Should Adam Lanza’s Mother Have Locked Him Up?

adam lanza mother

As you are certainly aware, Adam Lanza is the disturbed young man responsible for the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newton, Conn. A former babysitter claims that Lanza’s mother was aware of her son’s inclinations, and that she told the babysitter “to keep an eye on him at all times … to never turn my back, or even to go to the bathroom or anything like that.” Which makes a lot of us question whether, if she knew that her son was this disturbed, should she have taken more action? Should she have locked him up, or had him institutionalized? What was her duty as a parent, and as a member of society?

If you have not yet read it, there is a wonderful piece on The Blue Collar review entitled “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother”. She is not, of course, Adam Lanza’s mother, because Adam Lanza’s mother was shot by him before he went on to kill 26 other people. However, she is a woman dealing with a son she feels has similar issues. She begins by discussing a recent dispute with him which ran:

“I can wear these pants,” he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises. “They are navy blue,” I told him. “Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only.” “They told me I could wear these,” he insisted. “You’re a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!”

Here is the thing. I think if you replaced the pants with a strapless Lily Pulitzer dress, a “stupid bitch” with “insufferable cow” and the thing about America with threats to move to France, you would have had me at 13. The entire thing would have been topped off by some sobbing in my closet. And while I am still sometimes temperamental, I’m a fairly functioning adult. I have a job. I have long lasting friendships and relationships. I like to think my parents are proud of me. My mother and I can laugh about ways I was rotten as a pre-teen, now. And, most importantly, I have never shot anyone. However, one commenter on Gawker, where the piece was reposted remarks:

If you have a child that you know is capable of committing mass murder you have a responsibility to contain them by whatever means are necessary. Your child assaults you? Press charges. Medicate them. Even if it turns them into a zombie. Have them committed to a mental institution. Even if it’s a shitty one. Can’t get them into one? Lock them in their bedroom. Surrender them to the state. They threaten to kill themselves? Let them. Because one day they will kill you. And your other children. And perfect strangers. Just because all the choices are shitty it doesn’t mean that you don’t have choices. Pick one. Do something because they are your responsibility. And for fuck sake, don’t own firearms.

First of all, no, you don’t “let anyone kill themselves.” This comment was seemingly written by someone who has never had a family member with any issues, or perhaps, had a family member, period.

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    • Alle

      This is going to be really hard for me to write, but I am going to do it anyway.

      It is not as easy as saying “This person is dangerous and needs to be somewhere where they can’t hurt people” and then having them put away. I know this from experience because my younger brother is mentally ill. Unlike Michael in the article, though, he is 25. He is much larger and stronger than I am. He frequently stops taking his medication, which is often the difference between functioning on a basic level and standing in the living room with a knife, threatening to kill me. There is not much that I can do about that, short of forcing open his mouth with one hand and stuffing pills down his throat with the other. I’ve never actually done that, by the way. But there are some mornings that I seriously think about it.

      He did not begin to manifest symptoms until two years ago. That’s pretty par for the course, they tell me. I didn’t know, really, what was going on until his first hospitalisation earlier this year. Because he was threatening to kill himself, and also kill me, he was able to be kept in the hospital for up to 3 days without his consent. After that, he could check himself out. The nearest psych ward with an available bed was an hour and a half away–and this is in Chicago, a major metropolitan area. Fortunately he consented to this. They would not have been able to transfer him to a psych ward, where he needed to be for his own safety, without it. Even then, they could only keep him for ten days. He has been back in that same ward seven times since March.

      I could tell you about how I had to move to help my mother handle all of this. I could tell you about the hurdles I’ve had to jump to get his care paid for by insurance. I could tell you about inpatient care, outpatient care, doctors who give a crap and doctors who don’t. I could tell you about how terrifying and isolating it all is. I could tell you how people judge you for talking about how you’re scared, or how you’re not doing enough, or how they think you’re doing too much. But I won’t, because I would talk forever, and it all hurts so much.

