Why Did Adam Lanza Murder Innocent Children?

"Why Did Adam Lanza Murder Innocent Children?"

There are two answers to this question: (1) we will never know what triggered Adam to do such a horrific act (i.e., the straw that broke the camel’s back), and (2) there were multiple factors involved.

Studies on violent crime committed by young people have increased our understanding of factors that make some populations more vulnerable to perpetration. Risk factors increase the likelihood that a young man (or woman) will become violent. However, risk factors are NOT direct causes of violent crime; rather, risk factors contribute to violent crime.

A complex interaction of factors leads to an increased risk of violent behavior in young people.  These factors include:

Community Risk Factors—
  • Socially disorganized neighborhoods
  • Low levels of community participation
  • High level of transiency
  • High level of family disruption
  • High concentrations of poor residents
  • Diminished economic opportunities

Social Risk Factors—
  • Social rejection by peers
  • School failure 
  • Poor academic performance
  • Low commitment to school
  • Lack of involvement in conventional activities
  • Involvement in gangs
  • Association with delinquent peers

Family Risk Factors—
  • Poor monitoring and supervision
  • Poor family functioning
  • Parental substance abuse or criminality
  • Low parental involvement
  • Low parental education and income
  • Low emotional attachment to parents
  • Harsh, lax or inconsistent disciplinary practices
  • Authoritarian child-rearing attitudes

Individual Risk Factors—
  • Antisocial beliefs and attitudes
  • Attention deficits
  • Conflict in the family 
  • Deficits in cognitive abilities
  • Deficits in information-processing abilities
  • Deficits in social abilities
  • Developmental disorders
  • Exposure to violence
  • High emotional distress
  • History of early aggressive behavior
  • History of treatment for emotional problems
  • History of violent victimization
  • Hyperactivity
  • Involvement with drugs, alcohol or tobacco
  • Learning disorders
  • Low IQ
  • Mental health issues
  • Obsession with violent media (e.g., movies, games)
  • Poor behavioral control

Other factors include:
  • Being the victim of physical abuse
  • Being the victim of sexual abuse
  • Brain damage from head injury
  • Exposure to violence in media 
  • Exposure to violence in the home or community
  • Genetic factors
  • Loss of support from extended family
  • Marital breakup
  • Poverty
  • Presence of firearms in home
  • Previous aggressive or violent behavior
  • Severe deprivation
  • Single parenting
  • Unemployment
  • Use of drugs or alcohol

So, as much as we want to get to the bottom of why this “senseless” shooting occurred, we will have to settle for the fact that there is no single answer to explain such a tragedy as the one that occurred on 12/14/12.

People are looking for "the" reason why this happened (e.g., mental illness), which is unfortunate, because then they will also go looking for "the" answer (e.g., gun control). But there is no one reason - or answer. This is a complex, multifaceted problem that calls for comprehensive, intricate problem-solving.

I believe that we, as a society, have now begun the process of doing the tough investigative work that needs to be done in order to save many more lives than we lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Most often, it takes the occurrence of a tragic event before we awaken from our slumber and begin the process of change. We may have lost 20 of our children on 12/14/12, but maybe because of them, we will end up saving more precious lives in the future than would be possible had this incident not occurred.

FOOTNOTE:  The authors of the earliest known review of the link between Aspergers and violence concluded that no such connection exists. In a more recent review, the determination was that the link is inconclusive and is supported by only 11 of 147 studies on Aspergers and violence when the strictest inclusion criteria are used. 

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