Criminal Justice Paper on The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter

Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 students and six teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, shot his mother in the face, and later committed suicide. The police could not come up with a clear motive for his actions because he killed himself after committing the crimes and left no avenue for further investigations. Adam was a shy boy and his timidity continued into teenage-hood such that he became a disturbed teen. His mother, Nancy, was confronted with Adam’s need for treatment for anxiety and Asperger’s syndrome when he was very young, but she did not avail the treatment.  Adam gradually went from a mere shy boy to a recluse obsessed with past school shootings.

Adam was diagnosed with Asperger’s disorder at the age of 13. This was after his parents, and the people around him noticed some awkwardness in him. For example, he had trouble associating with others, experienced bouts of anxiety, and started shutting himself in his bedroom. By the time he was in middle school, he disliked confusion and noise and had issues walking to his classes. He did not want to be in a crowd thus forcing his mother to homeschool him (Lysiak, 2014). He slowly withdrew from his mother and the society at large. Indeed, signs of his issues began when he was very young.  For example, he suffered seizures and washed his hands excessively. His parents should have taken note of these signs and sought professional help for him, but his mother thought that the best way to bond with him was teaching him how to shoot a gun. She would take him to a shooting range and practice with him with the six guns registered in her name (Lysiak, 2014). He ended up using one of those guns to shoot his mother then head to the school to shoot some more people and lastly, commit suicide.

Asperger’s is a mild form of autism mostly accompanied by social awkwardness. Additionally, people with this disorder exhibit a high level of intelligence. However, the condition is not associated with violent behavior. Adam was quite intelligent, and he did not just snap and go on a killing spree. Instead, he meticulously planned his mission researching other mass shootings (Owings, 2014). He experienced total withdrawal from those around him and even when approached on the hallways, he would press himself against the wall or walk away. Teachers said that he did not feel physical pain but hurt a lot emotionally. It is, therefore, not clear whether his rampage was to have others feel the emotional pain he endured.

The actions portrayed by Adam suggest that he may have had both autism and schizophrenia. Some people suffer both conditions and Adam seems to have exhibited such characteristics. Usually, people with schizophrenia start exhibiting symptoms around adolescence, and the disorder goes undiagnosed for a while (McKenna, 2013). There is evidence of a relationship between schizophrenia, anti-social behavior, and violence. The psychiatrists have shown a relationship between disorders such as schizophrenia and senseless killings. Most of the time, people with disorders that make them prone to extreme violence abuse substances or experience traumatic events before they commit violent acts.

Adam first exhibited some of the signs consistent with schizophrenia when he turned 13. If a proper diagnosis had been determined then and the proper treatment administered, the tragedy that he caused might not have happened. His mother and the school failed due to the lack of vigilance. They noticed the changes in Adam and all the red flags but failed to help him (Owings, 2014). Additionally, by keeping rifles in the house and teaching him how to shoot, Adam’s mother enabled him to act on his fantasies of killing. Since Adam was raised around guns, it is possible that he grew up in a paranoid environment that fuelled his anxiety and paranoia. This fed Adams rage thus leading to him shooting his mother in the face. The shot indicates a lot of rage and anger towards her.

The fact that he was a shy and different child could have fueled his rage towards the students at his school. He could have chosen another school but instead, he went to his boyhood school and aimed at the children. He could have been bullied at the school and wanted revenge, and even after he felt as though the torture had persisted. Such behavior is consistent with paranoid schizophrenia whereby a person believes that people are conspiring against him or his family (McKenna, 2013). Such people spend a lot of time thinking about ways to protect themselves, and other people they feel need their protection. In Adam’s case, he methodically planned the attack for about a year before finally executing it. He did research and even hacked into a government database, and when the police showed up at his doorstep, Nancy (his mother) said that he was too intelligent and was trying to see whether he could hack a government network (Owings, 2014). This clearly shows that his mother had some reservations about him but still failed to seek help.

Over the years, there has been evidence of confusion between childhood schizophrenia and autism. It is because of the rarity of the combination that the confusion persists to date. Some of the early descriptions of autism include withdrawn behavior (McKenna, 2013). The behavior is also consistent with childhood schizophrenia, but parents and physicians might view it as anxiety. Difficulty in relating with people in the community, including parents and friends is also a symptom of schizophrenia that can easily be mistaken for autism. Adam showed all these signs, yet he was not diagnosed properly. Since it is a rare disorder, its diagnosis might prove to be difficult (McKenna, 2013). Diagnosis relies on the elimination of other conditions. Adam did not have most of the typical symptoms of schizophrenia. The only problem with Adam that relates to this disorder was social withdrawal which caused his awkwardness. It was therefore easy to settle on the autism spectrum of Asperger’s disorder.

Adam had no clear motive for the shootings, according to the investigation. However, it is safe to say that he was a disturbed child from an early age and this could be the reason behind the killings. With more the 1000 documents of the investigation, the FBI could not come up with the reason behind his rage. The behavioral unit mentioned that he planned the attack thoroughly before execution yet he did not have a clear-cut motive. The evidence of a mental disorder, however, led to the specialists concluding that he committed the crime because he was sick. Children who exhibit symptoms of autism could as well have schizophrenia hence the need for parents, teachers, and physicians to be more vigilant to avoid tragic cases such as the one Adam caused. Most serial killers and mass shooters seem to exhibit symptoms of such disorders, and the issue is usually discovered too late. Indeed, as mentioned, such can be avoided through proper diagnosis and early treatment.



Lysiak, M. (2014). Newtown: An American Tragedy. Simon and Schuster.

McKenna, P. J. (2013). Schizophrenia and related syndromes. Routledge.

Owings, L. (2014). The Newtown School Shootings (Multi-Use Hosted eBook). New York: ABDO Digital.