Tuesday 18 December 2012

Depravity  of  a  Mass  Murderer

There is nothing that is more frightening in a community of any size than the mass murder of innocent victims by a criminal who is depraved. It follows that all mass murders are depraved. A good example of depravity is the mass shooting of 20 elementary school children and 6 adults in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in the small town of Newtown in western Connecticut on December 14, 2012. The ages of the children killed ranged between six and seven and were all first graders. Twelve of the children killed were girls and eight of them were boys.

The shooter, Adam Lanza, age 20, while at his home, killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, aged 52. She was a ‘stay-at-home mom’ and not a teacher or part-time employee of Sandy Hook Elementary School as previously stated by the media. He shot her in the head several times while she lay in her bed and then he drove to the school in her car while he was dressed in black battle fatigues and wearing a military vest. He had with him a Glock, a Sig Sauer; both of them being pistols, a .223-caliber military-type rifle and a shotgun which he left in the car. Later the police found another three guns in the home and all of her guns were legally obtained by his mother. He then entered the school with the two handguns and the rifle and first he shot the school principal who had tried to overtake him when she saw that the killer was armed. He then shot the school psychologist who was nearby. Then he entered two classrooms and shot the 20 children and 4 teachers to death at around 9:30 a.m. The victims were all shot with the rifle. 

Fortunately, the police who arrived were aware of what had previously happened in the Columbine shooting in 1999 when the police arrived at that school. They foolishly remained outside while the two killers inside that school continued their shooting of more victims. In the Sandy Hook Elementary School, they immediately entered the school and before Adam Lanza could leave the second schoolroom to enter another one, he was aware that the police would be on him in seconds.  He took his own life by shooting himself in the head with one of his handguns. 

The police later discovered his older brothers ID card in one of his pockets. I have no explanation for that anomaly although it is believed by some that he stole his brother’s ID.  

The shootings instantly brings to mind such tragedies as the Columbine High School massacre that killed 15 in 1999 and the July 2012 shootings at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado that left 12 dead. One is forced to ask, “When will it finally end?”

Adam Lanza had no prior criminal record however, it has been said that he suffered from a mild form of autism. Let me briefly describe autism to you however let me first give you my background of my own training in psychology. I spent a school year studying abnormal psychology at the University of Toronto while attending classes during my four years I was studying criminology. Plus I have text books on abnormal psychology in my study at home. This doesn’t make me an expert in this field but it gives me sufficient background information about abnormal psychology to write this article.

Autism is one of a group of neurodevelopmental disorders known as pervasive developmental disorders, which are characterized by impaired communication, impaired social interaction, and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviors or interests. Signs of these disorders usually become apparent in children by the time they are three years old. Autistic symptoms include a significant delay in language and cognitive development. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Some people may be considered autistic but function in society without issues, while for others, the condition can have a substantial impact on their lives and on the lives of those close to them. Autism spectrum disorders are found around the world, regardless of race, cultural or economic background. Autism occurs more often in boys than in girls, with a 4:1 male/female ratio. Most kids display some symptoms of autism and yet they aren’t suffering from it and other kids who show symptoms of autism grow out of them as they get older. He was more like an autistic savant—one who has the symptoms of autism but at the same time, is extremely smart.  

Those that knew Adam Lanza claim that he had temper tantrums. Most young children have them but Adam Lanza had more that the average child had. However, it has been stated that he was not prone to violence—that is until he shot all those people.  

Children with mild autism usually struggle with recognizing, expressing and coping with their feelings. Such a child can alternate between emotional flatness and near hysteria. Problems with language are often the first clue that something isn't right in a child’s development. There is often a difference with pragmatic or social language skills such as listening, taking turns to speak and making eye contact. Problems with language are often the first clue that something isn't right in a child's development. Social skills are challenging for children with an autism spectrum disorder. Children who are mildly affected might be awkward and unsure about how to initiate and sustain relationships. Most children with autism have difficulty processing sensory information. They may show sensitivities, such as being frightened by loud noises, or they may show a need for increased instruction, as they may touch or eat things inappropriately. Since social, language and sensory processing skills affects play behavior, a child with autism might look different when he plays. A lack of imaginative play is common in autistic children as well.

