An FBI report last week indicated an unnamed man went to the Newtown, Connecticut police four years before the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in which 20 children and 6 adults were killed. The anonymous man reported that Adam Lanza had a firearm, had talked about killing his mother Nancy, and killing children at the Sandy Hook elementary school where she worked. The NPD advised the informant that they could not take any action as the guns were owned by Nancy Lanza.
There is not enough information at present to know why no investigation of Lanza took place when this threat was made known. The public is too quick to judge the actions of police officers after the fact. We also have a criminal justice system which is highly flawed, and does not deal well with threats about future violence. Hypothetically, if the NPD had spoken to Lanza, there would have been no grounds for arrest, and unlikely that a mental health evaluation could have been ordered. The problem with a mandatory evaluation is that the subject can give all the right answers, deny any violent intent, and basically tell the evaluating clinician what they want to hear. A law enforcement or mental health intervention could have pushed him to act in haste, and carry out the shooting earlier than he did. This was a lose-lose situation with few good options.
Mass murderers do not just “go crazy” one day and kill. They are typically individuals who have goals and aspirations that they fall far short of. They blame others for their failings, and experience a gradual retreat into a fantasy world of anger, bitterness and hate. The fantasy becomes more detailed and elaborate over time. Their anger is fueled even more as they replay how others have committed either real or imagined offenses against them, and what vengeance they will take. The fantasy begins spreading into reality, through researching other mass shootings, acquiring weapons and ammo, target practice, surveilling the intended site of the shooting, and writing a manifesto. Their actions are not just premeditated or carried out with malicious intent; their actions are meticulously planned down to every detail. Their intentions are also not kept to themselves. Mass murderers tend to blog and keep journals of their plans, and tell others of their intentions well in advance.
There is so much public scrutiny and concern about school and workplace shootings that threats are being seen where there are none. When law enforcement follows up every single paranoia fueled complaint, people or even children with no malicious intent are subjected to arrest, detainment, interrogation, or unneeded evaluations or treatment. It can be difficult to separate those who have actual malicious intent from those who do not. Mass shooters like Lanza are the personification of evil. At this time, there are few good options to prevent them from doing what they do.