Skip to main content

Adam Lanza's motive a mystery in Sandy Hook killings

By Christopher J. Ferguson
November 27, 2013 -- Updated 1732 GMT (0132 HKT)
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
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT