The 27th Victim


Somehow, before yesterday, it had escaped my notice that the various commemorative events relating to the massacre in Newtown, Conn. have intentionally omitted mention of Adam Lanza’s mother.  This week, Gov. Dannel Malloy has asked that churches across the Connecticut toll their bells 26 times, once for each victim of the massacre–each victim other than Nancy Lanza, that is. A vigil with 26 candles was attended by President Obama last December, and moments of silence at sporting events around the country often are timed to 26 seconds. Last April’s Boston Marathon was dedicated to the grieving Newtown families, with one mile of the traditional 26 mile race dedicated to each victim. There were 27 victims that day, of course: Adam Lanza’s long-suffering mother was victim #1, shot dead in her bed by the son she loved. Why doesn’t her death count?

She was a member of the Newtown community, she was a human being, and she didn’t deserve to die. Her fate was as terrible as any of the victims: being murdered by the child who you cared for and gave life has to be one of the greatest betrayals there is in human existence. She deserves to be mourned and remembered.

We know why she has been omitted, but the explanation reflects poorly on everyone. In a spectacular demonstration of hindsight bias, Newtown and the rest of the country blames Nancy Lanza for what her son did, as if she had personally instructed him to do it. After all, he used her guns; she’s the one who taught him to shoot; she’s the one who didn’t divine the right way to turn her troubled son away from the darkness, as if there is any way that is sure to work. Yes, indeed, her choices didn’t pan out, just as my parenting choices may have equally unfortunate bi-products. Luckily, my son, who is a year younger than Adam was when he went on his rampage, hasn’t exhibited that same alarming behavioral problems as Nancy’s child, but there are some similarities. I pulled him out of high school, which he hated. He can be moody and depressed, like most teenagers. He’s played violent video games like “Call of Duty;” I’ve given him a few myself. He’s a junior  member of the NRA (he joined on his own), and yes, we have a gun in the house. Am I raising a killer?

Emphatically no, but there was no good reason for anyone to suspect that Nancy Lanza was raising a killer either. Never mind. Once a child has gone fatally, irreversibly bad, everyone knows exactly what the parents should have done. Thus Nancy Lanza, whom I think we can all agree didn’t intentionally set out to raise her son to shoot her dead, is being blamed for what Adam did to the children and teachers at the Sandy Hook School, something she would have been as horrified by as any other survivor–if she had survived.

There are reasons for this, but no excuse. She cannot be fairly blamed for something nobody could have predicted or did predict. She kept guns in the house: so what? They were legally purchased and registered, and millions of parents own guns without seeing their children pointing one of them at their head in their final seconds of life. She taught her son to shoot, thinking it would be therapy for him, helping him channel his anger, unhappiness and rage? Yes, that didn’t work, did it? But this is only moral luck. If it had worked, we never would have heard about Adam Lanza. After a plan fails, it is always easy to say it was a terrible plan.

Essentially, the refusal to mourn the life of Adam Lanza’s mother is based on hate and vengeance, which have fueled far too much of the post-Sandy Hook response this year. The Golden Rule would be a better starting point. Any parent should be able to acknowledge that no matter how hard they have tried to navigate the difficult job of child-rearing, there are no guarantees, and the results are unpredictable. Nancy Lanza did her best, failed, and died violently as a result. To the extent that she deserved punishment, being executed was excessive. Now she deserves as much respect and sympathy as any of the Newtown victims,  and more sympathy now, as she is being blamed for not only murders she didn’t commit, but her own as well.

Any parent—if they are honest with themselves, the parents in Newtown as well— should know that Nancy Lanza’s sad status as a pariah and villain in death could be theirs, if a million-to-one catastrophe occurs.

To paraphrase John Donne (and wreck his meter):

Send not to know for whom the bell doesn’t toll.

It doesn’t toll for thee.


Sources: Slate, USA Today

24 thoughts on “The 27th Victim

  1. “Why doesn’t her death count?”

    Because she’s just another murder in the home. Those stats do nothing to advance the agenda of the anti-gun hysterics. The 26 gunned down in, of all places, a school- a symbol of innocence and helplessness and community. Now there you’ve got the stats to help the virulent gun-grabbers communicate their message.

    I’d submit this “memorial” is 90% anti-gun advocacy and 10% legitimate mourning and remembrance.

    • I don’t want to admit this is the case, but it sure seems like it. On a level I don’t like to acknowledge, I don’t much like the Newtown folks—I think they have allowed themselves and their children to be exploited politically, and become part of that exploitation, as well as part of the hate. The treatment of Nancy Lanza—she owned guns, you see, so she must have been evil—is a symptom.

        • It comes from the people who claim that the desire to protect kids is why we must ban “assault weapons”, even though hoy dogs and swimming pools kill more children than long guns, let alone “assault weapons”.

          They want to use tragedy to take away all guns.

          To paraphrase Tony Stark, “You can’t have them!”

      • If you look at the anti-gun rants you do see that they brand people who own guns murderers. They gleefully give out names and addresses. These people are much more hateful and despicable than the gun owners. I’ve even heard some of them say gun owners should be shot. How’s that for anti-gun?

