Tag Archives: Dylan Klebold

Interview With Adam Lanza’s Father Makes Clear: We Need a New Approach to School Shootings

I’ve been thinking a lot about this interview with Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza’s father, Peter Lanza, since it ran in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago. I read about it before I read it, in various articles attempting to summarize its more shocking elements: Peter describing Adam’s crime as “you can’t get any more evil,” or saying he sometimes wishes his son had never been born. But if you read the whole piece, you come away with a much more complex and nuanced picture of what happened in this family, and in a situation which has no easy answers or living scapegoats.

We can speculate — at length — about whether Adam’s parents should have paid more attention or done more. Much has been made of the fact that Adam was prescribed different therapies and even antidepressants, and the fact that both Adam and his mother, Nancy, appeared to be uncomfortable with these options and failed to stick with them. Plenty could also be made of the fact that Nancy kept Peter at a distance after their divorce — a distance he didn’t appear to fight.

But the more I write about these topics, the more I think it’s impossible to determine which one of 100,000 troubled adolescent boys (to pick a random number) — autistic or no, depressed or no, schizophrenic or no, angry or no — is going to plan and commit a mass shooting in a school or elsewhere. Obviously, there are the rare instances where one of them posts or emails a warning, or divulges his plans in a fit of confidence or attention-seeking. But in most cases, even in hindsight, the “warning signs” aren’t clear — or aren’t common only to other fellow perpetrators. They’re qualities other people have, too.

We’re coming up on the 15th anniversary of the Columbine High School killings, and the narrative surrounding that incident is still very similar to the one surrounding Sandy Hook: wayward, perhaps emotionally disturbed teens. Angry music and violent video games. Access to guns. A lack of comprehensive mental-health options. Parents who didn’t recognize the signs that their child might be turning violent, either because the signs were well hidden or because it was difficult to tell those were the ones that would obviously lead to murder. The narrative hasn’t changed because we still don’t have answers, and we may never have the answers we’d need to actually identify potential perpetrators and prevent more school shootings.

Given that, what COULD we do to minimize the number of these incidents, or protect students and school staff if they happen? Much better mental health services, sure. De-stigmatization of mental health issues. Massive amounts of education and outreach for parents of troubled kids. None of this would be aimed at singling out potential perpetrators, but to make sure any kids in this category have a broad and comforting safety net, which is something pretty much all teens need, but particularly those who might otherwise be prone to extreme acts of violence.

What about the guns? Whether or not guns are allowed to minors is almost irrelevant; Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had an over-18 friend purchase guns for them. Adam Lanza learned his way around firearms from his mother, but he was also 19, a legal adult able to purchase his own weapons, when he committed his crimes. There are Constitutional issues associated with limiting access to guns, and there are varying opinions on gun control, but I think someone who is willing to go into a school and open fire is going to find a way around whatever gun laws we have. We could turn schools into gun-free zones, but there’s likely ways around that.

At the end of the day, the New Yorker article suggests we — Americans, parents, educators, and journalists all included — need to think and write differently about school shootings, the ones that have happened and the ones that have yet to happen.

So. Where do you think we should start?

Throwback Thursday: Columbine ‘Goth or not?’

While digging through old articles a couple of weeks ago, I came across one from the Associated Press, written in the days following the Columbine Shooting in April 1999. Written by Michael Fleeman, it’s titled, ‘Goth or not? High school massacre puts spotlight on dark sub-culture.’

The article echoes the conventional wisdom of the day — that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were involved with goth culture somehow:

Columbine students described the suicide assailants, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, as part of clique of about 15 students who looked to their classmates like Goths. They dressed the part with their black trench coats, rain or shine. Harris belonged to a Web group featuring Gothic lore.

However, it also (surprisingly) gets many things right, such as pointing out that goth culture is predominantly peaceful. Fleeman also interviewed folks in the scene, including a publicist for Cleopatra records and a gothic-magazine editor. This quote is particularly smart:

“I think for kids Goth is a source of power, a source of community,” said Kirk Olson, an associate with Minneapolis-based Iconoculture, which does market research on cultural trends. “Kids who feel alienated are searching for power in something else. One way of doing that is to differentiate themselves as much as possible from the mainstream.”

Follow this link to read the whole thing.

Why do you think this reporter was able to achieve such balance and good information, while so many others were sensationalizing goth culture as a cesspool of violence? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

I’d like to start regularly posting older pieces like this one. If you’d like to recommend a throwback article, please email me.

