The Connecticut Office of Child Advocate recommends that school staff have training to identify mental health warning signs and says schools must play a critical role in the identification and referral of students with emotional and behavioral health problems. Among the office's findings:
• Lanza's parents and the school thought of him as intellectually gifted, but psychological testing showed his cognitive abilities were average.
• Lanza was anorexic
(6 feet tall and 112 pounds), to the point of malnutrition and resultant brain damage.
• Lanza's “severe and deteriorating internalized mental health problems” were combined with a preoccupation with violence.
HARTFORD, Conn. — In February 2007, Yale clinicians identified in Adam Lanza what they believed were profound emotional disabilities and offered him treatment that could give him relief for the first time in his troubled life.
But Adam was angry and anxious, and he didn’t want to go. His mother, Nancy Lanza, constantly placating her son, was inclined to pull away from the treatment, prompting a psychiatric nurse to reach out to his father, Peter Lanza, in an urgent email.
“I told Adam he has a biological disorder that can be helped with medication. I told him what the medicines are and why they can work. I told him he’s living in a box right now and the box will only get smaller over time if he doesn’t get some treatment.”
Nancy Lanza rejected the Yale doctors’ plan. Adam was 14.
Six years later, Adam, now an emaciated recluse and fixated with mass killers, murdered his mother and massacred 20 children and six educators and turned a gun on himself at the elementary school he once attended in the Sandy Hook section of Newtown.
A report released Friday by the Office of the Child Advocate pointed to the Yale episode as one of dozens of red flags, squandered opportunities, blatant family denial and disturbing failures by pediatricians, educators and mental health professionals to see a complete picture of Adam Lanza’s “crippling” social and emotional disabilities.
The report points out repeated examples in which the profound rage simmering inside Lanza was not explored in favor of attempts to manage his symptoms.
For example, at the apex of Adam’s increasing phobias and problems coping with middle school, he went to a pediatrician and was repeatedly prescribed a lotion to soothe hands rubbed raw by excessive washing. Yet the authors note that there was no effort during these visits to address the underlying causes. A visit to a hospital emergency room was cut short before there was a chance for clinicians to explore Adam’s problems at greater depth and schedule him for long-term treatment because Nancy Lanza said that being at the hospital was making Adam anxious.
The child advocate’s mandate was to scour Adam Lanza’s life for warning signs, lapses and communication breakdowns that could lead to reform in Connecticut’s school and mental health systems.
The 112-page report reserves some of its most searing criticism for what the authors see as efforts by his parents and school personnel to control superficial symptoms and appease him to “get through the day.”
At times, the report said, school officials in Newtown failed to comply with legal requirements in their handling of Adam.
“The lack of sustained, expert-driven and well-coordinated mental health treatment, and medical and educational planning, ultimately enabled his progressive deterioration,” the report said.
Among the troubling omissions cited in the report, the authors reveal that Adam never underwent a neurological examination despite reported seizures. Adam was repeatedly pulled from special education programs, therapy and schools and was in the state’s homebound program with minimal oversight by school officials.
Even Adam’s own stunningly violent and graphic school writings about homicide, gunplay and seventh-grade war essays failed to trigger psychiatric treatment.
The report traces his descent after high school into depression, isolation and suicidal thoughts, spending months in his bedroom with blacked-out windows and communicating in cyberspace with fellow connoisseurs of mass murder.
He also spent those days planning the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School, which he may have chosen because he could overpower the children and anticipated little resistance. The report said Adam visited the school’s website “on numerous occasions” and studied the school’s security procedures.
“The attack on Sandy Hook Elementary appears to have been a purposefully thought-out and planned attack. (Adam Lanza) did not just ‘snap,’ ” wrote Sarah Eagan, the state Child Advocate.