As some of my friends know, I am from Newtown, CT, where the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings happened years ago. I haven’t written about it yet, mostly because I have struggled to figure out what perspective I wanted to write, what to write about, and why. The article I posted a few days ago, Why we All Miss the Point on School Shootings, talks about Empathy and how that is what those school shooters needed. Now, its really easy to read that and think, “Yea, lets just all love each other, then our problems will go away!”, or more cynically and less sarcastically, “You think Empathy would help Monsters like that?”.
Well, I can’t speak about all the mass school shooters, but I did know Adam Lanza about 7 or so years ago. He lived a street away from me, and I used to sit next to him on the bus. We were friends, and I was Vice-President of the Technology Club that he joined his freshmen year. At the time, our adviser to this club was Richard Novia, who sat the club down at a meeting (without Adam there) and told everyone that Adam is a good bit different and hadn’t really had friends before, but we should help him to open up, he really likes technology, really smart guy, etc.
He was definitely weird, more so compared to the usual kids the Technology Club would attract, but nothing that prevented the club from making friends with him. He eventually started to like hanging out with us, chatting, and in general being friendly. He would come to parties we would throw, and once even hosted his own party, that many attended.
His behavior was starting to change, and for the better. He still held on to the more extreme ones, like minimal/no touching and keeping everything clean, but he was definitely more a person.
At some point, he was pulled from HS, and going elsewhere, but he was only around for about a year. Seven years later, after none of us really knew how or tried to reach out to him once he left the high school, he goes on his mass shooting. It was a shock to many of us in the Technology Club, and the harassment later by the media, because he was associated with the club, did not make any of us feel better. Many of us from the Technology Club were all in a Skype chat (something that Adam never joined, but many of us stayed in over the years) when the first reports of the shooting started to come out, and so we all had each other to talk to and lend support and clear up the details the media got wrong as the story developed. It was really depressing to read the chat.
But, something that really made me think about the events differently, was learning that Adam had his Technology Club ID on top of all his stuff in his room when the police raided it. Now, we can’t know his intentions, and the more cynical interpretation is that he was going to the high school to kill a bunch of the then current club members. In fairness to this interpretation, his original target was the HS before he decided to try the elementary school, after seeing the guard at the front of the High School.
The other interpretation, and one that I am much more personally sure of, is that he kept that ID all those years because he made real friends, and actually felt accepted for the first time. He wasn’t judged for his weirdness, and people in our club never made comments about him negatively, or in a joking manner. He could have kept that ID in that same spot all those years and never moved it, or he took it out to look at it and reflect on the good memories he had, possibly even considering not to go shoot a school, before ultimately deciding to go shoot a school.
And this is where its most difficult. Had he stayed at NHS for all four years, would he have been different? Had he had more friends, more people who didn’t ostracise him for his weirdness when he was much younger, well before he got to NHS, would he have been different? Had some of us tried to keep up with him over the years and remain distant friends, could that have changed things?
And to that, I can only say I don’t know.
Would our society really be that much worse off if we had tried to “be friends” with him sooner? If we had extended this boy Empathy, meaningfully and truthfully, to help him overcome his weirdness or at least minimize its impact on his and others daily lives, like Novia taught our club to do, is that not something our Society could ever benefit from?
What is the harm in teaching young kids, who are very fragile and moldable and impressionable, that we need to truly respect the actual Differences of others? Didn’t all the cartoons we watch tell us that all your friends are different, and that difference makes them good? Usually that difference is highlighted for an episode, with a conflict only that character, with that particular difference, could understand or resolve. Do those cartoons not leave any real impact, and why? What would it take to get kids to really and truly be more friendly, and less hostile, to “different” kids?
As you can see, I really only have more questions for you, the reader, than I could ever have answers. I provide you only the interpretation of events as I understand them, but not the facts, as I don’t know them all. After all these years of seeing more shootings, I just really don’t know the answer. But I do know a small piece of what Adam was missing, and I hope I have left you, the reader, with something to take away, perhaps more questions than answers.