Research: Sandy Hook's gunman documents may boost study of mass killers

Researchers say the detail on Adam Lanza's mental decline could offer insights into the mind of a mass killer

By Dave Collins
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. — The disclosure of Adam Lanza's writings and other documents offer little toward understanding why he carried out the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, but researchers say the detail on the gunman's mental decline could offer insights into the mind of a mass killer.

Some relatives of the 20 children and six educators gunned down at the school on Dec. 14, 2012, said they welcomed the release of the long-withheld records, although they wish it had not come the week of the tragedy's sixth anniversary.

Sandy Hook gunman, Adam Lanza
Sandy Hook gunman, Adam Lanza (Photo/Associated Press)

"I understand why it needs to be released. But I think the timing of it sucks," said Lenny Pozner, whose 6-year-old son Noah was among the children who died. "I'm not going to even look at it. The shooter doesn't get any space in my head."

Under a court order, Connecticut State Police released to The Hartford Courant hundreds of pages of documents that shed light on gunman Adam Lanza's anger and fascination with mass shootings. The criminal investigation concluded a year after the shooting without determining a motive and the new documents flesh out the portrait from earlier reports of Lanza as a young man who was increasingly disturbed and socially isolated in the years leading up to the shooting.

State police refused to release the documents for years until the state Supreme Court ruled in October that Lanza's personal belongings and writings including journals were not exempt from open record laws. The ruling came in a lawsuit by The Hartford Courant and state Freedom of Information Commission. State police officials declined to release the records to the public Monday, saying private information of people other than Lanza needs to be redacted.

There is a split within the criminologist community about the benefits of publicly releasing such details of mass shootings, with some saying it glorifies the killers and could spur copycats and other saying it could help prevent future massacres.

Dr. Harold Schwartz, a psychiatrist and member of the Connecticut commission, made public safety and mental health recommendations in the wake of the shooting and reviewed some of the newly released documents, which were provided to him by the newspaper.

"There's no single, startling new revelation in these papers, but there's more building of the general impression of the kind of disturbed life he (Lanza) was living that I think is mostly helpful to psychiatrists, psychologists ... certainly researchers," Schwartz said.

Schwartz said writings near the end of Lanza's life suggest he didn't decide to commit the shooting until shortly before the massacre, when he may have been suffering from the effects of anorexia including possible brain damage. Schwartz and other experts note millions of people cope with the same mental illnesses Lanza had and aren't violent.

The records are important for mental health experts because they offer more detail about Lanza's isolation, social awkwardness and odd behaviors, according to Peter Langman, a psychologist in Allentown, Pennsylvania, who has written books about school shooters.

"That oddness doesn't explain mass murder," he said. "We can speculate. I think he was someone who felt extremely disempowered, very much a misfit in society and maybe that resulted in a great deal of rage toward society. ... This may have been his way of lashing out against the culture he felt was imposed upon him."

Lanza, 20, fatally shot his mother inside their Newtown home before going to the school, where he killed himself as police arrived.

Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse was killed at the school, said it was for the best to get a full accounting on the record.

"Timing isn't great but I appreciate the media and think there should be full disclosure," she said.

Nelba Marquez-Greene, whose daughter Ana Grace died at the Sandy Hook school, said on Twitter Monday that while details of the shooting and other crimes "can help inform response and possibly even help to prevent tragedy in the future — the timing of this makes it nothing but click bait. Remember the families.

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