mother leaning on things or speaking to him directly instead of via email?

Any parent of a child who is "just" autistic can tell you what an exhausting, nearly-impossible full time job it is to seek out support services, medical help, and adaptations for even the youngest (and therefore the most sympathetic, and the most funded) children. This father's life, Nancy Lanza's life, are a hell I wouldn't wish on a worst enemy.

It's a cruel cliche and a mean joke in some circles, but truly, some of the most troubled (and troubling) teens and young adults I have ever met over the years have been the children of expensively educated (at elite institutions), highly trained and connected mental health professionals--and not for lack of trying or love or awareness. Is it any wonder that the Lanzas--suburbanite bankers--didn't have much more to show for all their efforts than a short-lived script for Lexepro, and endless attempts at homeschooling and educational accommodations, for a level of mental illness that defies all understanding?
posted by blue suede stockings at 11:46 AM on March 10, 2014 [7 favorites]


I don't think anyone would support mass mandatory incarceration but the fact is that the alternative right now in the US is that the burden of care falls to untrained middle aged and elderly women most of whom have full time jobs and other children, many of who's partners leave them. That's unsustainable in the long run without some kind of societal support that it's socially acceptable to use. Be it residential housing or adult day care and free respite or whatever. It's available and acceptable in Europe, it's not some impossible dream.
posted by fshgrl at 11:54 AM on March 10, 2014 [25 favorites]


It's true that Peter was involved in his son's life for a decade after he moved out, but only on the weekends

From the article: "From eighth grade on, Nancy taught Adam the humanities and Peter met with Adam twice a week to handle the sciences."
posted by palomar at 1:38 PM on March 10, 2014


It's understandable that the only way we can comprehend an act like this is by labeling it "mental illness." I think the article does a decent job of trying to unpack that a little, but it's really a huge elephant in the room. Peter takes the action itself as proof of illness, and the immediate assumption is that in order to commit this, Adam had some sort of lack of empathy. But it seems like lack of empathy is only considered a sickness once somebody commits an act like this. What does it mean to be "sick" and what can parents and society reasonably do about it? Adam Lanza needed help, sure. But he was getting help. He'd seen all kinds of doctors. Various things had been tried. Help isn't always enough. THere aren't answers for the sorts of questions we feel compelled to ask.
posted by rikschell at 1:48 PM on March 10, 2014


I think until the point where an average person in the US can voluntarily institutionalize themselves (long term), it's a little premature to start talking about involuntary institutionalization as a solution at scale. We don't even allocate the resources for the ethically easy case - it's pretty bass ackwards to start worrying about the hard one.
posted by PMdixon at 1:52 PM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


can you imagine, even if there were long-term residential options for adults that seemed attractive to an upper middle class family and had slots available, how counter-instinctual it might feel for an enmeshed, soft-hearted parent in denial to institutionalize him when he couldn't even handle doorbells ringing or his mother leaning on things or speaking to him directly instead of via email?

I can imagine lots of things, but so what? This is pure fantasy. The "long term residential options" you are describing do not exist for upper-middle class families. What does "denial" have to do with it when there are no alternatives to keeping your kid at home and doing the best you can?
posted by Wordwoman at 1:53 PM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


This talk of a complete revolution of mental health system is beside the point: If Adam Lanza had not had a house full of guns, this story would be very different. From the stories his dad tells, I'm very surprised that they felt safe having him around guns--everything he says sounds like Adam had been at suicidal levels of despair for a very long time. No, they didn't expect him to do what he did at Sandy Hook, but I am shocked at keeping instruments suitable for suicide around someone who was suicidal, as it sounds like Adam may have been for years.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:16 PM on March 10, 2014 [16 favorites]


In the end it seems likely that had their family unit remained intact, nothing would have happened.

