Skip to main content

Adam Lanza's motive a mystery in Sandy Hook killings

By Christopher J. Ferguson
updated 12:32 PM EST, Wed November 27, 2013
Police officers walk on a rooftop at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, September 16, after a <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/16/us/dc-navy-yard-gunshots/index.html'>shooting rampage</a> in the nation's capital. At least 12 people and suspect Aaron Alexis were killed, according to authorities. Police officers walk on a rooftop at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, September 16, after a shooting rampage in the nation's capital. At least 12 people and suspect Aaron Alexis were killed, according to authorities.
HIDE CAPTION
Worst mass shootings in U.S.
Worst mass shootings in the U.S.
Worst mass shootings in the U.S.
Worst mass shootings in the U.S.
Worst mass shootings in the U.S.
Worst mass shootings in the U.S.
Worst mass shootings in the U.S.
Worst mass shootings in the U.S.
Worst mass shootings in the U.S.
Worst mass shootings in the U.S.
Worst mass shootings in the U.S.
Worst mass shootings in the U.S.
Worst mass shootings in the U.S.
Worst mass shootings in the U.S.
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Connecticut has released official report on the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary
  • Christopher Ferguson: The motive of gunman Adam Lanza remains a mystery
  • He says we need to improve the delivery of care to the chronically mentally ill
  • Ferguson: Lanza's video game playing was unremarkable, not tied to violent games

Editor's note: Christopher J. Ferguson is chair of the psychology department at Stetson University. He is the author of the novel "Suicide Kings."

(CNN) -- A new report said that "Super Mario Brothers" was a favorite video game of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza. He had no history of violent behavior. But he was interested in mass murderers.

Nearly a year since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School where Lanza killed 26 people, Connecticut's state attorney office released its official report that tried to piece together what happened. The investigation provided some insights into the life and actions of the gunman, but his motive remains a mystery.

The report suggests that improving the delivery of mental health care to those with chronic mental illness may be an important element in reducing certain acts of violence, and that mass shooters are not "enthralled" with violent video games.

Christopher J. Ferguson
Christopher J. Ferguson

Lanza was a young man with clear mental health issues. He appears to have been isolated, even communicating with his mother mainly through e-mail despite their living in the same house. It seems he had some obsessive-compulsive qualities related to food preferences, dislike of loud noises or being touched, and a disdain for holidays and birthdays.

Lanza's issues with social communication and problems with crowds worsened in later years. He was also diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. The report notes he declined to take any medications or participate in behavioral therapy. However, it makes no mention of him being aggressive or violent before the shooting.

The report does suggest he had an interest in things related to death and mass shootings. Lanza had a spreadsheet of mass murderers. He also had literature related to pedophilia -- but no child pornography.

From all of this information it's hard to draw any conclusion. But it's fair to say that chronic mental health issues are common among mass shooters, including Lanza.

On the other hand, it's important to note that most individuals with chronic mental illness are not violent. Nor is Asperger's syndrome linked to violence.

Sandy Hook report reveals new details
A look at Sandy Hook massacre report

The tragedy at Sandy Hook may represent a missed opportunity to have a frank discussion about our inadequate mental health system. Other than a few nods to the issue we didn't have that discussion. Mainly, we talked about gun control and video games. This is too bad.

While it's certainly true that most mentally ill people are nonviolent, research also suggests that chronic mental health issues such as psychosis or depression are risk factors for violence, particularly when mixed with chronic anger.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

We must do more to take away the stigma associated with mental illness. Yet pretending no relationship exists between mental health issues and some acts of violence may backfire by reducing our sense of urgency in improving the mental health care system.

As for the issue of video games, the Sandy Hook shooting set off a year's worth of speculation about the harm violent video games may or may not do and whether they are a threat to society. The report, in the end, had relatively little to say about video games and did not link them to the shooting. For example, much like any 20-year-old, Lanza played an assortment of both violent and nonviolent games. But it turns out that he was fond of games that were nonviolent, particularly "Super Mario Brothers" and "Dance Dance Revolution."

Despite speculation and efforts by some politicians such as Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Rep. Frank Wolf to tie mass shootings to violent video games, Lanza's video game playing was unremarkable.

Once again we are reminded of our society's eagerness to assign blame quickly even if evidence suggests otherwise. For example, the youth violence rate has actually declined by nearly 90% during the video game era. That statistic is one reason why policymakers should not rush forward with regulations before we get the full picture.

In the end, we may simply never know why Lanza did what he did other than that he was a disturbed, angry young man who made the choice to do something horrible. Perhaps it is time to stop looking for external explanations for his behavior and acknowledge that this catastrophic choice was his and his alone.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the shooting, our thoughts and prayers will be going out to the families of the victims of Sandy Hook.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Christopher J. Ferguson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT