Sunday, December 23, 2012

Minus One

Adam Lanza killed 28 people when he went on a shooting rampage in Newtown, Connecticut. "20 children in Sandy Hook Elementary School, plus six adult faculty and staff members," himself, and his mother, Nancy Lanza - the first to die that morning. Yet for many people, from a local convenience store and deli owner to President Obama, the number of victims stands at 26.

The omission of Adam Lanza as a victim is understandable. Regardless of whatever it was that drove him to mass murder, or how little control he had over those circumstances, Lanza has been indelibly painted as a monster, evil in human form, and there can be no overt sympathy for him that doesn't run the risk of being considered an insult to those who died, those who survived and the families and community of all involved. But, to a certain degree we understand that mentally ill or disabled are not fully to blame for their actions. But blame MUST be assigned. And thus, the omission of Nancy Lanza.

Of course, eventually, all of the victims names will be forgotten. As is usual with such things, only the killer achieves the dubious, hollow immortality of having their name persist the public's fickle consciousness. But there's something sad in the rush to bury, and perhaps spit upon the grave of, Mrs. Lanza. Normally, the single mother who works to raise a child with mental issues is lionized, at least by those who are aware of her situation. But failure is not tolerated, quickly earning the label of "bad parent" as the mother of Semaj Booker found out. She too, was on the receiving end of public opprobrium for her son's (much less serious) misdeeds, even though she'd asked for help with him.

From the other side of the continent, this isn't an emotionally charged issue for me, and so I can only understand in a vague, detached way the need to cast Mrs. Lanza as callous (or careless) enabler, rather than victim, of her son's actions. Without the emotional aspect, it seems unnecessary, needlessly divisive and symptomatic of a national tendency towards scapegoating, rather than problem-solving.

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