‘I am Adam Lanza’s mother’

I spent Friday morning with my little granddaughters at an interactive museum filled with gleeful kiddies. At the same time,  a young man was killing  20 children — first graders, as it turned out — teachers, a counselor and the principal at a Connecticut elementary school.  He’d started by killing his mother.  Why didn’t somebody do something about Adam Lanza? Anarchist Soccer Mom explains what it’s like to love a mentally ill son, who’s often charming and sometimes terrifying. “Michael” is 13.

A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.

That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.

We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He’s been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work.

Michael’s IQ is “off the charts.” But he had to leave his gifted program because of his bizarre behavior.

Three days before the Newtown massacre, Michael lost computer privileges for refusing to wear the school uniform. He apologized, but then threatened to kill himself if he didn’t get his privileges back. His mother took him to the hospital. Police carried him in, screaming and kicking.

I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

Her son’s social worker said her only option was to get Michael charged with a crime, creating a “paper trail.”

No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken health care system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”

There are many comments from parents with troubled, potentially violent sons who fear what might happen and don’t know what to do.

It is about mental illness. Can we do better?

Young people who feel isolated, misunderstood, angry and frustrated should reach out for help, writes Tamara Fisher, a gifted education specialist, in To a Bright Kid With Trouble (s). It can get better. “I’ve personally witnessed hundreds of quirky bright kids like you swim out of their soup and shine.”

About Joanne


  1. The truth is that mental illness ruins lives unless it is treated, and even when it’s treated it’s a condition that will always be there. Just as diabetics may have good sugar days and be quite healthy for a long time, so too do people who have mental illness need ongoing care and treatment and there are flareups that can be dealt with early. It costs money.

    No one seems to care about the mentally ill, however, unless they are shooting up buildings. Or it is perceived that anyone who DOES shoot up a building MUST be mentally ill. (Thus reinforcing the idea that mentally ill people are dangerous, which is NOT true most of the time, and especially NOT true when treatment happens.)

    What if the shooter was, in fact, not mentally ill but just a cruel person? Would the mentally ill deserve less care? I’m concerned that connecting “shooting” with “mentally ill” that we’re making it less likely that people will seek what little help is out there in the first place.

    I’ve also heard that he was autistic (not a mental illness!) and homeschooled. Does that matter? It shouldn’t.

    • There is a lot of hand-wringing about the homeless mentally ill, their high rates of morbidity and mortality and what “should” be done for them, yet nobody dares suggest that the de-institutionalization movement might have gone too far and that custodial care might be what they actually need.

      Custodial care would have separated Adam Lanza from his mother’s gun collection.

  2. CarolineSF says:

    The elephant in the room is the question of whether an effective system would include involuntary treatment and institutionalization.

    An obvious course would be to research how nations that don’t have a steady sequence of disturbed people committing massacres deal with the people in their communities with mental illness. For whatever reason, there seems to be no discussion of that.

    While we’re on the subject of Sandy Hook — unionized teachers died protecting those children. Yes, they belonged to teachers’ unions. Bashers, would you have done the same?

    • Your insinuation that people who are against unions are “bashers” and therefore not as caring about children is unwarranted. Being a teacher and caring for the children in one’s charge has *absolutely nothing* to do with union membership or lack thereof.

    • Where is this country where madmen do not carry out evil?

      • CarolineSF says:

        No other developed countries have anything remotely like the number of mass slayings we have. Nothing like it. Not on the same planet. See if you can find anything similar, @Jane. .. @Lee, many voices who hate unions are indeed bashers who attack teachers viciously and relentlessly as greedy, incompetent parasitical deadwood, just putting in time to get their fat pensions. I’m not “insinuating” this; I’m stating it clearly and forcefully. The whole education “reform” sector promotes that view aggressively and has for many years.

        • Yeah, not even Sweden or Israel where most people have access to or own military issued true assault rifles.

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          Caroline, you are absolutely right that some people attack teachers as generally greedy and incompetent. However, reformers are careful to never say that. People basically like teachers, and any reformer who said that would immediately lose any effectiveness he or she might have had.

          What many reformers say is what many people think:

          1. Teachers are incredibly important when it comes to what students learn.

          2. Students aren’t learning nearly enough.

          3. Therefore, some of the teachers must not be good enough. We must get rid of the bad ones and improve the “needs improvement” ones.

          They believe 1 and 2 because just about everyone in the business, including the unions, has been saying that for decades. All that really differs is the conclusion. Yet if you truly believe 1 and 2, it is hard not to also believe 3.

          • CarolineSF says:

            Oh, Roger, “reformers” say teachers accuse teacher of being greedy and incompetent all the time (also lazy, parasitical — and, as we see in Joanne’s new post, just plain stupid). When they’re not explicitly saying it, they’re implying it. It’s their pet theme.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            No, Caroline, it is simply not true that “‘reformers’ …accuse teachers of being greedy and incompetent all the time (also lazy, parasitical — and, as we see in Joanne’s new post, just plain stupid).”

            You may think that they really believe that in their heart of hearts but they do not say it.

        • So – to be critical (as in the oh-so-vaunted “critical thinking”) of teachers is “bashing.”

          Okay, got your agenda. Not buying it.

          • To disparage, demean and blame teachers, and do it constantly and endlessly, is bashing, yes, and my agenda is indeed to protest that. I particularly protest it three days after the Newtown bloodshed.

    • Oh Caroline, settle down. You’re losing and there’s nothing you can do about it.

      Unions, having overplayed their hand, are on their way out.

      Since I know honesty’s not a particularly significant constituent of the lefty personality I’ll have to guess that this little rant-fest has more to do with the humiliating loss of power by government unions, exemplified by the very recent passage of Michigan’s right to work legislation, then it does with the tragedy in Sandy Hook.

      Not surprising that you’d use the murder of babies to try to belabor your political opponents since using children to achieve political ends has long been a staple of those who are incapable of finding fault with the public education system. But that was a particularly crude segue so you must be getting more then a bit hysterical as the end of the public education system, and end of the free ride for all those who parasitize upon it, is starting to come into focus.

  3. Is it a mental illness to see politics in everything and to assume that those with whom we disagree are as guilty as those who commit evil??

    • I’m almost thinking yeah. Crazy that whether or not these teachers were unionized even enters the discussion. What if they were Republicans? Why does it matter? Why bring it up? Maybe let’s get more crazy and ask, would a non-unionized, unarmed teacher do a less effective job?

      Good grief, that’s sick.

      • CarolineSF says:

        Teachers and teachers’ unions have been the targets of attacks by the reform sector, politicans and the press for years. It is NOT irrelevant or crazy to point out that unionized teachers (so often bashed as greedy parasites) gave their lives to save children and to call on the longtime bashers to hang their heads in shame.

        • CarolineSF says:

          Or sick. Best defense is good offense is not going to work here, bashers. Shame on you.

          • Wah wah wah – mean ol’ people are saying unkind things about teachers: BASHERS, every last one of them!

            Don’t you ever get tired of playing that same note over and over again? You would do well to expand your repertoire, methinks.

    • Is it a mental illness to see politics in everything and to assume that those with whom we disagree are as guilty as those who commit evil??

      For some insights into why this is happening, I suggest you read On Triggering and the Triggered, Part 4.  TL;DR:  too much has been rendered taboo for discussion (as “racist”, “insensitive” or threatening to some aspect of identity), so we can no longer probe into the essence of issues to find where and why we disagree.  Left without the ability to put these things in plain language, people talk past and assume the worst about each other.

  4. CarolineSF says:

    @Roger, did you see “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” or “Won’t Back Down”? Those were indeed accusations (or portrayals) of laziness, greed, incompetence and so on, and “reformers” were the source of those movies.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      No. I did not. Are you saying that all, or most, of the teachers in these movies were portrayed as lazy, greedy, and incompetent?

      • Absolutely.

        “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” stated clearly that the reason schools struggle is incompetent teachers. THE reason, not even A reason.

        In fact, it said that bad schools (which, the movie had established, are the fault of bad teachers) are the CAUSE of poverty. “Won’t Back Down” fictionalized the same message, with its portrayal of a teacher who shops online for shoes while her class disintegrates, and punches a student and locks her in the closet as punishment for not being able to read.

        These are the same messages that are the primary theme of education “reformers” throughout the land — lazy, bad, incompetent, parasitical, greedy, deadwood teachers are the cause of all our schools’ problems (and thus the cause of greater social problems).

        I am calling for a moratorium on those attacks in the wake of the death of teachers protecting their students at Sandy Hook on Friday, and have called Joanne out for promptly launching yet another attack the very next working day.

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          Caroline, the “attack” that Joanne “launched” is the post entitled “McKinsey: Teachers overestimate students’ skills” found two posts above this. I do not think it can be fairly read it as accusing teachers of being “lazy, bad, incompetent, parasitical, greedy, [and] deadwood.” I think linking it to “those attacks” is unfair and inaccurate. It makes me not trust your description of either movie.

          Criticism, like in the McKinsey post, is not attack.

          Attacking teachers who really are incompetent or abusive is not the same as attacking teachers in general.

          • CarolineSF says:

            In the context of a massive, ongoing teacher-bashing campaign, and three days after the Sandy Hook massacre, posting “criticism” of teachers DOES constitute an attack. It’s all part of a massive bashing campaign in any case — pulling it out into one post and going bat-bat-eyelashes oh, it’s just criticism is, sorry, invalid — but on this day it’s appalling.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            No, her post “McKinsey: Teachers overestimate students’ skills” does not constitute an attack. It is not part of some “massive, ongoing teacher-bashing campaign.” Read it again and see if you don’t think you over-reacted.

          • In the context of a massive, ongoing teacher-bashing campaign, and three days after the Sandy Hook massacre, posting “criticism” of teachers DOES constitute an attack.

            You are not a victim of Sandy Hook.  Adam Lanza had nothing to do with those who criticize the “ed biz” and some of the people in it.  You cannot play the victim card, and it’s ghoulish bordering on evil of you to attempt to place the blame for Lanza’s acts on ed reformers.

    • Florida resident says:

      Dear CarolineSF !
      You may want to look at this review of the movie”Waiting for Superman” (I myself have not seen the movie):

  5. I have gone “wah wah wah” quite a bit over the Newtown victims, and was editing copy with tears streaming down my face. That’s kind of the way decent humans react to a tragedy. Sneer away, Lee.

    • CarolineHypocrite says:

      Your alleged “wah wah wah” certainly didn’t preclude you injecting your bigoted politics into this thread about brave teachers. Somehow, given your hate, I don’t think you’re crying too hard.

  6. lightly seasoned says:

    I’ve taken weapons off students; I’ve stopped intruders in the building whom we were VERY lucky were not armed (they obviously had something wrong); I’ve taught violent, mentally ill students who have gone on to murder innocent people. While I find Sandy Hook to be many things, I do not find it surprising. What I will find surprising is if there is any meaningful dialogue about the causes. It’s too easy to talk about arming school personnel … as if the real problem were some sort of “other” –.