With final edits and approvals, members of a commission writing a report on the Newtown, Conn., school massacre have begun to think about the impact their work will have on parents of victims and surviving children, as well as people who might read the document 20 years from now.
Should Nancy Lanza, killed by her son before he went on the rampage, be acknowledged as the 27th victim of the Dec. 14, 2012, tragedy? Should the report begin with a detailed, graphic, almost forensic, recounting of Adam Lanza’s movements inside Sandy Hook Elementary School that day?
And should the report refer to Lanza as “A.L.” — as the draft does throughout, aside from an introductory reference — or use his name, despite the rage and resistance it can stir among the parents?
On Friday, at its second-to-last meeting, the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission confronted these questions and reached a consensus:
The much anticipated report, due this month, will be dedicated to the 20 first-graders and six educators killed in the school that day, the Newtown community in western Connecticut, and all victims of devastating violence. The names of the 26 will be listed.
Dr. Harold Schwartz, panel member and the chief psychiatrist at Hartford’s Institute of Living, said he had mixed feelings about bringing up Nancy Lanza’s possible inclusion in the dedication.
“Why would we not consider Nancy Lanza a victim? What is the argument, other than an argument of blame?” said Schwartz, suggesting that her death be marked by an asterisk and footnote at the bottom of the dedication.
Panel member Chris Lyddy said he envisioned the dedication as a recognition of victims killed inside the school, and that the last line acknowledging the world’s victims includes Nancy Lanza — a sentiment that was ultimately embraced by the commission.
Members also noted that 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who killed himself as police arrived, has been referred to as the 28th victim in some quarters. A report by the state’s child advocate’s office found he did not receive the mental health treatment he needed as a teenager.
In its mental health section, the commission’s report will also explore “the systems that did or did not fail Adam Lanza,” said Dr. Alice Forrester, a panel member.
Hamden, Conn., Mayor Scott Jackson, who chairs the panel, said his town sounded 28 bells during the first memorial after the tragedy. Some communities sounded 26 bells, others 27.
Dr. David Schonfeld, chief pediatrician at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, said he found the recounting of the crime in the opening of the draft report to be overly graphic and potentially devastating to Newtown parents.
Schwartz agreed that the account, based on a voluminous state police investigation, was “shocking.”
“The factuality is graphic, but I think it belongs where it is,” said Schwartz, adding that people reading the report 10 or 20 years from now otherwise might not appreciate what happened that day.
Panel member Patricia Keavney-Maruca said that an unflinching account was needed so that the public can appreciate the recommendations about gun and ammunition control, police response and school security measures that come later in the report.
Dr. Ezra Griffith, a panel member and a senior research scientist in psychiatry at Yale University, questioned why the draft report uses Lanza’s initials rather than his name. “The omission is quite striking to me. … I just don’t know what we’re trying to say about this,” Griffith said.
Schwartz, who has met with parents of victims, said that naming the shooter “was enraging and unacceptable to the parents.” He added that repeated references to Lanza also feed an online subculture of mass-murder enthusiasts.
Jackson, recalling remarks by Sandy Hook father Jeremy Richman, said the names of mass killers, such as those in Oklahoma City and at Columbine, tended to be known and remembered, overshadowing the names of the victims.
Forrester said Lanza’s full name needed to be mentioned at least once when the shooter is introduced, to which other panelists agreed.