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Newtown: An American Tragedy Hardcover – December 10, 2013
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...This book shows a deeper grasp of how to assemble those facts into a meaningful picture of events....tremendously moving in the simplicity of its presentation." -- Salon.com
About the Author
Matthew Lysiak is a staff writer for The Daily News (New York) who has received national recognition for his exclusive reporting on the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and the Newtown killer Adam Lanza, the Aurora gunman James Holmes, the Tucson shooter Jared Loughner, the Fort Hood army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan, and more. Lysiak currently lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and three daughters.
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It is probably the definitive account of the Sandy Hook shooting. Adam Lanza's early years are well detailed, and his severe issues that his mother tried her best to help. He eventually became fascinated with mass murder, and spent hours of his day playing violent video games in a dark basement. His issues and the lives of dozens of young children in the town came together in a violent collision on December 14, 2012. The account of the shooting in the book is quite graphic, and may disturb readers. Reading of the funerals of the victims is quite moving as well, although I feel sorry for Nancy Lanza the most. She is often forgotten when speaking of the victims, and she was killed by the very son she had spent 20 years loving and protecting, sacrificing so much to help him she had gotten herself seriously ill right before the shooting. Unlike Elliot Rodger or Eric and Dylan at Columbine, there is no explicit motive for why Lanza killed 27 people and then himself that day. Whether he was mentally ill or just pure evil is up to debate. This is a book that you should read if you have an interest in this pivotal but tragic event.
Having forgotten some of the details I'd initially heard, this book does a decent job of filling in the blanks. However, it is pretty elementary in its coverage.
Yet, the author is both respectful and inclusive with regard to coverage of the 26 victims. He captures the sweetness and innocence of the children by talking about what mattered most to them: horses, playing with siblings, real cowboy boots, purple balloons, the color pink, anticipation of Christmas, a favorite teacher, etc. I cried as these precious children and educators were memorialized.
Lysiak also does a good job with the timeline and background information on the shooter, Adam Lanza, and his mother, Nancy (his 27th victim). At least he does in so far as what information was available at time of publication--the first anniversary of the event.
However, if Lysiak would have interviewed the surviving Lanzas, waited for the official findings by the State of CT to be released, etc. a more comprehensive, and therefore, accurate work could have been produced.
For example, there are many details I already know which were not even touched on in the book, i.e. the controversy surrounding death certificates and crime scene photos, lawsuits which were filed afterwards, etc. Even more important in my mind, would have been to address the key issues behind the numerous conspiracy theories which immediately popped up and continue to plague this case to the present.
It's as if Lysiak purposely distances himself from anything controversial related to the Sandy Hook mass shooting--which isn't like any investigative reporter I've ever come across. Perhaps he does so because small children were involved.
That being said, Lysiak does a good job of laying out various theories about possible underlying factors precipitating Sandy Hook. Discussion is given to parental mismanagement of Adam's autism, unidentified and/or untreated mental illness, bullying, easy access to guns through parental negligence, and psychopathy.
However, I think it is important to look at the complex issue of parental responsibility.
Although Lysiak is unclear about the concrete steps Nancy took to address Adam's needs beyond school intervention, it would appear from reading this book that she made a decent effort at addressing his growing list of symptomatic behavior as best she could. However, a detailed report by the State of CT's Office of Child Advocacy following the shooting indicates that Nancy didn't follow up on Adam's psychiatric issues as recommended at various times. In that same vein, she refused to keep him on any psychiatric medication.
Although Lysiak repeats Nancy's story that she was exhibiting symptoms of MS, this was later disproven through her medical records. (See Adam Lanza's father, Peter's, brief story titled THE RECKONING by Andrew Soloman.) During the last eight years of her life, no documentation was found for treatment of any serious illness. This makes one wonder if this mother wasn't starting to become mentally unstable in this situation herself.
Yet, as a single mother of an child with Aspbergers, she had her hands full--especially as he entered puberty and young adulthood. That's a tremendous amount of relentless stress and strain put squarely on the shoulders of one person--even if she didn't work.
In addition, a significant take away from this story is that because parents unconditionally love their children, they can also be incredibly blind and/or minimizing of any abberant behavior or psychopathology, as it occurs slowly over an extended period of time.
For example, Nancy admitted, Adam drew highly disturbing renderings of murder, torture, and death but she decided to pretend she never saw the drawings so Adam wouldn't errupt. She didn't want him mad at her for being intrusive, instead of being a parent and dealing with the issue irrespective of his response. She didn't recognize the drawings for the red flag they were.
Another example of misreading the signs is that Adam was Anorexic (6 ft., 112 lb.), depressed, highly anxious, frequently emotionally overwrought, communicating with her solely by email, and growing increasingly isolated. At the very minimum, he was at risk for suicide. The guns should have been out of the house by that point. Instead she's giving him money for Christmas to buy another one.
So in hindsight, it seems like Nancy was badly in need of skilled, professional guidance--first and foremost--for herself. Instead of just demanding everyone acquiese to doing things her way, she needed emotional support and the wisdom of autistic and psychiatric professionals with regard to how to better deal with Adam and his growing problems.
Unfortunately, part of her forceful personality included thinking she had all the answers. For example, she unceremoniously pulled Adam out of 7th grade and placed him in a private Catholic school. Then she kept him home for a year. (This information is also in the State of CT's child advocacy report on Sandy Hook).
Afterwards he was placed in regular high school and then yanked out when a teacher advocating for him left the school. This even though Adam was highly engaged in activities and doing well there. Then she placed this young man with sensory issues in a larger, more stressful college environment. There was also a looming threat of moving him out of state in 2012.
All of this perpetual change had to be highly disruptive for an autistic child in general--especially on the heels of years of parental discord and divorce. How much more so for a young man with growing violent tendencies and no way to access what was going on in his head.
Instead of getting the appropriate advice, I venture to say Nancy ended up paying the price in more ways than one. Sadly so did Adam.
Nonetheless, no matter the contributors, Adam Lanza knew what he was doing--and therefore was of sound mind--and was responsible for his actions. As already noted by the FBI, his planning and execution of the Sandy Hook shootings was meticulous, as is evidenced by 27 murdered victims, including Nancy, and only 2 casualties. Unfortunately, Adam Lanza was sorely underestimated by everyone around him.
Everyone else writes about the killer and tries to figure out a motive, this author went to great legenths to make you remember the innocent children and the brace teaching staff instead of the coward who killed them .