...or he could have been murdered also
posted by Renoroc at 2:26 PM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


a complete revolution of the mental health system or a revolution of gun ownership/laws/attitudes are both just about as likely under the current political climate.
posted by nadawi at 2:38 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


For those who think that parents staying together could/would have changed things read about Kip Kinkel. Not necessarily a great parallel, but then as the article states, the sample size for these kinds of things is small and we have to use what data we have.
posted by bartonlong at 2:43 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Most of the posts reflect compassion, sensitivity and an understanding for the family, the very difficult clinical challenges and the saddened humanity attendant to the shooting. But as a retired MH professional there is only one post that speaks loudly and directly to one of the few potentially manageable issues hydropsyche. As one who has worked directly and indirectly with 1000's of persons with a variety of serious mental health challenges--if in doubt "get rid of any weapons". I am not casting aspersions on Adam's mother--struggling to keep a semblance of control and predictability--but to all who directly or indirectly supported this access to lethal weapons. It simply makes no sense. No sense. I surely would have taken the challenge of dealing with him ,regardless of how it manifested itself or how difficult, if ownership and possession of weapons had never happened. I am fully aware he could have built a bomb, set a fire(s) stabbed persons/mother etc. But a firearm presents such opportunity, lethality, spontaneity and immediacy that it has special considerations.
posted by rmhsinc at 5:09 PM on March 10, 2014 [7 favorites]


Heartwrenching is the right word for this. Damn.
posted by homunculus at 6:03 PM on March 10, 2014


I came across something regarding another massacre today, which I found particularly moving after reading the piece about Peter Lanza: the memorial for Anders Breivik's victims that's going to be built in Norway.

Memory Wound, A Memorial for the 2011 Utøya Massacre That Will Cut Through a Headland in Norway
posted by homunculus at 6:34 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Until you have a child with mental issues you have no idea how they can hold an entire family hostage simply out of fear of causing a meltdown. That fear can make the choice to simply not engage with that child just so you can get through a meal/school day/family gathering/etc. almost impossible to resist. I'm not excusing anyone but that temptation is real and the Lanza family was caught up by it.

Like others have said, it doesn't need to be mental health issues. I am in a state of anxiety for half the week about dinner with members of my family because I have no idea if the children will eat or not, and what behaviours will accompany that. They live it, every day, every meal, and here I am wanting to decline the very few meals a week we share with them, because I am tired and anxious and don't want to be held hostage to the emotional terrorism that is, messily, encapsulated under the umbrella of 'meltdown'.

So every time you think "oh, I would have done X", think about all the times you just make sandwiches, or cut crusts off, or call the tree a 'gree', or tiptoe around the house, or turn the music down so the bears can sleep, or turn the TV on so you can sit in relative silence, or never ever eat indian food, or drive through mangroves, or visit clubs, or whatever tiny little accommodations you make for the neurotypical people in your life. And apply them a hundred fold, for 20-30-90 minute tantrums and tears and screams, and the violence that doesn't ever seem to decrease with age and instead increases as the child gets older and bigger and you? You keep on diminishing, with age and weariness.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:56 PM on March 10, 2014 [11 favorites]


Pretty disturbing to see all the unanimous sympathy for the one parent and united hostility towards critical discussion of his choices, in contrast to the attacks, namecalling, and freely-given critique directed towards the other.
posted by cairdeas at 8:37 PM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


Cairdeas just FYI I can't parse your comment at al (not snark).
posted by sweetkid at 9:10 PM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have pity for her; as I said above, I think she got locked into folie a deux, and ended up enabling a very dangerous young man. But the fact was, despite the fact that financial resources *were* available to her for residential care (her ex-husband voluntarily paid extra over the requested alimony, to the tune of 320K a year), she instead turned inward and insisted on doing it all herself, to the point of lying to conceal Adam's disintegration and prevent intervention by others. And on top of that, she indulged his gun obsession, despite his mental illness.
posted by tavella at 9:15 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Some things to consider...

