Act of Evil: A Psychologist on the Newtown Massacre

It has been over six months since the Newtown, Connecticut massacre took place. It was on December 14, 2012 that Adam Lanza, a twenty year old disgruntled and deeply troubled young man, shot and murdered 26 people, including 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Adam Lanza was responsible for what has been described as the worst killing of young children in our nation’s history. In their quest to try and make sense out of this seemingly senseless act, some in the media used the word “evil” to describe the horror, which occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School on that day of infamy.

The question then arises: Was Adam Lanza, the shooter, evil — an agent of the Devil we might ask? In today’s post-Enlightenment, secularist culture, the Devil is hardly recognized as an independent spiritual entity, who exists and influences the behavior of human beings. His presence would be given short-shrift in today’s godless society. Hence, the secularists would answer NO! to the preceding question. They would insist that other factors prompted and propelled Adam Lanza to engage in this horrific behavior. God and the Devil and the notions of good and evil would have nothing to do with this problem.

The secularists continue to contend that more and stricter gun control laws, the banning of assault weapons, limiting the number of bullets that can be put into a gun clip, and thorough background checks are needed. Placing an armed security guard in every school, providing more mental health services, and even studying Adam Lanza’s DNA in search of genetic abnormalities or mutations have been offered as other panaceas for fixing this problem.

Being able to blame guns, genes, or inadequate legislation for the current proliferation of violence makes our lives so much easier. It allows us to avoid looking at ourselves and the moral and cultural decay, which we have allowed to become an increasingly dominant force influencing our youth. Presidential executive orders, more and tougher gun legislation, arming teachers with weaponry, and other simplistic “quick fix” solutions will be costly, and difficult to implement. Moreover, these are unlikely to reverse those diabolical cultural trends, which are so profoundly influential in the shaping and molding of our children’s character.

Obviously, sensible policies and programs to curb gun violence are needed. However, these must address the causes, not the symptoms of this problem. Two objectives must be reached if we want to gather needed information, which can be used to prevent further massacres. First, those surrounding cultural factors, which might have influenced the likes of Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold (shooters at Columbine High School), Adam Lanza and other “school shooters” to behave as they did, must be identified. Second, those morbid psychodynamics (the actual thoughts and feelings of these shooters) and their perception of the people and events affecting their lives need to be specified. This information can then be woven into a cause and effect pattern enabling us to understand why the shooters acted as they did. Such understanding obviously should not serve as an excuse for justifying mortally sinful and criminal behavior. Rather, it can be used to identify those signs signifying that an individual is severely psychologically and spiritually troubled and could be a danger to one’s self and others. Such information could be a signal that intervention, which could be helpful, is needed — now — before “Old Scratch” gets the upper hand, encouraging troubled youth to engage in evil and vengeful acts on innocent children.

But let us return to Adam Lanza, the most recent school shooter who has risen to the heights of infamy. Because he committed suicide, we can only speculate as to the motives that led him to slaughter those adults and innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But speculate we must. No other alternative is available if we sincerely want to prevent such tragedies in the future. The first step that we must take in following this path is to try to walk in Adam Lanza’s shoes — to see the world and the people in it from his point of view, as a young man who was described as being afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome throughout the course of his life.

Bits and pieces of news reports indicated that Adam Lanza had no friends and was markedly awkward in social situations. Adam was noticeably different from his peers, which is quite common for those diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. How his peers reacted to Adam’s behavior is of critical import. Was his awkwardness so pronounced that he was teased, ridiculed, taunted, and bullied? And if so, how did he cope with this? What might he have been thinking and feeling under this duress? In fact, Adam’s mother, who was his first victim, took Adam out of the public school and home schooled him. One has to wonder how Adam reacted to this. Was he angry because his mother took responsibility for his education? Did he feel humiliated because his mother took him away from his peers, further reinforcing the notion that he was different? Did he believe that his mother was responsible for his problems? Again, these questions, which are so relevant to understanding Adam’s twisted perception of reality, may never be answered.

And what about mom and dad’s divorce? How did Adam react to the divorce? What were his thoughts and feelings relating to this? Even children who are not afflicted with a mental disorder have marked trouble dealing with parental divorce and the breaking up of the family. Apparently dad left mom with a significant income so money was not a problem. However, there were bits of news indicating that the divorce was sprinkled with pockets of acrimony between his parents. It was also reported that Adam’s relationship with dad was a strained one. Questions then arise: Did Adam blame dad for the divorce? How did he feel about living with mom? Did Adam blame himself for mom and dad’s separation? Dad remarried — how did Adam feel about this? Keep in mind that Adam was a vulnerable young man who may have experienced a cauldron of negative emotions that he was unable to express and put into proper perspective, which again, is not uncommon for those diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. This young man needed mom’s love and dad’s affection and guidance. Given his vulnerability and age, he may have needed the latter more than ever. However, when mom and dad separated and dad remarried, this may have been denied to him — right when he needed it the most. Did Adam’s relationship with his parents have a negative influence on his subsequent actions? And what about Adam’s relationship with his older brother who is successful and unhampered by the mental and emotional problems plaguing Adam? Was Adam envious of his brother? Did he feel like a “loser” in comparison to him? Again, his thoughts and feelings regarding this issue and its importance may never be known.

