The Father of the Sandy Hook Killer Searches for Answers

Monday, March 17, 2014

New Yorker contributor Andrew Solomon discusses interviewing Peter Lanza, father of Adam Lanza, who killed his mother, himself, and 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012. Solomon’s article “The Reckoning” appears in the March 17 issue of The New Yorker.

Though the crime of killing 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School remains incomprehensible, Solomon’s conversations with Peter Lanza gave him some insight into Adam Lanza’s inner world: "I think Adam believed that he was hateful. He believed that his life was without value, and he wanted to make that true. He wanted to become as horrible as he understood himself to be."

Solomon says that Lanza’s diagnoses of a sensory integration disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome may have prevented his parents and doctors from seeing his symptoms as symptoms of sociopath behavior. "The privacy of a mind can allow terrible things to happen without their being visible."

Since his article was first published, Andrew Solomon has received more than 2,000 emails since the story was published. Ninety percent of those, he says, have been supportive of Peter Lanza. The others have been very angry and hostile toward Peter Lanza and also toward Solomon.

Solomon notes that parents are often blamed for the shortcomings – and in this case, the crimes – of their children. The reason behind that impulse to blame, he says, is fear. "If we acknowledge that parents don’t cause this, if we acknowledge that you can be good parents and still have this happen, then we open up a world of terror to ourselves."

However, after months of interviews and research, Solomon says: "I think there is no such thing as an explanation for this."


Andrew Solomon

Comments [21]

KT from Ramsey, NJ

I listened to Mr. Lopate’s conversation with Mr. Solomon as I drove home to await the return from school of my 19 year old severely autistic son. The public needs to understand that aggression and self- injury sometimes accompany autism regardless of the quality of parenting available to the autistic individual. We are in the early stages of research to try to understand why. Adam’s parents were overwhelmed by the complexity and challenge of their autistic son. But they should have done two things: 1. Removed all guns from the home, as no despondent, isolated young man (autistic or not) should have easy access to guns.; and 2. Pursued quality mental health intervention which would have likely included medication and possibly hospitalization, voluntary or involuntary. Parents do get caught up in the day to day, sometimes moment to moment, challenges of their disabled children. But when your loved one is falling apart in front of your eyes, you must overcome any resistance you may have to mental health intervention, and try to get the best care you can for him.

Mar. 18 2014 05:58 AM
pete from Norwalk, CT

I hear from folks in the know that Adam Lanza headed to Newtown High School first, but turned around after seeing the armed school security guards. Sandy Hook Elementary School just happened to be the next closest school, one mile away down Birkshire Road. And if you look at the layout of where within the school the shootings took place, it becomes apparent that all the classrooms he approached just happened to close to the entrance and near each other (in rooms 8,9, and 10). If the ESL class was closest to the entrance the media would be saying Adam Lanza hated foreigners. However since most of the victims were first graders, the media is asking themselves "why did he dislike first graders?".

I believe his motives were simple. I think he wanted to kill his mom first and foremost. Then he realized "if I kill my mom I'll be sent away until I die, so mind as well take my own life so I don't need to deal with the consequences". Then he thought "if I'm going to commit suicide anyway mind as well take out some kids who used to tease me while I was growing up". I heard from someone who knew Adam Lanza that ever since they were little everyone always knew he had something called aspergers, and that's why he was weird. After killing his mom he probably went to the high school where he held a lot of resentment, but then after seeing the armed guards he turned around. At this point he's in too deep so he just happened to go to the closest school, and finish his plan regardless of who the victims are.

There are crazy people among us. I hear that there is still around the clock police presence in the new elementary school in Monroe because sick folks call the school and make threats, saying they'll come and finish off what Adan Lanza started.

The fact of the matter is the casualties would have been much less if all the adults in Sandy Hook Elementary school had a gun on their hip and knew how to use them. But they didn't, and so it is not.

Mar. 17 2014 05:10 PM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey


"Stop blaming guns. It's the shortcomings of people, not guns."

But guns are a great facilitator for killing people. SAME DAY as the Sandy Hook massacre a madman with a knife WOUNDED 22 in China -

Nancy Lanza SHOULD have been required to keep her guns at the range...One (maybe two) for home defense would have been enough and the arsenal of ammo should have been locked up offsite, too. Her gun ownership practices were inexcusable and she should have been prosecuted if she had lived.

Mar. 17 2014 02:27 PM
CHRIS from summit, nj

I was extremely offended by your guest's comment that divorce is ALWAYS traumatic for kids. I am frankly tired of this myth and his irresponsible perpetuation of it. My kids are very well adjusted and I divorced for THEM. Had I not, their lives would be much worse. My daughter was not aware that divorce was "bad" until a school counselor told her it was, and THEN she was (slightly) traumatized.