It’s time to listen to the moms of violent young men


Suspected Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza.

Thirteen and a half years ago, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold brought guns to school, killing 13 classmates and faculty before turning their guns on themselves. When President Bill Clinton solemnly addressed the nation after the shootings at Columbine High School, he said, “Amidst all the turmoil and grief … perhaps now America would wake up to the dimensions of this challenge, if it could happen in a place like Littleton, and we could prevent anything like this from happening again.”

Did we wake up?

Since then, frankly, as a nation we’ve done fuck-all to stop another one from happening. And they’ve kept happening.

While we’ve been listening to the “researchers” like Craig Anderson, Doug Gentile and Brad Bushman, whose hundreds of studies have permanently embedded in our brains a correlation between video-game violence and real-life aggression, young men have kept shooting. While we’ve been listening to the nightly news blame the occult, heavy metal, and goths, young men have kept shooting.

Within hours of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, one of Fox News’ talking heads was already laying it on about video games — without knowing whether suspected shooter Adam Lanza played them. CNN and Sen. Joe Lieberman — also on Fox News — were not far behind.

In the past two days, the Daily Mail has run at least two articles linking Lanza with goth kids, as though that simple fact would have made him a killer. If anything, goth kids — who are about as non-aggressive as kids get — would have taken him in because he was different, he didn’t know how to get along, and they were able to make space in their social group for someone like him.

We don’t know, precisely, what Adam was like. The two people who probably knew him best — himself and his mother — are dead. His mother, who apparently quit her job at Sandy Hook Elementary a few years ago so she could take care of him, even though he was almost an adult. What was going on with Adam? In the coming days and weeks, we may know more. For now, all we know now is that, for whatever reason, his mother felt he needed full-time care at an age when most young men are getting ready to leave the nest.

The thing is, I think a lot of moms know — parents know — when their kids are teetering on the brink of violence. Or when they’ve gone way over the brink. One of the pieces circulating today is by mom/blogger Liza Long, who wrote a post Friday that’s now being called, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” She isn’t — but she is the mom of a violent 13-year-old whom she fears:

On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”

And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.

I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am Jason Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map). Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.

After James Holmes shot a dozen people in a Colorado movie theater this summer, didn’t his mother say she knew he’d done it? How many other moms have had that conversation with police — they felt helpless to protect their sons from those violent feelings, and they knew it was only a matter of time before their sons hurt someone else?

I know it’s tough to talk about mental health here without stigmatizing huge swaths of people who battle mental illness but aren’t dangerous to themselves or others. But we need to try. Note that most of the perpetrators in mass shootings wind up killing themselves at the end of the event. I’ve heard such massacres called elaborate forms of suicide. Something, temporarily or permanently, has gone very wrong in their minds. And in most cases, there seems to have been adequate evidence that they were capable of such violence. There were signs and plans leading up to the event. There were caring people who tried to intervene, but for whatever reason, these boys and men slipped through the cracks.

Their moms: are they asking for an end to violent video games? To goth culture? To paganism? To heavy-metal music? No, they aren’t. They’re asking for something American society is loath to provide: adequate mental-health care. Treatment. Protection, for their boys and for themselves. And for society. Caring for others, especially potentially dangerous others, is contrary to our “everyone has the freedom to make his own choices”/”everyone can pull himself up by his own bootstraps” philosophies. But at what cost?

So while the debate rages on about gun control, video games, and goths, what are we doing for moms like Liza? What are we doing to actually prevent this from happening again?

So far, nothing.

Let’s play “imagine the Aurora killer’s motivations!”


Aurora, Colorado, shooting suspect James Holmes, in a recent mugshot courtesy the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office.

We’ve had the weekend to begin to digest the news of what happened in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater early Friday morning. While officials spent much of the weekend de-activating suspect James Holmes’ booby-trapped apartment — where the most information about Holmes’ life is likely kept — reporters began circulating among his former friends and neighbors, gathering what shreds of information they could about a man who apparently lived little of his life on the Internet and mostly kept his interests and proclivities private.

In the absence of much information, people’s — and pundits’ — imaginations have begun to fill in the details.

