Author Andrew Solomon‘s extended interview in The New Yorker with Peter Lanza, father of Sandy Hook school shooter Adam Lanza, is very compelling reading. “The Reckoning” lets Peter Lanza tell his own story about his family and his son who went so very wrong.
On the anniversary of the massacre, Peter and Shelley finally went through “the stuff,” reading letters of support they previously hadn’t felt able to face. Peter wanted the writers to know how much their words helped him. “There was a woman whose brother shot up a church,” Peter said. “Killed a bunch of people and himself. Saying how sorry she is. There was a woman whose husband stabbed and killed a child. People having Masses said for Adam.” Some included phone numbers and said to call if he needed anything. Other letters were peculiar: one suggested that Adam had been drugged by the C.I.A. and forced to his acts in order to foment support for gun-control legislation. The anniversary itself felt insignificant. “It’s not like I ever go an hour when it doesn’t cross my mind,” Peter said when we met that day.
Peter has offered to meet with the victims’ families, and two have taken up his offer. “It’s gut-wrenching,” he said. “A victim’s family member told me that they forgave Adam after we spent three hours talking. I didn’t even know how to respond. A person that lost their son, their only son.” The only reason Peter was talking to anyone, including me, was to share information that might help the families or prevent another such event. “I need to get some good from this. And there’s no place else to find any good. If I could generate something to help them, it doesn’t replace, it doesn’t—” He struggled to find the words. “But I would trade places with them in a heartbeat if that could help.”
[. . .]
The last time I saw Peter, he had taken out a picture of himself at the beach with his two sons. “One thing that struck me about that picture is that it’s clear that he’s loved,” he said. Peter has dreamed about Adam every night since the event, dreams of pervasive sadness rather than fear; he had told me that he could not be afraid of his fate as Adam’s father, even of being murdered by his son. Recently, though, he had had the worst nightmare of his life. He was walking past a door; a figure in the door began shaking it violently. Peter could sense hatred, anger, “the worst possible evilness,” and he could see upraised hands. He realized it was Adam. “What surprised me is that I was scared as shit,” he recounted. “I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. And then I realized that I was experiencing it from the perspective of his victims.”
I wondered how Peter would feel if he could see his son again. “Quite honestly, I think that I wouldn’t recognize the person I saw,” he said. “All I could picture is there’d be nothing there, there’d be nothing. Almost, like, ‘Who are you, stranger?’ ” Peter declared that he wished Adam had never been born, that there could be no remembering who he was outside of who he became. “That didn’t come right away. That’s not a natural thing, when you’re thinking about your kid. But, God, there’s no question. There can only be one conclusion, when you finally get there. That’s fairly recent, too, but that’s totally where I am.”
Solomon was well-suited for this assignment. I’ve liked Solomon since I read his The Noonday Demon, on depression and issues of the mind and suffering. More germanely to the Lanza issue, friends have really liked Solomon’s more recent Far from the Tree, about the problems of parents faced with children who are different.
See also an audio interview with Solomon at The New Yorker and another interview with Solomon on NBC’s Today for more.