Nov 26, 2013

Adam Lanza's suicide ignored by state report

The Connecticut State Attorney’s report on the Sandy Hook shootings details the horror but misses the point. Adam Lanza prepared and rehearsed for violent suicide, and obsessively studied mass murder. In the days leading up to the incident, it became clear that he was about to lose his way of life.  Sandy Hook was a suicide, with mass murder tacked on.

If the State Attorney sought help interpreting the mental health aspects of the case, the report does not show it. It displays shocking, almost willful disregard of mental health and suicide. The report is available here.

The report minimizes Adam Lanza’s problems. It states
He was undoubtedly afflicted with mental health problems; yet despite a fascination with mass shootings and firearms, he displayed no aggressive or threatening tendencies.
It ignores
In seventh grade, a teacher described the shooter as intelligent but not normal, with anti-social issues. He was quiet, barely spoke and did not want to participate in anything. His writing assignments obsessed about battles, destruction and war, far more than others his age. The level of violence in the writing was disturbing.
The report does emphasize Lanza’s inability to connect socially. For example, in 2005 (seven years earlier, at age 12 or 13),
[Lanza] was described as presenting with significant social impairments and extreme anxiety. It was also noted that he lacked empathy and had very rigid thought processes. He had a literal interpretation of written and verbal material. In the school setting, the shooter had extreme anxiety and discomfort with changes, noise, and physical contact with others.
Lanza had a mental health diagnosis, but no follow through. Even though in 2006 an evaluation noted
His high level of anxiety, Asperger’s characteristics, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) concerns and sensory issues all impacted his performance to a significant degree, limiting his participation in a general education curriculum. Tutoring, desensitization and medication were recommended. It was suggested that he would benefit by continuing to be eased into more regular classroom time and increasing exposure to routine events at school.
The shooter refused to take suggested medication and did not engage in suggested behavior therapies.
Lanza lived a strange, weirdly isolated life. He appears to have been addicted to isolation. His mother enabled and perpetuated that life.
The mother did the shooter’s laundry on a daily basis as the shooter often changed clothing during the day. She was not allowed in the shooter’s room, however, even to clean. No one was allowed in his room.
The shooter disliked birthdays, Christmas and holidays. He would not allow his mother to put up a Christmas tree. The mother explained it by saying that shooter had no emotions or feelings. The mother also got rid of a cat because the shooter did not want it in the house.
Prior to the shootings, despite this enabling, codependent behavior, Lanza was rejecting his mother along with everyone else.
One witness indicated that the shooter did not have an emotional connection to his mother. Recently when his mother asked him if he would feel bad if anything happened to her, he replied, “No.” Others, however, have indicated that they thought the shooter was close to his mother and she was the only person to whom the shooter would talk.
A person who knew the shooter in 2011 and 2012 said the shooter described his relationship with his mother as strained because the shooter said her behavior was not rational.
Beyond the evidence of social disconnection, the report identifies clear evidence Lanza was preoccupied by self-inflicted violent death. He assumed suicidal poses, and memorialized them. Among the evidence found in his home were the following:
Three photographs of what appear to be a dead human, covered in blood and wrapped in plastic
Two videos showing suicide by gunshot
Images of the shooter holding a handgun to his head
Images of the shooter holding a rifle to his head
This collection of images is plain evidence of suicidal preparation and intent. As the incident approached, Lanza had become even more isolated. He knew his isolated lifestyle was threatened. He was about to be forced out of his place of refuge.
In November 2012, the mother … was concerned about him and said that he hadn’t gone anywhere in three months and would only communicate with her by e-mail, though they were living in the same house. …
The mother said that she had plans to sell her home in Newtown and move to either Washington state or North Carolina. She reportedly had told the shooter of this plan and he apparently stated that he wanted to move to Washington. The intention was for the shooter to go to a special school in Washington or get a computer job in North Carolina. In order to effectuate the move, the mother planned to purchase a recreational vehicle (RV) to facilitate the showing and sale of the house and the eventual move to another state. The RV would provide the shooter with a place to sleep as he would not sleep in a hotel. In fact, during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, with no power in the house, the shooter refused to leave the home and go to a hotel.
Lanza may have told his mother he was willing to move, but his actions say otherwise. Without the context of Lanza’s world collapsing and his suicidal intent, there would have been no Sandy Hook tragedy.

Suicide risk involves three factors:

  1. Thwarted belongingness. A perception, belief, or feeling of disconnection or alienation from others.
  2. Thwarted effectiveness. A perception, belief, or feeling of failure or worthlessness, or that one has become a burden on others.
  3. Acquired capacity for self-harm. A kind of fearlessness, recklessness, or immunity to pain, which is gained through experience of painful injury, prior self-harm, or through practice of another sort.
Once a person gains the capacity for self-harm, it is difficult to lose it. Risk factors related to thwarted belongingness and thwarted effectiveness include the following.
  • Depression and other mental disorders, and/or a substance-abuse disorder. More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have these risk factors. Family history of mental disorder or substance abuse. People with borderline personality disorder experience high levels of alienation and feelings of worthlessness, and have extremely high suicide risk.
  • Failed relationships, financial loss, or loss of status. Criminal behavior, impending lengthy incarceration. Other shameful circumstances. Disgrace. Shunning. Bullying. Religious or ideological failure.
  • Disability, aging, loss of autonomy. Reduced capacity for self-care. Inability to ensure safety of a dependent spouse or disabled adult child.
  • Cognitive distortions, delusions, paranoia, rage.
  • Frequent nightmares, lack of sleep.
Risk factors related to acquired capacity for self-harm include the following.
  • Prior suicide attempt (puts the person at highest level of risk).
  • Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, such as family members, peers, or media figures.
  • Exposure to violence, including physical or sexual abuse. Exposure to the violent behavior of others. Family violence. Occupational violence, especially for public safety workers. Combat violence. Incarceration.
  • Pain and injury, especially self-injury. Multiple surgeries. Frequent tattoos and piercings.
  • Risky and reckless behavior, provocative experiences. Disruptive behavior.
  • Substance abuse. Medication misuse.
  • Firearms in the home (the method used in more than half of suicides). Firearms, suffocation, and poisoning are the most frequent means used to commit suicide.
  • Vicarious experiences. Opportunities to practice, plan, and contemplate self-harm. Violent media, video games.
  • Changes in mental health medication. People may become activated as medication takes effect or wears off.
These factors may be common and ordinary and shared by many people, nonetheless given the sheer quantity of risk factors accumulating around Adam Lanza, suicide stands out as the primary motive for the Sandy Hook tragedy.  The rest was theater, an attempt to create a memorable end. Because Lanza had no social connection with anyone, he was capable of taking on a horrific role, one that nonetheless fascinated him, the school shooter. Among the evidence seized from the Lanza home:
  • A New York Times article from February 18, 2008, regarding the school shooting at Northern Illinois University
  • The book Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy (about a school shooting).
  • The computer game titled “School Shooting” where the player controls a character who enters a school and shoots at students.
  • A document written showing the prerequisites for a mass murder spreadsheet
  • A spreadsheet listing mass murders by name and information about the incident
  • Large amount of materials relating to Columbine shootings and documents on mass murders.
It does no one any good to perpetuate the myth that suicide-murders are inexplicable. Willful ignorance endangers people, as the Sandy Hook tragedy shows.

No comments: