On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, 20 years old, undertook the second-deadliest mass shooting by a single person in American history when he arrived at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut armed with a high powered Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle and two handguns, clad in black garb, and wearing yellow earplugs, sunglasses and a a drab olive-green utility vest, the pockets filled with hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Having shot and killed his mother just before leaving the house, upon gaining entry to the school by shooting through a glass panel next to the locked front entrance doors of the school, he then went on a rampage, killing 20 children and six adults before turning one of his weapons himself. Being a Connecticut native myself, I was deeply disturbed when I learned of the shooting, and upon finding out that the tragedy occurred a mere 30 miles from where I grew up in New Haven, I was white, shaking, and unable to sit still or shut up.
In the aftermath of the massacre, reports began to surface about Lanza’s background, revealing that he suffered from such ailments as sensory integration disorder, in which sufferers are sometimes unaware of painful sensations but are sensitive to bright lights and loud noises, and Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that often can create difficulties for people in a social setting. According to Dr. Robert A. King, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine Child Study Center, Lanza also showed signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Kathleen A. Koenig, a nurse at the Yale Child Studies Center corroborated this observation in the form of revealing to investigators that Lanza would frequently wash his hands and change his socks as many as twenty times a day.
However, this did not stop conspiracy theorists from calling the official report into question, citing the inconsistencies that riddled early reports of the shooting, particularly reports that suggested that the perpetrator was Adam’s brother, Ryan Lanza. These theories suggested that the attack was a false flag operation staged by the United States government in the interest of bringing about legislature designed to target gun owners and survivalists. One particularly upsetting ramification of the conspiracy theories is that certain relatives of the dead were bombarded by harassment by those who consider the tragedy a false flag. For example, the family of Emilie Parker, one of the children slain in the tragedy, was forced to remove her memorial Facebook page on account of being the page deluged with insensitive comments. Worse yet, Gene Rosen, a 69-year-old Newtown resident who discovered six terrified children who had survived the attack seeking refuge in his driveway and subsequently offered them shelter, gave his understandably anguished account to the media only to have his private information posted online and fake social media accounts created in his name. Rosen also experienced harassment via telephone and email at the hands of the conspiracy theorists.
Fortunately, as more and more specific information emerged, it transpired that in the heat of the moment, there was a great deal of confusion about the tragedy among witnesses, police and the media, and these conspiracy theories were handily debunked.
Approximately one year after the shooting, Bryan Applegate, from my hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, whom I have known for years, brought it to my attention that he was once briefly acquainted with Adam Lanza. Applegate, 27, a musician who works by day at a dry-cleaner’s shop, attended a class with Lanza at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, where Applegate had been pursuing a degree in Justice and Law Administration with a concentration on Paralegal Studies.
What follows is my conversation with Applegate about his recollections of Lanza. As you will see, Applegate’s observations in regard to Lanza indeed corroborate with the information about Lanza’s background that was released through the media, painting a portrait of an eccentric, awkward and certainly troubled young man, locked into a self-perpetuating cycle of mental health problems and feelings of isolation.