Mar. 17 2014 12:58 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Stop blaming guns. It's the shortcomings of people, not guns. Lanza was "bad seed" and that's all there is to it. A "natural born killer." Perhaps, someday genomic science will be able to spot the probabilities of it early on even before conception as with many other congenital ailments.

Mar. 17 2014 12:41 PM
John A

Bittersweet agreement with Solomon that Internet comment boards can often amplify things antisocial, that's very sad. The open comments in Urbandictionary on Columbine were horrifying, when I read them about 2 years ago, and probably now too. He should do an article focusing on just this type of thing.

Mar. 17 2014 12:39 PM
Mamie from Manhattan from Manhattan

Based on the article, Mrs. Lanza seems to have all the earmarks of "battered spouse syndrome", but with the son being the batterer (this is not unprecedented) and no one coming to her rescue or affording her the mental health help she needed. Clearly, the mental health professionals involved failed these parents and this boy (with the horrific results that none of us can comprehend). However, I am not feeling much sympathy for Mr. Lanza, who appears to have coped with a difficult child by drowning himself in work, then walking away from the marriage and the problem, and then finding himself a new life with a new wife (to whom he did not introduce Adam, claiming, rather unpersuasively, that it would have been difficult for Adam). Mr. Solomon shouldn't have been so willing to let Mr. Lanza off the hook. Male abandonment of family responsibilities is a continuing theme in this country.

Mar. 17 2014 12:36 PM
profwilliams from Montclair, NJ

Haven't read the piece, but if dad didn't speak to Adam for 2 years, what value- other than "2 years ago he was like..." can dad offer?

Author makes dad sound like a VERY guilty man hoping that speaking out will help ease his pain.

I hope it does.

Mar. 17 2014 12:36 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

It's yet another reason why I believe babies should be produced in factories, and marriage and family should go out of existence, as in "Brave New World."

Mar. 17 2014 12:35 PM
Henry from Katonah

I have started reading the article but have not finished it.
I am interested in the Aspergers dianosis,especial from the Yale Child Study Center ( I have been there) - - but did Mr Solomon see any evidence of Adam having a high IQ? Usually that is the most noticable part of an Aspergers child.

Mar. 17 2014 12:35 PM

As a father myself I would like to feel sympathy for Mr. Lanza, but I have a hard time getting past the fact that he had not seen his son for over 2 years, even though he lived and worked in the same general area as Adam lived. Deserved or not, it gives the appearance that he focused on his job and his new family and neglected the difficult son Adam.

Mar. 17 2014 12:33 PM
Ed from Larchmont

People, even children, need God.

Mar. 17 2014 12:32 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I wonder if Adam Lanza might have identified the children he shot either w/himself at that age (& wanted to have died at their age) or w/children who tormented him at that age (& wanted to kill those children).

Mar. 17 2014 12:29 PM
Shawn from Bergen County

@ Steve from NYC: Olfactory hallucinations are very much a part of schizophrenia. Why would you suggest otherwise?

For those who are not doctors, you can use Google Scholar to find the myriad published articles about the connection.

Mar. 17 2014 12:29 PM
Ed from Larchmont

It makes me think of the Sacrament of Confession: among other things, it removes this sense of self-hatred that is sense of sin or damage, which seems to have driven him. (One has to say, though, that horrified at the killing of children, why aren't we pro-life?)

Mar. 17 2014 12:25 PM
Sheeba from bklyn

Can the author speak on Lanza's access to guns given his diagnoses? Did his father speak on this at all. It seems inexplicable.

Mar. 17 2014 12:20 PM
Steve from NYC

I am a physician and have a question for Mr.Solomon. In his article he notes that Adam experienced smelling things that weren't were. These are olfactory hallucinations. These are not a part of schizophrenia, Aspergers, autism, or OCD but they are a common symptom of partial complex seizures which can also poor impulse control including violent behavior for no apparent reason. Mr. Solomon noted in his article that it was suggested that his teachers observe for seizures although, it should be noted. that these seizures in no way resemble grand mal seizures.
I was wondering if Mr. Solomon knows whether or not Adam was ever fully evaluated for a neurologic disorder or treated for seizures.

Mar. 17 2014 12:18 PM

Where is the wisdom and common sense to have guns, access to guns in a house with someone with vulnerable and unstable.

Mar. 17 2014 12:14 PM
Ed from Larchmont

One has to think that there was some element of the demonic here, considering the results.

Mar. 17 2014 12:13 PM
Ken from UWS

The key question here seems to be why did Adam's parents allow a child this troubled to have an arsenal of weapons?

Mar. 17 2014 12:12 PM
Stephanie from Colorado

I want to thank Mr Solomon (and Peter Lanza) so much for this beautiful and in-depth article which shows the overwhelming struggles that parents of such children must deal with. As the mother of a child with severe mental illness I believe that this type of article provides exactly what people need to hear and understand.

Mar. 17 2014 12:08 PM

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