Sandy Hook killer’s father searches for answers

Peter Lanza, whose son killed 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, doesn’t understand why his “normal weird” son turned violent, writes Andrew Solomon in a haunting New Yorker profile.

Adam Lanza was diagnosed with sensory integration disorder, then Asperger’s Syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder. He tried a psychotropic drug for a few days, had a bad reaction and never took meds again. He refused therapy. He saw many mental health professionals. Nobody predicted his violence. His father thinks the autism may have masked something else, perhaps schizophrenia.

The school clerk who talked down a gunman

Michael Brandon Hill, 20, walked into the office of an Atlanta elementary school with an AK-47 and 500 rounds of ammunition on Tuesday. But no one will remember the tragic deaths at McNair Discovery Learning Center, because there weren’t any. Antoinette Tuff, the school clerk, talked to the mentally ill young man for more than an hour, finally persuading him to surrender. Here’s the tape of her 911 call. This is what courage sounds like.

Hill fired some shots outside the school, but Tuff decided not to make a run for it, notes Josh Voorhees on Slate. The moment “forces you to more fully consider, however briefly, the alternative scenarios that could have played out at the elementary school if she had fled.”

In what may be the most incredible moment in a tape full of them—one that comes after Tuff has convinced Hill to surrender and shortly before the police come in—the school clerk tells Hill that she loves him. “It’s gonna be all right, sweetie,” she says. “I just want you to know that I love you, though, OK? And I’m proud of you. That’s a good thing. You’ve just given up. Don’t worry about it.” It’s only later, after police have Hill in custody, that we hear Tuff’s voice waver. “Let me tell you something, baby,” she tells the dispatcher. “I’ve never been so scared in all the days of my life.”

Tuff’s empathy prevented a tragedy, writes Dahlia Lithwick. “In her first interview after the standoff, Tuff mentions that in the initial terrible moments she thought about a sermon series on “anchoring” that her pastor had been preaching, and it helped her to see that Hill was bereaved and in pain, and she was praying for him.”

‘Porn prof’ faces sexting scandal

Pasadena City College’s  “porn professor” won’t be demonstrating a threesome in front of his Navigating Porn class. Hugo Schwyzer, whose “sexts” with a porn actress were posted online — will go on leave to deal with his bipolar disorder.

Autism and violence

Adam Lanza had Asperger’s Syndrome and a personality disorder, his brother reportedly said. Can autism explain the Sandy Hook tragedy? asks Amy S. F. Lutz in Slate Magazine. Overall, people with autism are less likely to commit crimes than “neurotypicals.” Very few plan and execute an attack, as Lanza did.

However, some erupt in short episodes of violence: “Studies have found that up to a staggering 30 percent suffer from aggressive and/or self-injurious behaviors of varying degrees.”

As president of EASI Foundation: Ending Aggression and Self-Injury in the Developmentally Disabled, Lutz helps “many families struggling to manage their autistic children’s dangerous behaviors.”

Autism alone doesn’t lead to violence, writes Lutz. The problem is autism plus a psychiatric disorder.

One 2008 study by scientists at King’s College London found that 70 percent of their young autistic subjects had at least one co-morbid disorder, such as childhood anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, oppositional defiant and conduct disorder, or ADHD. Forty-one percent had two or more co-morbid disorders. . . . A 2008 review by Stewart S. Newman and Mohammad Ghaziuddin reported that “an overwhelming number of violent cases had co-existing psychiatric disorders at the time of committing the offence”—84 percent, to be precise. And Newman and Ghaziuddin couldn’t rule out personality disorders, such as anti-social personality disorder, in the remaining subjects.

School shooters “are almost always mentally or emotionally ill,” said Katherine S. Newman, author of the 2004 book Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings in a CNN editorial.

. . . those of us who care for a person on the autism spectrum . . .  need to watch for those secondary psychiatric disorders our loved ones are vulnerable to. Often, parents and clinicians assume that patients are anxious or depressed or manic or aggressive because of their autism, when in fact those symptoms may have a different etiology. . . .  it was only once my son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and treated accordingly that the frequent, unpredictable, and intense rages that characterized his childhood finally subsided.

 People with Asperger’s Syndrome and their parents are very worried about being seen as cold-blooded killers. On I Speak of Dreams, Liz Ditz rounds up reactions from people with autism, parents and others.

It’s a bit off topic, but everything you thought you knew about autism is wrong, writes Bookworm in a review of Ido in Autismland, a collection of essays by a 16-year-old boy who doesn’t speak but learned to communicate with a letter board. Ido Kedar also blogs.

‘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.”

A report card is not destiny

In going through records from the Manhattan Trade School for Girls for his “permanent record” project, Paul Lukas discovered the saddest story, he writes in Slate. Doris Abravaya’s report card includes comments by school staffers:

Doris’s mother is insane and in Mental State Hospital. Father is paralyzed and crippled and a drunkard. Three children [including Doris] live in [a foster home]. … Doris has low mentality and is very timid and unstable. She constantly fears becoming like her mother. … Doris cannot work in a factory or workroom because her constitution cannot stand it. She had a nervous breakdown after her two weeks at [a previous job].

Doris finished her schooling in 1933 in the depths of the Depression. What happened to her? Lukas worried about her fate — until he met her two daughters.

She worked, married, raised her children, went back to work and retired to Florida with her husband. Her daughters remember her as an outgoing PTA leader.

A 9-year-old psychopath?

Can You Call a 9-Year-Old a Psychopath?  A fascinating, terrifying article in the New York Times Magazine describes a boy whose “periodic rages alternate with moments of chilly detachment.” He’s callous, cold, manipulative — but is he destined to be a psychopath? The parents — mom is a former elementary school teacher with a child psychology degree — seem like decent, normal people.  The younger brothers are fine.

Rethinking remediation

Overwhelmed with students who need years of remediation, some Texas community colleges are sending very low-skilled students to adult education or vocational programs.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  North Carolina will let community colleges bar “threatening” students, but identifying who’s dangerous and figuring out what to about it are huge challenges for college staffers.

Could Pima College have done more?

Everyone who encountered Jared Loughner at Pima Community College knew he was crazy and many feared he was dangerous.  He was suspended, but college officials didn’t file for a court-ordered mental-health evaluation, which Arizona law allows.  Could the college have done more to force Loughner into treatment and protect the Tucson community?

When a student is mentally ill

On Community College Spotlight, I write about the dilemma faced by officials at Pima Community College in Arizona.  Student Jared Lee Loughner was disrupting classes and showing signs of mental illness. Instructors and students feared what he’d do, but he hadn’t attacked anyone. Yet.