1. Adam Lanza was not a child, but an adult man.

Adults cannot be forced into residential treatment, or any kind of treatment, against their will. Adam had committed no known crimes, and was not, as far as anyone knew before his massacre, a danger to himself or others.

Let's rephrase that. He did not, as far as anyone knew, present "a demonstrated danger of substantial harm" which was "imminent." Because that's the legal standard. (People v. Superior Court 148 Cal. App. 3d 990, 196 Cal. Rptr. 431 (1983)). [At least in California, which is what I'm familiar with. Is Connecticut law substantially different? I doubt it; maybe someone can fill us in.]

This is a narrow standard, and it was made narrow deliberately.

He did not, as far as we know, display a threat of harm that was imminent, substantial, present, physical and demonstrable. And that is the standard for keeping someone confined for 14 days.

Fourteen. Days.

Now, let's say for the sake of argument that he had demonstrated an imminent danger of substantial harm to himself and been locked up for 14 days. What is the standard for keeping someone locked up for a *second* period of 14 days?

The standard narrows from "threat of harm" to "imminently suicidal."

You cannot just lock up or force residential treatment upon a free adult who has not committed a crime. Even if you think they may at some point do something dangerous or something that may lead to bad life circumstances for them.

A member of my family suffers from schizophrenia. He went so far as to shove someone off the subway platform and onto the tracks, in New York City, after which he was arrested by the NYPD and it was filmed and later shown on the evening news. Guess who has repeatedly checked himself out of mental health facilities, over and over, as is his legal right to do?

Adam Lanza never shoved anyone onto any subway tracks.

2. We see the argument that Nancy Lanza irresponsibly and neglectfully "enabled" Adam and "abetted" his sickness by heeding his wishes and not trying to force him into things he didn't want to do.

At the same time, we see great sympathy towards Peter Lanza not speaking to his son for two years because it would get Adam "all bent."
“It would have been a fight, the last thing I’d want to be doing . . . If I had gone there unannounced and just, ‘I want to see Adam.’ ‘Why are you doing this?’ Adam would be all bent about me.”
We see Peter's heeding of Adam's wishes here described as "reasonable." We see people asking - well, what was Peter supposed to do? Try to force an adult into something he said he didn't want? Cause a fight? Get Adam all upset? How would that have accomplished anything?

This is completely and utterly irrational. We have one parent who heeds her son's wishes and tries to avoid upsetting him, and we blame her and talk about what an enabler and abettor she is. We have one parent who heeds his son's wishes and tries to avoid upsetting him, and he is commended as reasonable, doing the right thing in the situation, doing all that he could possibly do - how trying to force Adam into something would not have worked to accomplish anything. What would you have him do, upset Adam for nothing??

3. When we look for where to lay blame, let's remember that two people can both describe a situation to the best of their ability, in a way that is, to each of them, truthful, and still give very, very different descriptions.

One parent is alive, and is here to speak, give us his recollections, and give his analysis of what went wrong. The other parent was shot to death, and doesn't have the opportunity to tell us anything.

By Peter Lanza's own description, he was checked out of his family life for the entirety of each work week - for his sons' entire childhoods, adolescence, teenage years.

So, for 20 years, Nancy Lanza is working at a complex, precarious, sensitive, grueling full-time job that her husband "helped out with" on some weekends.

It could have been that Nancy Lanza tried to do things all herself, in light of her adult son's legally valid refusal to be professionally treated, NOT because of hubris or pride or whatever Peter believes, but very simply because she might have had skills that he didn't have. And that might have been very evident in their family life. It may have been a reason that they separated. We have absolutely no idea. We'll never hear from Nancy.

Simply put, even though her very best efforts and the sacrifice of her entire life for 20 years got her shot in the face in the end, she might have done a better job of keeping Adam alive than anyone else possibly could. And she might have been aware of that, even if she might have never imagined things would end they way they did (which, might I add, NOBODY in the situation imagined). And she may have been right. And many other primary caregivers in her situation ARE right.

4. If the genders had been reversed, if Peter had been the primary and then only caretaker for 20 years and then been murdered, while Nancy remarried, sent alimony every month, and hadn't seen her son in two years, what would the reaction be? I believe it would be exactly the same as it is now - great sympathy for Peter, vilification of Nancy. What kind of mother wouldn't speak to her troubled son in two years??

4. If Nancy had stopped "enabling" Adam, let him go homeless, and then he had killed a bunch of children, would we be be praising her for her non-abetting non-enablerness? Or would we be saying, what's wrong with her that she just gave up on him and let him loose on society when she knew he was so messed up? This is HER fault!

Can't win, can't win. In my option, there is nothing, NOTHING his mother could have done here such that she would not be blamed.
posted by cairdeas at 1:19 AM on March 11, 2014 [13 favorites]


You're skipping over Nancy Lanza enabling her son's access to guns. I know it's possible that Adam Lanza could have gotten his hands on a gun without her but the fact remains that Adam used her gun to murder children.
posted by rdr at 2:15 AM on March 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think she was unquestionably wrong to give him access to guns, though he could certainly have gotten them, or other weapons, without her.

That doesn't negate all the other issues here that have been raised in this conversation, though. Critiques of her have not been limited to "she shouldn't have given him guns."
posted by cairdeas at 2:17 AM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Be it residential housing or adult day care and free respite or whatever. It's available and acceptable in Europe, it's not some impossible dream.

It's not an impossible dream in the US either. As a former mental health worker in both the UK and the US, these places exist in both countries. The US already has group residential homes, adult day care, and free respite care. The Lanzas undoubtedly wouldn't have qualified for free or reduced cost services but could have easily paid for something approximating higher quality residential care.

Adam Lanza was an adult who did not accept his diagnosis and didn't meet current legal standards for involuntary hospitalization. The horrible irony is he couldn't have been hospitalized unless he threatened himself or someone else AND that threat was reported OR after he'd already harmed himself or others.

I have huge sympathy for parents of adults with mental illness who don't meet standards for hospitalization but always seem to be on the edge of needing it. My brother is schizophrenic with many hospitalizations under his belt. Also a PhD in literature. It's hard for my parents (one of whom is also mentally ill to a lesser degree, and whom I could see and have seen get trapped into folies a deux with my brother) to balance long-term and short-term requirements and solutions.

I have sympathy for both parents. That doesn't mean either of them did nothing wrong. Peter Lanza happens to be the one who survived to give this interview. May his hindsight and self-recrimination help other families struggling with a family member with mental illness.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:58 AM on March 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


Edit: Of course the Lanzas did in fact pay for care for Adam, to no avail. Didn't mean to suggest they didn't.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:59 AM on March 11, 2014


Note that I was responding to the criticism of the two years after Adam cut off contact; at that point there was very little that Peter Lanza could do within the bounds of the law when dealing with an adult, so criticism of him for somehow abandoning Adam and Nancy are misplaced. Where I *do* think he failed was in not pushing harder for more aggressive treatment of Adam in the years before that, when they had more legal ability to do so. Adam was clearly becoming more and more non-functional and neither parent seem to have really dealt with that. But I'm also not sure that it would have made much effective difference, when the primary custodial parent and the child were united in their rejection of it.

And, as I said, I do have a good deal of pity for Nancy Lanza, who certainly never intended this horror to happen. However, it is limited by two things; first, her providing him with access to so many weapons when he was so ill, and second, because her self-cloistering and insistence on doing it all herself were motivated by pride and not the financial necessity that drives most such situations of maternal abnegation. Though I am wondering to what degree it also may have been a degree of untreated mental illness on her own part.
posted by tavella at 6:11 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Cairdeas just FYI I can't parse your comment at al

What Cairdeas didn't say, but I will, is that I can't help but view the sympathy for the father, and lack of sympathy for the mother, as part of a sexist system that thinks men who are fathers are princes if they just don't fuck up, while expecting women who are mothers to be nearly superhuman, sacrificing their time and their sanity in order to make their children perfect. We, as women, are expected to bear not just the majority of the work and effort but the responsibility and blame.

her self-cloistering and insistence on doing it all herself were motivated by pride

How do we know this? From the narrative voice of her ex-husband? We don't know that it was motivated by pride. We don't know anything, because she's dead, and we'll never hear anything about her thoughts and hopes and fears and dreams.