It was reported that Adam was an intelligent young man who was technologically skilled. One has to wonder whether he played violent video games, using these as an outlet to cope with feelings of frustration and resentment, which may have been directed toward those whom he believed were responsible for his social inadequacies, isolation, and rejection. In fact, according to CNN, one witness reported that Adam Lanza stayed at home a lot, playing military style video games such as “Call of Duty” (March 29, 2013). Also, earlier news reports indicated that Adam was angry with his mother because she wanted to commit him to a psychiatric facility for treatment. Was this the straw that broke the camel’s back — the last of many perceived insults that were piled on top of one another over the course of twenty years? Add to the preceding an interest in and skill in the use of guns and you have all the ingredients for a potential disaster, especially if the shooter believes that he has been cheated, fanaticizes about getting even with those who he deems as being responsible for his misery, and lacks the ability to connect and empathize with the human race of which he perceives himself as not being a member.

The twisted, perverted perceptions of an emotionally disturbed young man whose needs have not been met can lead to a sickening desire to obtain revenge. And what better way to get even than to take one’s anger out on the most innocent of all — a group of six and seven year old children in a school environment that is supposed to protect them and guarantee their safety. Moreover, the shooter, in a brief moment of infamy, will always be remembered throughout the course of human history. The recognition that he failed to get in life is attained by murdering others and taking his own life — the latter which prevents closure and making sense of what appears to be a senseless crime with no meaning.

There is another aspect — the spiritual aspect — of Adam Lanza’s life that should not be overlooked in our quest to identify those motives behind his horrific actions. It should be noted that Adam and his mother were parishioners at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Newtown. Moreover, Adam had been a student at the parochial school there after leaving Sandy Hook Elementary School. It would be reasonable to assume, therefore, that he understood the differences between good and evil, and the basic teachings of the Catholic Church and its purpose here on earth. The question arises as to how Adam viewed these teachings. What thoughts did he have about the Catholic faith and those who were responsible for teaching it to him? How had his conscience been formed? Did he experience guilt or remorse when he engaged in wrong doing? Did he receive the sacraments? If not, why not? Did he believe in Satan? Did he engage in behavior or dress that might be viewed as being Satanic in nature? These are just a few of the questions that might be addressed in an attempt to identify those diabolical forces, which might have influenced Adam Lanza.

Saint Thomas, in Summa Theologica, defined evil as the absence or privation of good. We currently live in a godless society in which violence, particularly gun violence, has become an all too often main source of entertainment. Violent video games, movies, and television shows fill the airways with programs in which vengeance, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” have become so deeply engrained in our culture that we have become dulled to the violent perversions, which we would have considered horrific fifty years ago. Such violence is the absence of good to which Saint Thomas refers. Anger,rage, and fury have filled a void, a void that was once filled with the pursuit of virtue and the following of God’s laws. How today’s cultural evils, which have become so commonplace, affected Adam Lanza we may never know. But for this very disturbed young man, these may have been a major source of glorification and encouragement, leading to the slaughter in Newtown.

And what about divorce and its negative impact on our young people? Certainly, Adam Lanza was affected by the breaking up of his family and the events surrounding this. And if this is so, what might we learn about the presence of easy come and easy go “annulments” and divorce laws and their effect on vulnerable youth? And what about mom’s attempt to commit Adam to a psychiatric hospital? Was this the main factor that caused him to “snap” or was it a combination of factors, leading up to this violent rampage? Lastly, Adam’s most formative years in the public and Catholic school system must be considered. How was he treated by his peers and teachers in these different settings? Did he receive special help or was he left to fend for himself and overlooked because he was not viewed as having a serious behavioral problem?

The answers to the forgoing questions may have died with the suicide of Adam Lanza. More gun control laws and background checks will be advocated by politicians whose main purpose will be to get reelected to office. Taking steps to curb the violence portrayed in the entertainment industry will be given lip service at best. Although there will be a cry for the curtailing of violent programs and movies, the efforts in this regard will be temporary. There will be complaints about the violation of our first amendment right to free speech, and it will be argued that adults and even children, who receive “parental guidance,” aren’t negatively affected by the cultural slop that we now call “adult entertainment,” rather than pornography.

There is money to be made by extolling vice and this will continue, regardless of the slow and subtle perverse moral rot impacting on our youth, particularly the Adam Lanzas of the world who are most vulnerable. The curtailing of our liberal divorce laws will be ignored and real “family values” will be shuttled by the wayside as being of little importance in discerning why vulnerable young people “go off the deep end” and take innocent lives. In our pursuit of material wealth and pleasure, the red flags signifying that danger is just over the horizon, will be overlooked until the evil that we fear confronts us head on. Then it will be too late to alter the consequences. Most importantly, however, is that our secular society continues to ignore Christ the King and upholding His commandments. This, in turn, leads to a black hole, a void which becomes filled with evil — an evil in the form of Adam Lanza who becomes the symptom of Satan’s bidding in his quest for the capturing of souls.

Holy Michael, the Archangel, defend us against the wickedness and snares of the devil.