      “Institutionalised” now means “in jail,” rather than “in an asylum or hospital.” You can’t put someone, even a dangerous someone, away. That’s probably for the best in most cases, because I think it’s right for people to make choices about their own lives. But some people, like my brother, can’t make their own choices sometimes…or their choices are dangerous ones. Every time I leave the house, I’m afraid that I’ll come back and find that he’s strangled my mother. And the worst part is that there’s literally nothing I can do to stop this from happening. There is no long-term help. There is no safety net. There is nothing except for waiting and watching and hoping. And that’s some bullshit right there.

      • Porkchop

        Thanks for writing this. I think a lot of people don’t realize how little is out there for families dealing with mental illness.

        In counseling school, we learned how many people with personality disorders end up homeless or in prison because what they need is so far past the limit of what most families can do.

      • msenesac

        Thank you for writing this. This may sound stupid but I’m sorry you have so much on your plate (it sounds like you really do). I have no idea how I would be able to handle such a difficult situation.

      • Jennifer Wright

        Thank you. I know I cannot really understand how difficult that must be, but I am so sorry that you and your family have to deal with those issues. We need better options and more conversations relating to mental health in America (but I mean, really, in lots of countries. Even in France, which my 13 years old brain thought was some kind of lawless paradise).

      • Alle

        I think we need to have these kind of conversations EVERYWHERE. We grew up in Australia where’s there’s at least a rudimentary safety net, but it’s not perfect. I think, though, that people use the “not perfect” part as an excuse for why things should stay the way they are. You know, “Even if we did X, Y and Z, people would still hurt other people/themselves/get sick.” And yes, that’s true. You can’t prevent everything all the time! But you can at least prevent SOME things, and that’s where we need to be.

        Also, thankyou Glossers for all your kind words. I really needed the support today. I’d hug all of you if I could xox

      • Jennifer Wright

        I always think the justification of “but they would still hurt themselves!” doesn’t really hold up. You would not tell someone who worked, say, in organ transplant research that “sure, you can give someone a new kidney, but those ungrateful bastards will just go and die anyway.”

      • Alle

        You’re absolutely right. I think it runs along with this weird cultural mindset of “Unless we can fix everything perfectly, it’s not worth fixing at all.” Things don’t have to be PERFECT. They just have to be BETTER.

        Also, I just read this. It was amazing. Have you guys seen it yet?

      • Nat

        I’m not really sure what to say, other than good luck and keep faith.

        Also- Thank you for the article Jennifer, it was great and I think articles and discussions like these are the first steps to making mental illness and treatment socially acceptable.

    • Fabel

      Ugh, this is just one of the (many, MANY) things that terrify me out of possibly ever having children. Articles describing the behavior of “sociopath” kids (in quotes because I’m unsure of my feelings in labeling them as such) get me on so many levels—obviously, in a “Oh-god-what-if-I-have-children-and-they-turn-out-like-this???!!!! way, but also in a very base, “GET RID OF IT!!!” way (there is just something about children deadpanning cruel statements that is bone-chilling)

      But if that child was MINE? I don’t think I’d be capable of locking him away. Similiar to what you wrote…there were many times I ignored warning signs exhibited by people I loved, who were not even related to me. So I think it’s somewhat understandable if Lanza’s mother didn’t realize/didn’t want to realize that her son was an imminent danger to both herself & society.

      • Pearlandvb

        You CAN’T “lock him away”. There is NO OPTION for that sort of thing, no matter how much you might want it. The days of the old state mental institutions where the mentally ill were safely locked away for years and years are GONE. There is NOTHING but waiting for them to commit a crime and then get locked in jail. Everything is out-patient treatment now, none of it works very well, and mentally ill people invariably go off their meds and off their rockers.

      • hmhque

        Unfortunately our mental health system was essentially disbanded by Reagan in the 80′s. It has all been downhill since then and we are paying the price.

    • M

      Thank you for writing this because these are the kinds of conversations that need to happen to make real change happen.

      I will one day be responsible for taking care of my severely mentally ill sister. My sister has thoughts (versus plans) of committing violent acts and hurting herself, and she voluntarily goes into a hospital three or four times a year for medication adjustments to “correct” these. These shorts stints usually only lasts a week before she is urged out by insurance/medicaid requirements. It’s a joke.