Another point I'll bring up is that, in addition to being the mother of a mentally ill son, she was also an ex-wife, who happened to win custody. And if no one here has been divorced, let me tell you, the tiniest things that are completely irrelevant to real parenting can be brought into a custody discussion, right down to the clothes you wear and the level of vocabulary you use. To think that Nancy Lanza should have told her ex-husband, about the problems in her home, to give him a potential weapon to use against her to claim she was an unfit mother despite doing the best she could, is to expect her, once again, to be superhuman.
posted by corb at 7:14 AM on March 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


At the point she was lying to him to conceal what was going on, Adam was an adult and custody was irrelevant.
posted by tavella at 8:05 AM on March 11, 2014


It's certainly possible it was motivated by self-delusion or stupidity rather than pride, but what it was not motivated by was lack of access, financial and logistical, to resources for respite and care. She chose, actively, to constantly indulge and cushion her son's multiple issues rather than aggressively address them _when she had the resources to do so_. So I don't have quite the same sympathy I have for a mother who is left doing 24 hour care because there is no money for assistance and treatment.

Undoubtedly she was doing what she believed was best. She was wrong, which would have been merely tragic if her son had killed her and himself. When he killed 26 other people with guns she supplied, it became horrific.
posted by tavella at 8:13 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


To think that Nancy Lanza should have told her ex-husband, about the problems in her home, to give him a potential weapon to use against her to claim she was an unfit mother despite doing the best she could, is to expect her, once again, to be superhuman.

This may be true, but somehow I don't think that the husband was clamoring for custody of Adam.
posted by Melismata at 11:26 AM on March 11, 2014


Again, at the point where she started lying to people to conceal how badly he was deteriorating, _Adam was an adult and custody was irrelevant_. It could not have been the reason she started lying to her ex-husband (and other people), unless she was mentally ill.
posted by tavella at 12:11 PM on March 11, 2014


> She chose, actively, to constantly indulge and cushion her son's multiple issues rather than aggressively address them _when she had the resources to do so_. So I don't have quite the same sympathy I have for a mother who is left doing 24 hour care because there is no money for assistance and treatment.

On some days, I get home from work and my eight-month-old dog is inexplicably boisterous all evening and tries to run laps around the apartment and keeps getting her ball stuck under the couch (maybe even on purpose) and… well, let's just say the last few months have taught me how little it takes for me to be at my wit's end if the workday has been at all strenuous.

That's one day, and that's an animal who is still adorable no matter what she does, and her ability to exhaust me is limited to one dimension. She can't throw tantrums. She can't make me cry with verbal abuse. The twenty years that Nancy spent taking care of Adam seems to have been designed to wear a human down and make her incapable of making prudent long-term decisions. If poverty can impede cognitive function, so can the demands of caring for someone with mental health problems.

Obviously she made bad decisions, but I don't think the bad decisions she made were necessarily worse than the decisions anyone would make if they were dropped into her situation. I know that she had the resources to try to get outside help, but I'm less concerned about being mad at her about that and more concerned about how (if at all) we can change the system so that the next Nancy Lanza is more likely to ask for help.
posted by savetheclocktower at 12:39 PM on March 11, 2014 [8 favorites]


This is my first comment, though I've been reading MeFi for years.