His fellow students said that he was intelligent but fidgety and he spit out his words as if having to speak was painful to him. He also walked about the school with his hands close to his sides. He was also deeply uncomfortable in social situations and for this reason, was a loner. One of his former classmates said that he didn’t see any emotional reactions when being spoken to. What made his emotions worse was that he was aware that some of his fellow classmates were giggling when they heard his speaking. He was not physically bullied, although he may have been teased. He struggled to be friends with the other pupils in the school while he attended the school as a student. His parents split up and that naturally had an effect on his emotions. Many of us had parents who separated but we got over it. He was not only emotionally withdrawn, but also appeared to not experience physical or emotional pain in the same way as others did. He always wore his shirts buttoned up to the top button. When anyone approached him in the hallways, he would press himself against the wall or walk in a different direction, clutching tight to his black case which he carried with him when in school. Hanging onto his black case was more like an 8-year-old who refuses to give up his teddy bear. It might have given his a sense of security that he didn’t find after his father left the home. His father was a tax executive in the company he worked in and it’s possible that Adam Lanza was attempting to mimic his father. His mother battled with the school board and ended up having her son home-schooled and adults who knew him said that he was a very bright boy.

It has also been suggested that he may have suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome which is an advanced stage of autism. Canadian experts on autism have said that the behavior of Adam Lanza showed that he had classic signs of Asperger’s Syndrome. However that by itself would not normally cause him to commit such a horrendous crime.  It is more likely that he was also suffering from an undiagnosed or untreated mental illness that often accompanies autism and Asperger`s Syndrome which is more likely the cause of Lanza’s deadly rampage. He could have been suffering from severe paranoia or schizophrenia.

Further, many people who suffer from this syndrome grow up feeling as if they have been misunderstood, rejected and sometimes bullied and this can result in them suffering from anxiety and depression which then can turn into panic and when things aren’t going as well as planned, this can then turn into anger and later rage.  

Those suffering from the Asperger’s Syndrome don’t have the ability reach out for help and if Adam Lanza had sought help, he could have been directed to counselling services which then could have directed him to a psychiatrist. Perhaps the reason why he didn’t seek help was that he was too embarrassed or shy to admit to anyone that he was not a normal person and he was shy. 

I should point out that studies have shown that as many as 99.9% of those suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome do not commit crimes. However, it has been suggested that 2 out of every 1000 persons in the United States suffers from this illness. If 1% of them commit crimes, then could mean that a very large number of them suffering from this illness actually have committed a crime—Adam Lanza being one of them.

The lack of empathy is possibly the most dysfunctional aspect of Asperger syndrome. Obviously anyone who is a mass killer or a serial killer has a lack of empathy for fellow human beings. Here is an example of a human being lacking empathy for others. In Florida, a nine-year-old boy pushed a toddler into the deep end of a pool and while the toddler was drowning, the nine-year-old boy pulled up a chair and sat in it while he watched the toddler dying. 

Family and friends remember Adam Lanza as many things — intelligent, nerdy, dressed in goth-like clothes and was a loner. What then turned a human being like Adam Lanza who may have suffered fromsome mild form of autism or even Apserger’s Syndrome into a mass killer? Well it goes without saying that his mind was depraved.

Depravity of mind refers to the state of mind which possesses feelings that are contrary to the normal concepts of justice, honesty or morality. Depravity of mind is a condition where there is a deviation or departure from the ordinary standards of honest, good morals, justice, or ethics as to be shocking to the moral sense of society in general. Depravity of mind can also be described as an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a person owes to another, or to his or her community. Certainly both mass and serial killers fit this description.

Most people who suffer from mild autism are not depraved and the vast majority of those who are depraved, never suffered from mild autism. However, if Adam Lanza suffered from mild autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, and was a killer to boot, then he also had to be a psychopath or as they are sometimes called, a sociopath.  

These kinds of depraved people are categorized as those who exhibit superficial charm and intelligence and at the same time, are often absent of delusions or nervousness. Their traits include:
·       Unreliability
·       Frequent lying
·       Deceitful and manipulative behavior
·       Lack of remorse or shame
·       Antisocial behavior
·       Poor judgment and failure to learn by experience
·       Incapacity for love
·       Poverty of general emotions
·       Loss of insight
·       Unresponsiveness in personal relations
·       A frequent need for excitement
·       An inflated self-worth
·       An ability to rationalize their behavior
·       A need for complete power
·       A need to dominate others

These are the characteristics of both mass and serial killers. It is highly likely that Adam Lanza had all or almost all of these traits.

Judges and juries both across the United States and in other countries who decide that a crime is depraved, heinous, or horrible can give the convicted person more severe sentences. Yet there is no standardized definition for such dramatic words that courts already use.

Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic scientist was instrumental in helping to define legal words like I described in the previous paragraph for purposes of fair and consistent application to sentencing criminals who are deemed to fit to be classified in the categories mentioned in the previous paragraph.  

He said, “Not every killing is evil. You have these words that are tossed around to the point that people are tone deaf to them. The word ‘evil’ is tossed around until it loses its meaning.”

