No Bell Toll for Adam Lanza (or his mother) (child death ment)

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Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427
No Bell Toll for Adam Lanza (or his mother) (child death ment)\\

This Saturday, all houses of worship in Connecticut will ring their bells 26 times?once, at the behest of the governor, for each victim of the Sandy Hook shooting. But 28 people died in the massacre: 20 students, 6 teachers, the shooter?s mother, and the shooter himself. Why will the bells fall silent two tolls short?

The fraught and complex question of honoring the perpetrator of a mass atrocity along with its victims has long troubled such memorials. The 15 crosses erected to commemorate the victims of Columbine?including two for the shooters?were quickly reduced to 13, then to none at all. Following the tragedy at Virginia Tech, students gathered 33 stones as a makeshift memorial, but the stone representing the shooter was later removed. And on Saturday, the commemorative tolls will leave out not just Adam Lanza but also his mother, who died at his hands but who has posthumously been assigned some share of the blame.

It?s easy to understand the reasoning behind excluding a killer. In the aftermath of a tragedy, the shooter becomes the villain. And his family members become the accomplices. The families of the Columbine victims sued the families of the shooters, claiming they should have seen it coming, and won a settlement. In Newtown, after all, it was Lanza?s mother who bought the guns he used. But she didn?t just enable her deeply disturbed son. She was his first victim, shot to death in her bed, and it?s dishonest and unhealthy to simplify the grieving process by depriving her of her proper remembrance.

Whatever blame people assign to Nancy Lanza, Adam Lanza is the one who fired the bullets: first at his mother, then at the schoolhouse, then at himself. His act, the standard narrative suggests, was one of crazed retribution, then malice, then cowardice. Lanza never deserved to live, and so of course he clearly deserved to die. And now that he is dead, the argument goes, his memory shouldn?t be commemorated: It should be cursed.

This notion has an obvious appeal. Anyone who subscribes to it has every right to do so. But as attractive as the black-and-white picture of villain versus victims may be, it sells our humanity short. Painful though it may be to acknowledge, Adam Lanza and his mother were humans, every bit as much as the other victims were. It is Newtown?s tragedy?and the world?s?that those beautiful children and devoted teachers had their humanity extinguished so soon before their time. But it helps no one to pretend that the tortured 20-year-old at the other end of the rifle?and his mother, also killed that day?was not, in some fundamental respect, every bit as much human.

According to the typical argument, if Lanza was human, he was a deeply evil one, a hideous scourge who deserves no sympathy. But that?s not quite right, either. Looking at the pictures of those 20 children, thinking about the unspeakable atrocities that occurred inside that building, I don?t see an act of evil. I see an act of pure chaos, of psychotic horror unleashed on those least able to defend themselves. It?s tempting to call this evil?but ?evil? implies some reasoning behind the action, some motive, some comprehension of the awful pain inflicted on the innocent.

There is nothing to comprehend about Sandy Hook. There is no sense, no logic in a mass shooting. The usual rules of human behavior simply don?t apply. There is no reason to those five minutes of brutality. There is only the total darkness of a mind gone mad. We can look at the pictures and read the transcripts, study the warning signs and debate the responses, but there is no understanding of what happened one year ago. It was an inhuman act, committed by a human.

That is the paradox of the two silent tolls, of the two missing crosses, of the one absent stone. That is the heart of the struggle between anger and forgiveness. It is up to us, in the wake of such meaningless pain, to assert our own humanity, to reject the grim allure of nihilism, to rise above the chaos. As we mourn the lives senselessly destroyed in Newtown, we should keep in mind the common humanity that commands us to grieve for those we do not know and never will. At some point in time, Adam Lanza shared that humanity. That he lost it is a tragedy for us all.

What do you think? Do you think that it is better to include the shooters in memorials of tragedies like Newton or Columbine, or do you think that it is better to exclude them? What about tangential people to whom we may subscribe some blame but were also victims themselves, such as Lanza's mother? Any other thoughts?

mom3girls's picture
Joined: 01/09/07
Posts: 1535

This is a really tough one, I am very torn. Would love to hear some thoughts

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

I feel the same way, Lisa. My gut reaction is "No WAY should we 'honor' the memory of Adam Lanza after what he did!!!!" And I think that is probably a very common and understandable reaction. I will say though that the last paragraph of the article spoke to me a bit, which is why I bolded it. It IS a tragedy that Adam Lanza "lost his humanity" so to speak - if not for that those beautiful children and their devoted teachers (as well as a young man with a life ahead of him and his mother) would still be here. And in my heart of hearts, I can't believe that anyone "sane" could ever walk into a school and start shooting. I have read the articles that show that the act was premeditated, but does premeditated mean that he was sane, or that he was still mentally ill, but just competent enough to be able to plan ahead in his illness? I lean towards the second because my head and my heart simply reject this idea that any truly sane person could commit such an act. And if he wasn't sane, was it really "his fault?" I don't know. I think it would be better for us, for our own sakes, to try to hang on to our own compassion and humanity by trying to remember his, but it is SO HARD. So hard.

Not impossible though. Remember when that man shot up the Amish schoolhouse and the Amish community spoke out and said that they forgave him? Can you even imagine? But some part of me suspects that they were right to do it. I think (hope) that brought some measure of peace to them to do it.

But it's really hard, and I don't blame anyone who says "No effing way" because that was my first gut reaction too.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6561

It is a heartbreaking situation all around. I do not have any answers. The only reason I can thing to exclude the mother is that the memorial is meant for the school shooting and she did not die at that school. It sounds terrible and callous, but if he had just killed her, it would not have been as big of a story and there would probably not have been a memorial in the the first place.

ftmom's picture
Joined: 09/04/06
Posts: 1538

I think it really comes down to the question, are we honoring the victims, or remembering the tragedy?

If we are honoring the victims, then we should exclude the perpetrator, because he doesnt deserve to be honored in the same way. However, I would prefer that we have these memorials to remember the tragedy, so we can work to make sure it never happens again. In that way I do think the perpetrator should be remembered also, as he is a kind of victim of his own circumstances. He should be remembered so that we can work on never letting that set of circumstances happen again. So we can work towards no bullying policies and better mental health systems. I think that if we exclude the perpetrator and only focus on the victims, it can easily turn into a bar the door against evil kind of example, instead of a learning experience for the rest of us.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4100

If it was a memorial at the school, then I can understand limiting it to the students and teachers. These are church bells throughout town commemorating the community's collective loss. And the community lost Adam Lanza and his mother, too, so the bells should toll for them. The fact that they are at various levels of fault should not be part of this discussion. It can & should be part of other discussions about mental health services, responsible gun ownership, and how we keep kids safe at school. But we should not get to pick & choose whom to remember in a tragedy like this. Our society failed Adam Lanza just as much as it failed the kids at that school.