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Lessons learned -- and yet to learn -- from Sandy Hook tragedy

Two chilling law-enforcement events made headlines last week with similar themes, but different outcomes.

The theme is harming schoolchildren. One outcome, one lone shooter, is detailed in a report from the State's Attorney in Danbury on the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown last year, and the other was the arrest of a Fairfield man who alerted police last month that he may act on his urge to harm schoolchildren.

The Fairfield man, Joseph Russo, was admitted to St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport last month after he told police of his urge to harm children. Upon his release, police arrested Russo on a warrant with first-degree threatening and threatening an act of terrorism. He was held on a $75,000 bond.

According to news reports, Fairfield's Deputy Police Chief Chris Lyddy and Chief Gary MacNamara defended the department's decision to arrest Russo, with MacNamara noting the importance in getting Russo "the help that he needs." He also added the importance in seeing "an individual with these problems re-integrates into society the safest way possible. The criminal justice system has the mechanism at their disposal," he said.

Lyddy said, "People that commit terrible crimes leak information in almost every case, and there's nothing different here. ... He leaked information consistent with cases we've seen across the country."

According to reports, Russo's parents contacted police in 2012 because they were concerned about a person their son was spending time with and because of his "diminished mental capacity."

Anyone who reads the state attorney's report of the Newtown massacre in which 20 first-graders and six educators along with shooter Adam Lanza's mother were murdered, can see that 20-year-old Lanza "leaked information" through the state of his bedroom, computer room and collection of guns -- all bought legally by his mother -- as well as video games and his solitary life.

In addition, investigators discovered he even photocopied newspaper articles from 1891 pertaining to shooting school children; a New York Times article from Feb. 18, 2008, about the school shooting at Northern Illinois University, and three photographs of what appear to be a dead human, covered in blood and wrapped in plastic.

The report states that "a review of electronic evidence or digital media that appeared to belong to the shooter, revealed that the shooter had a preoccupation with mass shootings, in particular the Columbine shootings and a strong interest in firearms. Lanza kept a spreadsheet with mass murders over the years listing information about each shooting.

Adam Lanza lived alone with his mother. His brother, four years older, lived in New Jersey. His parents separated in 2001 and subsequently divorced a few years later. He saw his father regularly until he turned 18. His father last saw Adam Lanza in 2010 when his son stopped responding to his requests to see him.

The report notes that "shooting was a pastime in which the family engaged. The mother had grown up with firearms and had a pistol permit. The shooter did not. Mother and son took National Rifle Association safety courses and engaged in target practice."

The report notes in detail Lanza's mental health issues, but states that it is unknown what contribution, if any, the shooter's mental health issues made to his attack on Sandy Hook. Those mental health professionals who saw him did not see anything that would have predicted his future behavior.

I can't help but think about Lyddy's comment that "people who commit terrible crimes leak information in almost every case."

In compiling the Newtown shooting report, officials conducted interviews with friends, acquaintances and family members, including Peter Lanza, the shooter's father, a tax director for the energy and finance division of General Electric in Stamford. Incidentally, GE has donated $15 million to Newtown to build a community center, where more than 150 of its employees live in town. Read Full Article 

The report does not specifically attribute information to specific people. Peter Lanza has not spoken publicly. He has a spokesperson relay comments to inquiring news media. At the request of one of the victims's parents, Alissa and Robbie Parker, he did agree to meet with them. The couple told CBS reporter Nora O'Donnell that the father held "the key" to gaining insights from the tragedy.

Peter Lanza has a responsibility to come forward and publicly address his perspective as Adam's father. Did he not know the solitary life his son was leading, a life where he communicated with his mother only through email? Did he not know his son's fascination with earlier school shootings? Did he take any active role in trying to help his son in recent years or address the fact that in his ex-wife's attempt to support her son's interest in guns she only fueled his demented thinking?

Some mental health professionals praised the mother for doing what she could with limited support to care for her son's physical well-being, but did she realize the toll on his mental state?

I praise the Russo family for coming forward and for the manner in which the Fairfield police helped avert what might have evolved into another Sandy Hook tragedy. We cannot change what has happened and we cannot bring peace to the families ripped apart by the tragedy, but we must learn from it.

Peter Lanza has an obligation to speak publicly to answer questions, especially from parents trying their best to avert tragedies. How many live or have lived with family members who are ticking bombs?

There is still so much to know about the Sandy Hook tragedy, and for that to happen, more information should be made public.

Rita Papazian is a freelance writer and can be reached at ritajpap@gmail.com

Rita Papazian

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