Next week, NEWTOWN: An American Tragedy will be published on the first anniversary of the tragic mass shooting that left 28 people dead, most of whom were grade-school children. Reporter Matthew Lysiak spent most of the past year living in Newtown, Connecticut, gathering interviews with friends and family of Adam Lanza and his victims. Here are some of the things that surprised him:
1. Adam Lanza Displayed More Severe Warning Signs Than Other Mass Shooters
Author Matthew Lysiak told Heavy.com that what struck him most in his months of research into the tragedy was how exceptionally preventable it seemed. Working for the New York Daily News, Lysiak covered the mass shootings in Tuscon and Aurora, but came to believe that Adam Lanza offered more warning signs than either James Holmes or Jared Loughner.
Lysiak was disappointed by the police report, which he characterized as a “cover my ass” sort of report.
According to Lysiak, Adam Lanza’s high-school and mother were aware of the boy’s idolization of violence. His graphic art-works and poetry reflected a psychology that sought security through fantasies of murder.
Lysiak’s book contradicts earlier reports, which suggested Nancy Lanza had not seen the state of her son’s bedroom. In fact, Ms. Lanza had entered her son’s bedroom in the weeks leading up to the shooting, where she would have seen windows taped over with black trash bags, violent video games scattered among newspaper clippings related to mass shootings, and a 7-foot-by-4-foot poster on the wall with the top 500 mass killings of all time, ranked by fatalities.
Perhaps most shockingly, in the last weeks of his life, the 20-year-old Lanza had taken to wearing head-to-toe military garb around the family home, where he had built himself an indoor shooting range, firing away at paper targets with his pellet gun.
Aside from these warning signs, Lysiak believes Adam Lanza’s spiral into isolation and psychosis might have been prevented if Nancy Lanza had chosen to keep her son enrolled at Newtown High at the end of his sophomore year.
The book portrays Adam’s first two years of high school, from 2006 to 2007, as a brief respite from social isolation. Under the guidance of a school security officer named Richard Novia, he joined a Tech Club where he found his computer skills validated by his peers.
But when Novia left Newtown High after Adam’s sophomore year, Nancy felt her son would be lost in a large public high school without a mentor. Novia recalls pleading with Nancy not to pull her son out of school, believing that Adam was just beginning to acclimate. Nancy ultimately chose to withdraw him from the school, and Adam never returned to public education.
2. Some Police Believe Lanza’s Initial Target Was Newtown High School
In an excerpt posted in the New York Daily News on Monday, Lysiak writes that, according to a source familiar with the investigation, on the morning of the shooting Adam Lanza’s car was identified on Newton High School’s surveillance footage. His car circled the parking lot, before departing minutes later. The source told Lysiak he believes “Adam spotted [the] two police cars, which were parked in the lot, and decided to move on.”
3. Lanza’s Mother Told Friends She Considered Him a ‘Lost Cause’
While fiercely protective of Adam when he was child, home-schooling the boy, shuffling him between different schools in attempt to find one that could meet his needs, Nancy Lanza appears to have given up on her son in the final years of his life.
According to The Daily Mail’s write-up on the book, in 2008, Nancy Lanza told a friend that she’d begun to regard Adam as a “lost cause”. She told another friend at the beginning of last year that she felt it was “already too late to help Adam”.
In the final years of her life, Nancy Lanza took many private vacations, leaving her 20 year-old son alone in their home. Among Ms. Lanza’s destinations were London, Boston, New York, New Orleans, San Francisco and Maine.
Three days before the shooting, Nancy Lanza checked into the Omni Mount Washington resort in New Hampshire.
The book suggests that during her stay at the ski resort, Nancy called home only once, and was unable to reach Lanza at that time.
Nonetheless, Lysiak says that he believes Nancy Lanza was a profoundly loving mother, who gave the best years of her life to trying to make her troubled son more at home in the world. Lysiak does not question Nancy Lanza’s love, only her judgement.
Regardless, he insists the goal of the book is not “to demonize Nancy Lanza. The goal is to prevent this from ever happening again.”
4. Nancy Lanza Took Her Son Shooting Starting at Age 4
According to family friend Marvin Lafountaine, who says he went on shooting sessions with Nancy and her young sons, Adam was “comfortable with a firearm” at just 4 years old.
Lafountaine continues, in the book excerpt obtained by The Daily Mail: “Adam’s tiny face would tense up as he concentrated while his mother would patiently go over, step by step, the proper hold and technique for the firearm.”
Ms. Lanza saw shooting as a “perfect outlet” for “bonding sessions” with her son. To obtain firearms for her mentally ill child, Nancy Lanza appears to have committed a felony, naming herself as the sole owner of weapons that she later gave to Adam, in official ATF paperwork.
5. Gun Control Could Not Have Prevented This Tragedy
When asked if he felt America’s loose gun laws were responsible for the tragedy at Newtown, Lysiak said he “couldn’t think of a gun law that would have prevented this aside from banning all guns. Nancy and Adam Lanza violated the existing laws.”
Which is not to say that Lysiak necessarily opposes efforts to restrict access to firearms. Whether or not gun control could have been a solution to the problem of Adam Lanza, Lysiak says that no one he talked to could understand why his mother encouraged a passion for weaponry in her anti-social son.
Ultimately, though, Lysiak feels the answer to preventing future Newtowns is through greater investment in mental health services, particularly for adolescents. A portion of whatever profit his book makes will go to the Avielle Foundation, a research community devoted to preventing violence through psychological and neurological research.
Lysiak said in the process of reporting the book, he talked to parents of children with similar psychological disorders as Adam Lanza, who are gravely worried that one day they could wake up to find their son at the center of our next national tragedy.
The only options for many of these parents, when they find their children in mental distress, are to call the police or the emergency room. Lysiak believes there must be another option:
“Adam Lanza was failed too, he didn’t get the help he needed. Same with Aurora, same with Tuscon. … The narrative that this was like a weather event, this happened and couldn’t have been prevented, except maybe for the guns. … If we take that attitude, right now there’s someone out there who could do this, and we’re not going to stop him.”