9 – Newtown, Connecticut
Motives are often few and far between when spree killers are involved. Serial killers can generally be traced back to core behaviours and psychopathies that explain their actions, but with many rampage gunmen, there can be any number of reasons. The stereotypical “mad, bad or sad” argument points to a mix of mental illness, evil intentions and despair, but the truth is often far more complex than that. In the case of Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, all three might work as a description, but it would only go half of the way to explaining any sort of motive.
Lanza was just 20 when he strode into that school in Sandy Hook and massacred 20 six and seven-year-olds – as well as six teachers – in just over five minutes. He had no criminal record and nobody remotely suspected that he was capable of such an abhorrent act. His mother, whom he also killed before beginning his rampage, was not afraid of him and though they had a somewhat fractured relationship, it was not anything that indicated what might follow.
The problems that afflicted Lanza were long-standing. He was on the autistic spectrum and had been diagnosed by several psychologists as suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, but so are millions of perfectly normal and functional people. None of the many mental health professionals who treated him ever saw any signs of violent behaviour and is in fact incredibly rare for autistic people to display. These pre-existing conditions, however, are thought to have been contributory to his attack in the sense that they distracted professionals from identifying other disorders from which he may have been affected, such as schizophrenia and psychosis.
Lanza’s lifestyle was certainly far from normal: he holed up in his room and communicated with his mother – whom he lived with – only over email. He would only eat food that was organised in a certain way on his plate and spent days on end playing video games. His only friends were online and his computer, found after the attack, was filled with information about massacres with a particular emphasis on the Columbine school shooting.
It is easy, after the incident, to rearrange the facts to suit a wider narrative. Lanza was suffering from several severe mental health issues, but there are countless people all over the world who have similar conditions and live normally. He was isolated socially, but plenty of people are without doing what he did.
Indeed, plenty of people have an interest the things in which he was interested – from video games to school shootings – without acting out in the way that Lanza did. It is incontrovertible that the access to weapons of someone like Adam Lanza is something that most people outside of the United States find bizarre, but the stories that we have examined in France, in Germany, in Australia and in the United Kingdom show that stricter gun laws do not completely halt rampage killers. Keeping guns away from mentally ill people seems like a no-brainer, but the sad fact about Adam Lanza is that nobody knew, or could have predicted, that he was as severely deranged as he turned out to be. Mad, perhaps, but only in the same way that millions of people are, sad, definitely, but again, only as much as plenty of other folks around the world, and bad – not particularly until it was too late.