Adam Lanza Was a Loner, But Which Loners Would Commit Mass Murder?


Many people who knew Adam Lanza said he was awkward, withdrawn and socially isolated. It’s a common description of mass shooters, but it also describes countless numbers of young people, most of whom grow out of their shyness and go on to lead normal lives, says the Hartford Courant. The challenge for mental health experts is identifying — out of the sea of awkward youths — when a social disconnection signals danger. How do you identify the potential mass murderer? “Here, we’re out at the leading edge of information, where nobody knows,” said Dr. Harold Schwartz, psychiatrist-in-chief at The Institute of Living, a mental health center in Hartford. “When you think of the number of kids who have committed acts like this and have survived to tell us about them, there have been really very few. I don’t think anyone can say what happens in their minds.”

Schwartz and other mental health experts this week said a big problem is that the term “loner” fits so many people and doesn’t begin to explain how someone can commit the kind of unimaginable violence of mass murder. Dr. Catherine Lewis, a forensic psychiatrist at the University of Connecticut, said it was important to distinguish between kids who simply don’t have many friends and those who have been rejected — both categories often covered by the label of “loner.” A 2011 study led by Christopher Ferguson of Texas A&M International University notes that of 41 school shooters from 1970 to 2000, only 34 percent could be accurately described as “loners.” However, 71 percent “perceived themselves as wronged, bullied, or persecuted by others.”

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