For example, Pat Brown, a criminal profiler, speculated on CNN that video games were at the center of Holmes’ murderous outburst:

“He’s probably prepared for this for a long time, just obsessing over it, gathering his weapons,” Brown said on CNN. ”[He] probably spent a lot of time in his apartment, playing one video game after the other—shooting, shooting, shooting—building up his courage and building up the excitement of when it’s going to be real for him. And it’s made his day.”

“This has been something he has really been into. And now we’re going to find, probably on [Facebook] or anybody who knows him will say, ‘Yeah, he did have a lot of interest in that. He was always playing the video games. And I’m not saying video games make you a killer. But if you’re a psychopath, video games help you get in the mode to do the killing.”

Perhaps more innocently, the Los Angeles Times circulated an article in which a childhood friend of Holmes said the suspected shooter enjoyed video games and movies as a teenager. Of course, that’s like saying a teenager enjoyed loud music, Facebook, and sleeping until noon. None of it describes Holmes with any accuracy, and it especially doesn’t say anything about his ability to plan and commit such a horrific crime. However, pundits like Brown, and anyone who believes video games cause violent behavior, will jump on such a line and consider it evidence.

In fact, much research has found no link between mass shootings and video games. Some shooters may play video games, but the one doesn’t cause the other.

There are a couple of reports that Holmes was into role-playing games. Of course, those reports are coming from fishy-looking Web sites that harbor more conspiracy theories (or, er, boxing information) than actual fact-based journalism.

Then come the religious pundits who argue that the shooting was, in fact, motivated by Satan. In the Christian Post, Greg Stier writes that a text-message exchange about the shootings:

… got me thinking about another “Dark Knight” who ruled the heart of a gunman in Aurora last night. It got me thinking about Satan’s role in the Columbine massacre on April 20th, 1999 when he invaded the hearts of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. It got me thinking about Satan and the stranglehold he has in the souls of so many. Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that this dark knight, “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” and he did just that last night. He used the trigger finger of this twisted madman to steal innocence, kill people and destroy hope.

Research has indicated that Eric Harris’ psychopathy and Dylan Klebold’s depression, not Satan, was ultimately behind what happened in Columbine. (Apparently Stier didn’t get that memo.) I can understand the impulse to name the Devil as a scapegoat when we don’t understand why something awful has happened, and I’m thankful that Stier is blaming a mythological figure, rather than real-life Satanists, for what went on in that midnight movie.

As long as we blame forces outside ourselves (and to some extent outside our control), we let go of our power over very real, treatable motivations, such as mental illness in the Columbine case. In other words, it means we not only let the killers off the hook, we let ourselves off the hook for not intervening if someone we love goes off the deep end in a catastrophically violent way. It wasn’t my fault; it wasn’t his fault. It was Satan. It was video games. It was role-playing games.

Speaking of Columbine, Dave Cullen, the author of the definitive book on the shootings, wrote a piece in the New York Times decrying the temptation to jump to conclusions, and we all should heed it:

Over the next several days, you will be hit with all sorts of evidence fragments suggesting one motive or another. Don’t believe any one detail. Mr. Holmes has already been described as a loner. Proceed with caution on that. Nearly every shooter gets tagged with that label, because the public is convinced that that’s the profile, and people barely acquainted with the gunman parrot it back to every journalist they encounter. The Secret Service report determined that it’s usually not true.

Ohio shooting: What’s “goth” got to do with it?


One Chardon High School student told reporters Thomas “TJ” Lane “got into a gothic phase” before Monday’s shootings.

It’s not often that we get two stories like this back to back, but just days after I blogged about goth culture erroneously linked to a UK stabbing, it’s also now being connected with a school shooting in Ohio yesterday that killed three students.

Reporters began combing the Internet and interviewing classmates and neighbors as soon as the gunman’s identity, Thomas “TJ” Lane, was leaked. It wasn’t long before MSNBC rounded up one of Lane’s fellow students who said Lane “got into a gothic phase” before the shootings. Does he explain? Well, sort of:

“He kind of got into the gothic phase and kind of silenced himself from his friends,” Nate Mueller said. “But I mean, he still had friends. He was still a nice kid … I don’t think anybody really ever expected it to be him. We didn’t think he would hurt anybody.”

Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Mueller says he was one of the shooting victims. A bullet grazed his ear. That’s not to say he’s lying about Lane, but people tend to distort or exaggerate facts when they’ve just been through a trauma.

