History of Mental Health Problems Not a Motive for Newtown Shooter

A long-awaited report finds no conclusive motive for last year’s violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Flowers and balloons are left on display in front of the Sandy Hook School December 16, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.
National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
Nov. 25, 2013, 11:50 a.m.

A year after a shoot­ing at a New­town, Conn., ele­ment­ary school claimed 26 lives, stun­ning an en­tire na­tion, many are still search­ing for an­swers. A new re­port sug­gests an­swers may nev­er come.

The long-awaited re­port re­leased Monday by the state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice — res­ults of an in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to what happened in­side Sandy Hook Ele­ment­ary School on Dec. 14, 2012 — at­tempts to provide a pic­ture of what may have led to the vi­ol­ence. The com­pre­hens­ive 44-page doc­u­ment de­tails a search for a motive for Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old shoot­er who turned the gun on him­self after the ram­page.

The re­port lists the crimes the state’s at­tor­ney says Lanza com­mit­ted: murder with spe­cial cir­cum­stances (the killing of two or more, of someone young­er than 16), at­temp­ted murder, first-de­gree as­sault and burg­lary, pos­ses­sion of a weapon on school grounds, car­ry­ing a pis­tol without a per­mit.

The re­port con­cludes that the shoot­er’s motive re­mains un­known. But Lanza’s men­tal health, from a leg­al per­spect­ive, was not the driv­ing force.

“The crimes lis­ted above all re­quire some type of men­tal state wheth­er it is a spe­cif­ic in­tent, know­ledge or a gen­er­al in­tent to do the pro­hib­ited act,” the re­port says. “In this case the shoot­er’s men­tal status is no de­fense to his con­duct.”

When he entered the school on that winter day, the re­port con­cludes, Lanza knew he was break­ing the law. “He had the abil­ity to con­trol his be­ha­vi­or to ob­tain the res­ults he wanted, in­clud­ing his own death. This evid­ence in­cludes his pos­ses­sion of ma­ter­i­als re­lated to mass murders, his re­mov­al of the GPS from his car, his util­iz­a­tion of ear plugs, the dam­aging of the hard drive and wait­ing for his moth­er’s re­turn from New Hamp­shire.”

On these grounds, a men­tal-ill­ness de­fense would likely not have held up in court if Lanza were tried alive. Neither would a case of ex­treme emo­tion­al dis­turb­ance. “It is clear that the shoot­er planned his crimes in ad­vance and was un­der no ex­treme emo­tion­al dis­turb­ance for which there was a reas­on­able ex­plan­a­tion or ex­cuse,” the re­port goes on.

The state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice does not ig­nore Lanza’s men­tal-health his­tory. It re­cog­nizes that Lanza had sev­er­al men­tal-health is­sues, such as anxi­ety, char­ac­ter­ist­ics of As­per­ger’s syn­drome, and ob­sess­ive com­puls­ive dis­order, for which he re­fused to take sug­ges­ted med­ic­a­tion or seek be­ha­vi­ori­al ther­apy. “What con­tri­bu­tion this made to the shoot­ings, if any, is un­known as those men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als who saw him did not see any­thing that would have pre­dicted his fu­ture be­ha­vi­or.”

Al­though it’s im­possible to say wheth­er Lanza’s men­tal-health is­sues weighed on his ac­tions on that winter day, they do not, ac­cord­ing to the in­vest­ig­a­tion, con­sti­tute a motive for the shoot­ing.

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