It’s been over two weeks since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and the two most frustrating questions remain unanswered: why did it happen and could it have been prevented?
We may never know. Adam Lanza, the shooter, is dead. He also killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, most likely the person who knew her 20-year-old son best. It’s been reported he may have snapped because he knew she was looking into having him committed to a psychiatric facility against his will although that hasn’t been confirmed.
But suppose it’s true. Suppose Adam knew what his mother was planning and he was angry about it. Maybe he was so furious he fought with her and called her names and threatened to kill himself or her. Or both. And then she blogged about it. Could putting it out there have made a difference?
Another mother desperately hopes so. Liza Long has four children including a mentally ill teenaged son. She blogs at http://anarchistsoccermom.blogspot.com/
“Michael” (not his real name) is only 13. He’s angry and unpredictable to the point where the family has a safety plan in place when he threatens violence: the younger kids know to jump in the car and lock the doors. They had to do this recently because when Long asked him to return some overdue library books, he pulled a knife on her and threatened to kill them both.
After hearing about Sandy Hook she posted the following which she referred to as a cry for help; she titled it “Thinking the Unthinkable”: http://anarchistsoccermom.blogspot.com/2012/12/thinking-unthinkable.html?m=1
She doesn’t mince words when she describes what it’s like to live with a mentally ill child. She admits she loves him but he also terrifies her. She worries he could be the next mass killer. In it she states, I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s mother. I am Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother.
It’s painful to read. But the saddest part is, no one knows what’s wrong with Michael. Labels have been tossed around by various health care professionals but there’s been no official diagnosis. He’s been on a number of drugs, none of which, she says, have helped. What are her options? According to her son’s social worker, she should have Michael charged with a crime. “No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges,” the social worker said.
Her post went viral. Gawker and Huffington Post picked it up and changed the name to “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother”. Then there was the predictable backlash, started by another blogger, who took Long to task for exploiting her child’s privacy, among other things.
Raising kids is hard work. I can’t imagine what it’s like when you throw in mental illness. Add violence and it could be enough to make parents wish they’d remained childless.
We don't know if Nancy Lanza had any idea of what her son was capable of or if she was suffering in silence. But if it’s true she was investigating psychiatric facilities, she was aware something was seriously wrong. Liza Long already knows something’s wrong. She’s scared and she’s told the world about it with her courageous essay. She’d like to prevent another Sandy Hook or Columbine. But can she?
I’m sure if Nancy Lanza had been afraid for herself or others she’d have tried to act more quickly; involuntary hospitalization of an adult isn’t automatic or easy. If she feared for her safety surely she’d have gotten rid of the guns. And if she was really scared, if she’d written a widely read piece like Long’s, expressing worry and frustration about Adam, might the massacre he instigated have been prevented?
I don’t think so.
We can and should have stricter gun control laws. Mental health research and treatment should be at least as well-funded and publicized as say, breast cancer. Liza Long should have better options for her boy than having him charged with a crime. No one should have to feel unsafe in a school or at a theater or in any public place.
And people with violent tendencies, whether mentally ill or not, should be taken seriously and not have access to any kind of weapon.
But without a crystal ball - or at least a stated threat - some things cannot be predicted or headed off, no matter how vigilant and worried a parent is.
It sounds like Liza Long is doing everything she possibly can. So how can she keep herself from being known as “ ‘Michael’ Long’s mother”, if he someday decides to shoot up a school?
The answer is, she can’t.