2. What Mueller describes as “gothic” actually translates to “solitary.” These two concepts are not synonymous.

At this point, the term “goth” has become so distorted in mainstream culture — which is a product of the way it’s been linked to violent crimes, and the way outsiders view goths as depressed, lonely, alienated kids — that it no longer holds meaning when reporters use the term. It’s pretty much become a euphemism for a certain kind of outcast, violent-prone teen. But what does that mean for the millions of actual goths who are happily ensconced in their social scene — and who are decidedly peaceful, pacifistic people?

Of course, the link between “goths” and school shooters was popularized in the aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre, when a source claiming to be a Columbine student (he wasn’t) described Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s penchant for black trenchcoats and industrial music as “goth.” But those boys weren’t anything like almost all goths — teen or adult — you will meet. And, so far, I don’t see any evidence that Lane is, either.

That said, people who knew Lane differently are tending to describe him pretty differently. One of his friends told CNN:

Haley Kovacik said she’s in “complete shock” that Lane — whom she described as a “a very normal, just teenage boy” — could be behind the shooting. “He did have a sad look in his eyes a lot of the time, but he talked normally, he never said anything strange,” Kovacik told CNN. “It was a really big shock.”

And, as police revealed Lane’s identity, and a lawyer took up his case, they told reporters:

Thomas “T.J.” Lane … came from a violent family. His father was arrested numerous times for abusing women, including Lane’s mother, according to court records cited by The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Students say that Lane was shy and targeted by bullies. Although the shooting took place at 7:30 a.m. in the Chardon High cafeteria, Lane was enrolled at Lake Academy Alternative School, an institution for “at risk” youths.

It may be years before we get an accurate picture of this boy — as accurate a picture as we can get, filtered through the lenses of trauma, law enforcement, legal defense, and journalism. If we can learn something about Lane that will accurately help the right people identify the next school shooter, great — but so far, there doesn’t seem to be any one single “shooter trait” present in all these young men.

And certainly, “gothic” isn’t it.

Marilyn Manson gets burned again


Christina Paz told police that Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails’ music told her to burn her dad’s house. Should we buy it? Photo by Flickr user Pipistrula.

Here we go again.

Christina Paz, a 29-year-old El Paso resident, set fire to her father’s house two days after Christmas. Nobody was hurt in the blaze, though the home was seriously damaged. Paz told police that she set the fire because there were messages in Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails’ music telling her to do it.

Those same bands, she said, also told her that:

“her mom and dad for trying to kill her on Christmas Day, that they had planned to sodomize her and chop her up with the help of a neighbor.”

These are some outrageous, likely psychotic, beliefs. And yet, they’re reported practically as fact by the El Paso Times reporter, alongside facts such as Paz grew up in the house, her father was in a nursing home, and her relationship with him was “complicated.”

Her arson method? She painted a bed with super glue, then struck a match. When police arrived, she was standing in the front yard, and turned herself in. She’s being held on bail.

Unfortunately, her arrest makes it less likely that she will be evaluated for the number of medical causes of psychosis, from brain tumors and infections to hormonal imbalances and some forms of epilepsy. This woman needs a competent doctor, not a prison sentence.

Meanwhile, we see two bands dragged through the mud, however falsely. For the record, neither band has songs that encourage people to set fires (or suggest that their families plan to victimize them in the way Paz believed). Manson was falsely implicated in the Columbine High School shootings, even though Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were not fans of the band. Erroneous reporting by overly eager reporters led to the idea that this music could incite violence, and the reputation has stuck, many debunkings later.

There has never been any proof that music alone can provoke violent behavior. The many, many court cases that have attempted to prove a link have been thrown out. And fans of music — loud, angry music especially — says the music soothes them, calms their more aggressive impulses. It doesn’t worsen them.

Who are you going to listen to: the one music fan who claims she heard hidden, arson-fueled messages in the music and acted upon them, or the millions of fans who didn’t?

Me in Mother Jones on the media’s double-standard

Monday, I looked at the lone-wolf reporters at the Washington Post who explored the possibility that Drowning Pool’s song “Bodies” had anything to do with the shootings in Tucson.

Today, you can read a new column from me at Mother Jones examining the media’s double-standard when reporting on mass shootings. Why are teen shootings so often blamed on music and video games, when adult shootings are linked to mental-health issues? Have a look.

In addition, the piece was quoted by Ann Powers in her LA Times coverage of the shootings.