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The Reckoning

Adam and Peter Lanza

Peter Lanza’s new house, on a secluded private road in Fairfield County, Connecticut, is an attic room overflowing with shipping crates of what he calls “the stuff.” Since the day in December, 2012, when his son Adam killed his own mother, himself, and twenty-six people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, strangers from across the world have sent thousands upon thousands of letters and other keepsakes: prayer shawls, Bibles, Teddy bears, homemade toys; stories with titles such as “My First Christmas in Heaven”; crosses, including one made by prison inmates. People sent candy, too, and when I visited Peter, last fall, he showed me a bag of year-old caramels. He had not wanted to throw away anything that people sent. But he said, “I was wary about eating anything,” and he didn’t let Shelley Lanza—his second wife—eat any of the candy, either. There was no way to be sure it wasn’t poisoned. Downstairs, in Peter’s home office, I spotted a box of family photographs. He used to display them, he told me, but now he couldn’t look at Adam, and it seemed strange to put up photos of his older son, Ryan, without Adam’s. “I’m not dealing with it,” he said. Later, he added, “You can’t mourn for the little boy he once was. You can’t fool yourself.”

Since the shootings, Peter has avoided the press, but in September, as the first anniversary of his son’s rampage approached, he contacted me to say that he was ready to tell his story. We met six times, for interviews lasting as long as seven hours. Shelley, a librarian at the University of Connecticut, usually joined us and made soup or chili or salads for lunch. Sometimes we played with their German shepherd. When Peter speaks, you can still hear a strong trace of rural Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, where he and his first wife—Nancy, Adam’s mother—grew up. He is an affable man with a poise that often hides his despair. An accountant who is a vice-president for taxes at a General Electric subsidiary, he maintains a nearly fanatical insistence on facts, and nothing annoyed him more in our conversations than speculation—by me, the media, or anyone else. He is not by nature given to self-examination, and often it was Shelley who underlined the emotional ramifications of what he said.

Peter hadn’t seen his son for two years at the time of the Sandy Hook killings, and, even with hindsight, he doesn’t think that the catastrophe could have been predicted. But he constantly thinks about what he could have done differently and wishes he had pushed harder to see Adam. “Any variation on what I did and how my relationship was had to be good, because no outcome could be worse,” he said. Another time, he said, “You can’t get any more evil,” and added, “How much do I beat up on myself about the fact that he’s my son? A lot.”

Read the full article on Adam Lanza, his parents, mental illness and violence here, published March 17, 2014, in The New Yorker, but Andrew Solomon.

For more CLBB coverage on the Sandy Hook shooting, see the post Mental Illness, Violence and the Gun Control Debate: Evidence, Policy, Privacy and Stigma, published December 2013.