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New report offers chilling picture of Sandy Hook killer’s troubled mind

Six years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, a new report from The Hartford Courant paints a chilling picture of the killer, who who struggled with loneliness, disdain for humanity and multiple psychiatric problems. William Brangham talks with reporter Josh Kovner about whether the new revelations could offer lessons for preventing future violence.

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  • William Brangham:

    Today marks the sixth anniversary of the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty children and six adults were murdered.

    It was an especially tough day there today, since the school had to be evacuated this morning after receiving a bomb threat. Officials later said it wasn't credible, but children were sent home out of caution and out of sensitivity for the anniversary.

    This week, the Hartford Courant newspaper published a report about more than 1,000 documents related to the killings and the killer, Adam Lanza. The story paints an even more chilling picture than we knew, a rigid and angry individual struggling with loneliness, disdain for others and multiple psychiatric problems.

    Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Josh Kovner wrote some of The Courant's coverage, and he joins us now.

    Josh, thank you very, very much for being here.

    This report that you have put out is just a harrowing read, detailing the extent of the troubled mind of this killer. Can you just give us a snapshot of the things that you found?

  • Josh Kovner:

    It was a sense of a greater, deeper extent of his obsession and compulsive disorder, his crippling problems that he noted just living every day, his meticulous and his fascination with mass murder and gunplay, a very detailed spreadsheet that he put together. We hadn't seen that before.

    His feeling, his ambivalent sexuality, his feeling about pedophilia — he had a soft spot about that. His feeling that, if a doctor touched him during a physical, it was tantamount to rape.

    The expression of surprise and concern from a psychiatrist who interviewed him when he was 14. The psychiatrist seemed to be saying, what are you doing being homebound — with homebound instruction? You're not in school? This is a catastrophe for you. You need to be in the mainstream.

    And Adam was — his remarks, as captured in that report, were, as you said, rigid, robotic. He was asked about friends. He said, "What culture are you talking about?"

    What 14-year-old would say that? He said outright that he had scorn for humanity, he had no use for relationships. He hated fat people. So, it was the extent of the darkness and a dark world view.

  • William Brangham:

    It really is, the whole thing, a harrowing chronicle that you have reported.

    After these kinds of tragedies, we, as a society, always look for the red flags that could have been missed, what people might have noticed to say, you know what, this really is a danger, this person really is a potential danger.

    And I think it's important to say, too, that we know that many people who suffer from mental illness, the vast majority of them never will become violent.

  • Josh Kovner:

    Absolutely.

  • William Brangham:

    But in the case of this young man, were there warning signs, looking back now, that could have tipped people off to what was coming?

  • Josh Kovner:

    Well, some of the signs could have tipped people off to — and motivated them to get him more help, maybe an in-patient situation, coupled by meaningful outpatient.

    And things have grown up in the mental health field since — in the last six years, peer advocacy, people helping people who have been through it, trauma-informed therapy. They used to tiptoe around trauma. Now they confront it directly. If he had any trauma from the divorce of his parents, some of these things could have been addressed.

    But, through no fault of anyone's own, schools, counselors, parents, psychiatrists operate in silos, and one doesn't always talk with the other. And he existed between them, among them. And nobody nailed the whole picture. And maybe that's impossible, but that could be something to aspire to, is better communication among good-intentioned, smart people who are trying to help youngsters.

    Everyone has to communicate.

  • William Brangham:

    Some in the Newtown community, as you know, are distressed that you guys put out this report in the way that you did and when you did.

    And I know you and your colleagues talked a lot about this and thought talked a lot about this and thought about this long and hard. Can you explain why you felt this was important to do?

  • Josh Kovner:

    Hopefully, there's some recognition and prevention aspects of this, once you get beyond the emotional core.

    And I — my heart goes out to those parents. They have — you know, they have been very brave. They have done a lot of good things, brought a lot of value to that — added value to that community and to the gun debate.

    And — but once you get beyond and start to reach out to the wider audience, there was some fairly positive feedback about providing some kind of a road map for — perhaps to prevent the next Adam Lanza. You know, hopefully, we have created a body of knowledge about this shooter, and the next one won't come up the same way he did.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Josh Kovner of The Hartford Courant, thank you very much.

  • Josh Kovner:

    You're more than welcome.

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