Will Lanza Report Help Us Understand Mass Killers?

Much reporting has been done about the report on Adam Lanza and the Sandy Hook shootings released by Connecticut state investigators a week ago. But this article from the Hartford Courant caught my eye, in part because it talks about a book Lanza made years ago, and what it might reveal about his longstanding relationship to violent ideas.

The book, called “The Big Book of Granny,” includes a number of violent scenes. It’s being studied by a team at the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, one which focuses on patterns and behaviors common in mass shooters — exactly the kind of research we need. Although those researchers and others agree that the book on its own doesn’t automatically indicate that Lanza would eventually do what he did, but it’s potentially a piece of the puzzle.

One expert, former FBI agent and profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole, said:

Anyone conducting a 360-degree assessment of Lanza as a child or teenager — and there is no evidence there was any occasion to do such a study — would have had to have considered many other factors beyond the “Granny” story, O’Toole said.

“His mental health issues, coupled with the guns in the house would have been very concerning,” O’Toole said. “You would also want to know, were his family and social relationships strained or deteriorating? Was he becoming more adversarial? Isolated? Alienated? Incommunicative?”

O’Toole said that despite the disturbing writing sample, it would have taken Lanza years more to evolve into a person capable of doing what he did.

This is especially interesting in light of a new book, The Psychopath Inside, by neuroscientist James Fallon, who discovered that his brain matched those of the psychopaths he studied, and yet he wasn’t prone to vicious acts of violence like some were. When he dug deeper to determine why his brain didn’t turn into that of a killer, he pointed to the love and support that surrounded him, particularly in childhood:

“I was loved, and that protected me,” he says. Partly as a result of a series of miscarriages that preceded his birth, he was given an especially heavy amount of attention from his parents, and he thinks that played a key role.

Many researchers have argued over the years that it takes a complex set of ingredients to set someone up to commit a mass killing like Sandy Hook or Columbine. It looks like, with Lanza, we’re getting a little closer to understanding what those ingredients are. Particularly given, in the investigators’ report, they didn’t list his love of video games as a likely motive. Unfortunately, they didn’t come up with any motive at all.

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