I am the parent of a child killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I was somewhat surprised to find myself, upon completing Andrew Solomon's piece, contemplating a meeting with Peter Lanza. This led to an internal deliberation that included the question, "can I forgive him?" The Solomon piece certainly humanized Peter Lanza for me; answering questions and giving me information that could not have been supplied in any other way short of a personal meeting and I trust this author and this magazine to present an evenly constructed and fairly edited profile.

I have empathy for his very difficult situation, and an awareness that it was not entirely externally generated. I know a very small piece of the hell he is now living, as he knows a small piece of mine, and I am of the possibly naive belief that my world, my life, will be changed and possibly clarified in some way if I can sit in the same room with this man and tell him that yes, we cry every day; yes, our grief is now a foundational stone of who we are and will be forever; and yes, we will lift our heads and continue as that is the only suitable option. I suspect he may know and feel these same things as well as more that I do not. I know he does.

But, right here, right now, today, I don't think I can forgive him. I certainly can't forgive his ex-wife. To me they both represent a dangerously casual attitude toward firearms, the predictable manifestation of which we see every day in the news. I can forgive them their very human inability to clearly see the right thing to do regarding their relationship with their son. I can not forgive them their inability to see what was the right thing to do regarding the family's relationship to weaponry.

Please understand that I, with great respect for all of you, am not asking for your advice. Merely taking a rather large step to engage in a public forum that directly relates to my life.

Thank you.
posted by Novato at 1:19 PM on March 11, 2014 [45 favorites]


Novato, I am so, so sorry for your loss. Thank you for stepping forward and offering your voice.
posted by anastasiav at 1:35 PM on March 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


Oh, wow, Novato. I was trying to figure out some way to state something like this:

I can not forgive them their inability to see what was the right thing to do regarding the family's relationship to weaponry.

Ultimately, as long as our country thinks that obsession with guns and firearms is an acceptable pastime, we will continue pondering. I don't see any other answer to this unspeakable tragedy than access to firearms.

I am so very deeply sorry for your loss.
posted by amanda at 1:39 PM on March 11, 2014


Novato,

Thank you for contributing here. I am so sorry for your loss.

It really humanizes the entire discussion to hear your thoughts, and helps metaphorically shrink what can feel like an anonymous, vast internet down to a size that enables real discussions about actual issues.

Right now I'm very happy that Metafilter exists as a place where this can happen.
posted by Shebear at 11:48 PM on March 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


Andrew Solomon was interviewed for the New Yorker Out Loud podcast about his article. One can listen here.
posted by Shebear at 2:16 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Novato, I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your perspective and thoughts.
posted by salvia at 8:28 AM on March 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


Novato, I want to echo the others and say how very sorry I am for your loss. Thank you for writing so eloquently about your feelings. My best thoughts and sympathies to you and your loved ones.
posted by daybeforetheday at 11:47 AM on March 12, 2014


The thing that really impressed me in the months after the Sandy Hook shooting was the willingness of the victims' family members to get out in public and speak about gun issues. Not that there was total unanimity on tactics or strategy, but it was encouraging to see them willing to put themselves out there and say that something had to be done.

The defeat of Manchin-Toomey was a huge setback, and the NRA isn't in any danger of being caught in terms of fundraising or influence on lawmakers, but there were some victories in state houses (including in Connecticut) that I think can be tied directly to the effort of the Newtown families (and also families of victims from other recent incidents -- Aurora, Tucson, etc.) in speaking out and trying to turn their tragedy into something positive.

It's terrifying to think that these mass shootings are what it takes to move the ball forward a half a yard at a time, but if that's the situation we're in, then we need strong people who are willing to raise awareness and offer solutions. It'd probably be a lot easier for these folks to grieve privately and throw in the towel on changing public policy, but some of them, at least, decided to try to push back, and I'm very grateful for these efforts.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:36 PM on March 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


Fresh Air interview with author Andrew Solomon (43 minutes).
posted by blueberry at 7:44 PM on March 13, 2014




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