      • I have an anger towards her – not because she “owned guns” but because her child had obvious (from the reports) issues, and she helped create the situation that allowed him to have easy access to the weapons and do the damage he did. To me, it has nothing to do with the gun-control debate. It has everything to do with blaming the victim (Mrs. Lanza in this case) – and there is a part of me, that feels she is somewhat to blame.

  2. This is truly depressing. I remember when going to Boy Scout summer camp we were all given the opportunity to shoot a 22 caliber rifle with of course adult oversight over us so we didn’t accidentally point our rifle at somebody. Anyway, this omission of Nancy Lanza as a victim is mean spirited and demonstrates the nasty righteousness of the anti-gun advocates.

    • Thanks for remembering your friendly neighborhood scout camp shooting sports staff, Wayne! It’s amazing, really, I started teaching 13 year olds gun safety when I was 15 (yes, there were other adults present, but I was instructing). It’s amazing, really, our area had fewer injuries in my tenure at camp than any other. It’s almost like supervision, safety, and good instruction lead to safety, but I can’t figure out why those evil guns never shot anybody in spite of our safety measures.

  3. She wasn’t part of the “actual” school shooting. Private shootings happen frequently, but only public shootings are ever remembered. There were also some parental failures involved, even if she suffered from mental illness on her part. She deserves to be remembered and mourned by her family and friends, but she was partially responsible (as a parent) for the larger public tragedy. It’s not that she owned guns — it’s that there was free access to them in her home. Every gun owner I know keeps them properly locked up. I wonder how much the ex-husband knew about what was going on in his family. Very sad.

  4. he deserves to be remembered and mourned by her family and friends, but she was partially responsible (as a parent) for the larger public tragedy. It’s not that she owned guns — it’s that there was free access to them in her home. Every gun owner I know keeps them properly locked up. I wonder how much the ex-husband knew about what was going on in his family. Very sad.
    Well, Beth, it is Fri the 13th and Hell is going to freeze over.
    I agree with you.

  5. Every gun owner I know keeps them properly locked up.
    I wanted to add something:
    People who defend this woman’s actions with the guns keep saying, “she had no idea he would become violent.”

    One of my brothers has a gun collection, mostly Flintlocks but some modern guns as well.
    The guns are kept in a gun safe at all times.
    Why, because he has two teens in the house (perfectly normal ones) and you never know what stupid stuff a teen will get up to.
    It’s a simple concept.

    I understand why the families of the dead children do not want the person who is partially responsible (through negligence) mentioned when their kids are mentioned/honored.
    I wouldn’t like it, either.

  6. There is a possible benign explanation, though maybe not a likely one. It’s remembered as a school shooting and she wasn’t at the school.

    Here’s the harder question. Did the shooter forfeit his humanity to the point that his death shouldn’t be remembered? Had he lived, he would have been treated as a citizen, afforded a professional and vigorous defense and a humane penalty.

    Personally I refuse even to use his name, but constantly question whether I’m doing the right thing.

    • “Did the shooter forfeit his humanity to the point that his death shouldn’t be remembered?”

      That’s a matter of scale. I’m sure his immediate family still mourns his death. No one likes their family dying. Even this woman was sad when her heinous brother died.

      For the rest of us however? We’re not encumbered with this. Despise his conduct all you want.

      • Thank you for the reassurance.

        Let’s play with a hypothetical. What if he’d had an organic problem, like the brain tumor in the Texas tower shooter? At the scene, the ethical response would still have been to gun him down, if possible. But later, would we be willing to toll a bell for him?

        One possible answer is that he would deserve to be posthumously shunned, for having blown off his absolute duty to sign himself into a locked ward.

        • I would think not. If a shooter were completely out of control because nature encumbered him with a behavior modifying tumor, he’s still not a victim. To toll a bell for him would inevitably be seen as memorializing a killer (however out of his own control he was). I’d submit that memorializing him would encourage others, not so encumbered, to do the same conduct. In the end, someone like that would still represent the heinous crime. I’d say there would be negative value treating him as one of the victims. Certainly, if a separate event occurred with the specific discussion of mental diseases, he and those like him that were ‘driven’ to violence out of their control could be considered with sympathy.

          I think context matters.

  7. Jack, you cite hate and vengeance being pollution in the minds of people of Newtown. I think denial is also at work in the minds of many Newtown (Ignorers? Forgetters? Excluders? Shunners?) of Lanza’s mother. It’s mass “It Can’t Happen to US” syndrome.

    I agree with you Jack, that many ignorers-forgetters-shunners-excluders of Newtown are culpable, being active, scheming scapegoaters. But, I am also willing to accept that many more of them are so deeply into denial, they are not culpable because of their damaged, impaired, post-trauma hate- and vengeance-polluted minds.

    It’s a cruel thought, but I have thought that maybe what the deniers in Newtown need is a second incident of a shooter who is a previously upstanding citizen of Newtown – sane, well-known, trusted and beloved – who kills only household members (also well-known and beloved), without killing himself. That way, they can blame guns and gun owners anew, plus, blame a living shooter, and at least stop scapegoating a victim.

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