The word ‘evil’ is best described as being profoundly immoral and malevolent. Its adjective is wicked, bad, vicious, and sinister. Surely that fits a description of Adam Lanza and other mass killers like him. I don’t think that tossing the word ‘evil’ around when talking about Adam Lanza will lose its meaning.

Admittedly, his crime isn’t as sinister and malevolent as those who indulge in more ghoulish crimes such as cannibalism, or the torture, mutilation and dismemberment of victims while they are alive. That is really sinking into the bottomless hole of depravity.

This doesn’t mean that Lanza’s crimes are less horrendous. They were horrific; especially when you consider that he murdered twenty small children at random.

The question that comes to the fore is; are mass killers insane? Any psychiatrist who thinks that Andrews Breivik, the Norwegian mass killer who shot and killed far more victims than Lanza did was insane when he did it, should lose his licence to practice psychiatry. These killers are obviously mentally ill but they were not insane. To be classed as being insane, it would have to be established that the killers didn’t know what they were doing and if they did, they didn’t know that what they were doing was morally or legally wrong. The fact that Adam Lanza entered the school wearing a military vest is evidence that he knew that after committing his crime, he would face consequence such as the police shooting him. That is proof that he knew that what he was doing was wrong.  That defence would not be available to mass killers like Lanza and Breveik especially when you consider that what they did, took some devious planning on their part to accomplish their goals of slaughtering innocent children.  

Could these killers be suffering from some illness of the brain? Yes, that is possible. The brain’s amygdaleare almond-shaped groups of nuclei arelocated deep within the medial temporal lobes of the brain incomplex vertebrates, including humans. They perform a primary role in the processing of memory and emotional reactionsIt appears from research that this part of the brain may play a role in the display and modulation of aggression. The amygdala is one of the most well understood brain regions with regard to differences between the sexes. Of these differences the most notable is the difference in the volume of the amygdala between males and females. In males, the amygdalae tend to be larger than those of females. 

In addition to size, other differences between men and women exist with regards to the amygdala. Test subject’s amygdala activation was observed when watching a horror film. When watching the same film, a woman’s left amygdala lit up whereas a man's right amygdala lit up. The left hemisphere is involved in processing finer details whereas the right hemisphere is involved in processing the central aspects of a situation. This information can help to explain why men were able to remember specific details of the film but not the overall story where as women could recall what happened in general, but not specific details. The right amygdala is also linked with taking action as well as being linked to negative emotions, which may help explain why males tend to respond to emotionally stressful stimuli by using physical means to solve their problems. The left amygdala allows for the recall of details, but it also results in more thought rather than action in response to emotionally stressful stimuli, which may explain the lack of physical response in women. This may explain why males are more prone to committing mass murders than are females.

People with damage to the amygdala are more likely to take bigger risks when they know that there is no way of escaping the consequences because they don’t care what happens to them. Breveik even called the police and told them that he was the mass murderer they were looking for and Alanza had no fear of killing himself after he was finished with his crime. It may be that the amygdala controls a very general biological mechanism for inhibiting risky behavior when the outcome is potentially negative. But if it is damaged, the inhibition is no longer there.

We will not know if Lanza was suffering from damage to his amygdala unless an examination of his brain is undertaken. Hopefully, that will be done. If it was damaged, that still wouldn't make him insane but it could explain why he didn’t have any inhibitions to prevent him from doing what he did.  

Of course, there could be a more complex reason as to why this young man killed so many people. He could be a copy-cat killer who like many such killers, wants to make a name for himself. Loners such as Adam Lanza consider themselves as no bodies. They want to be recognized even if it means being recognized as a mass murderer. They want to go down in history as someone who everyone has heard or read about. Unfortunately for the many victims these people kill, these mass killers achieve their ends.  And strangely enough, unlike serial killers, many of the mass murderers don’t want to hang around sucking up all that attention they would normally receive after they are arrested so they kill themselves knowing that their names and deeds will remain forever in the public’s minds.

There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that this young man was definitely mentally ill. Now almost all persons who are mentally ill don't kill other people but unfortunately some do. I don't know if Adam Lanza saw a psychiatrist or a psychologist but if he didn't, then that was a big mistake. Unfortunately, many mentally ill offenders who commit minor crimes are warehoused in prisons which acerbates their problems. In the City of Toronto, there is a special court that deals with offenders who are mentally ill. 

It is also possible that Adam Lanza was suffering from a personality disorder. I hope that a post-psychological assessment is conducted on this man’s history of behavior so that we will have a better idea as to why he committed this horrible crime.

This unfortunate episode in American history will continue to raise the rather questionable wisdom of permitting Americans from possessing rifles that are semi-automatic.  This event is food for thought on this issue. That is something I will raise in another article sometime in the future.

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