      My parents have made sacrifice after sacrifice for her, including buying a house for her next door to them, so that she has as much freedom as she can safely have. Their only help is an outpatient counseling program three times a week (cut down from 5 days due to my state’s shitty governor) and her tiny disability check each month. There are no other options in their state.

      If my sister didn’t have my parents and me, she would likely be homeless/jailed/institutionalized. Most people feel so uncomfortable with being around a mentally ill person that they run away, turn their backs and refuse to engage at all with them. Even our extended family ignores her.

      Long-term housing for the mentally ill is rare. It costs between $3,000 and $9,000 a month for one person. No one can care for an adult family member of mental illness 24 hours a day. Better outpatient programs and affordable halfway housing is a great start.

    • anna

      No one can really understand the extent of dealing with a mentally ill loved one unless you do it yourself. My ex fiancee was bipolar, and for years I gave everything to him. All the love, the support, talking off the cliff. Everything I did was to make him have a happy, stable life. But he couldn’t his brain wouldn’t let him function like that however hard he tried. I don’t think he should be locked up, he’s too brillant and kind. But he can get in scary, psychotic states and he needs help for it.
      I support an outpatient program, social workers to check on the mentally ill. They’re not criminals, they’re sick and we all can pitch in and help keep them and us safe.

      • libba

        it’s such a helpless feeling

    • jamiepeck

      Free access to mental healthcare and support for family members would go quite a long way towards helping with this problem. Also, this video was recommended to me, maybe it’s good? (I haven’t watched it all the way through yet.)

    • None

      Henry Kissinger=serial killer? That’s a stretch.

    • Andrea

      Oh Phu-lez. EVERYONE in that town that knew the kid knew he wasn’t right. I am pretty sure a doctor and a teacher can tell you what is considered normal shitty teen behavior and what is considered something more serious. I have NO idea what should have been done about that monster in terms of “options” but one thing is for DAMN sure: “mom” should NOT have had an ARSENAL of ASSAULT WEAPONS where he could get to them. She shouldn’t have had them in the house PERIOD. She was living wit a kid that was disturbed. SHE knew it, his peers knew it, his neighbors knew it. There was ZERO reason for her to have had weapons in the house if he was living there.

    • Allie

      There is a difference between mental illness ( such as bipolar, schizophrenia etc.) and personality disorders ( anti-social). They are usually detectable from childhood where mental illness age of on set is usually in the teens. They are also not treated the same way, mental illness is a chemical imbalances in the brain which can be treated with medication, where the cause of personality disorders is unknown. Usually a number of factors contribute to them but treatment is not as developed as medication wont create empathy in a person.

    • kj

      I have a cousin that is… I don’t know what. I don’t think it has been formally diagnosed.

      He has a melting pot of issues – he was adopted with what seems to be FAS. He didn’t get along with his peers so he was moved from school to school and then finally homeschooled. The trouble was really his parents – his dad set no boundaries for him at all and raised him in a really disjointed way. I won’t get into details, but trust me – it was messed up. His sister expressed her mental anguish through developing anorexia.

      This cousin converted to Islam as a way to embrace his heritage, but I guess it didn’t work out for him, because then he got into drugs and ran away to New York…
      My aunt eventually had to get a restraining order against him because he started having violent outbursts. He is in his early 20s now.

      The trouble is, it’s very much a strange middle ground. What is going on in his head? Would the violence ever go any further than cutting up computer cables or punching my aunt? The sad thing is too, it wasn’t him, it wasn’t something genetic or predetermined, it was the way he was raised and who knows whether there is any way back, And his behaviour so far – I doubt it’s justification for putting him away, even if that was an option.

    • carabara89

      i wish we could lock people like that away.. my brother is and has been like this for his entire life.. threatening people with knives, broke my brothers nose, has pushed people down the stairs, etc.

    • Mara H.

      I agree with writer of article . I say Try to get problemadic kids good quality mental health help, but for the sake of the rest of scociety, Lock them up if neccesarey for a life time.. Nancy Lanza was in a great deal of denial . look what that denial cost so many ! I feel angery with her, yet still feel very sad for her as she, from all accounts was a kind hearted ,decent lady.