From the beginning, there was a familiar moral tension at the heart of news coverage of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. It’s hard to ponder such a hellish act without wanting to be able to name the demon, to link the actions of the young gunman to some kind of logical motive.
Was religion involved? Maybe. Maybe not.
Did faith play any role in the dramas inside the silent home in which Adam Lanza and his mother Nancy lived those final years of their lives? Her funeral was held in the First Congregational Church of Kingston, N.H., but that could have been a simple matter of convenience — choosing the historic church in the middle of the typical New England public square.
Was evil involved in this tragedy? Yes. But what kind? As I wrote early on, in a post here at GetReligion:
In most cases, debates about massacres of this kind devolve into discussions between gun-control liberals, gun-freedom libertarians and various kinds of cultural conservatives who see evidence of various forms of social decay — from violence in our movies, to splintered homes, to increasingly value-neutral schools, to first-person-shooter video games that resemble the programs our military leaders use to make soldiers more willing to pull triggers in combat. Then there are people like me whose beliefs fall in more than one of these camps.
At the very least, Newtown was another one of those stories that — logically enough — pushes people to ask that ancient/modern question: Where was God? As your GetReligionistas noted at the time, there is a theological name for that puzzle and, tragically, anyone who wants to cover the religion beat needs to know it:
the·od·i·cy noun …
: defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil
The painful, dry New York Times report about the final Sandy Hook report makes it perfectly clear that the investigators have not been able to name that evil and they refused to speculate about Lanza’s motive, even though it it is clear that his actions were premeditated.
If there was a motive, it almost certainly was contained in one particular computer hard drive that Lanza destroyed, doing such a meticulous job that investigators were not able to recover the contents. The lede describes the key location in this story, which was the computer-driven Lanza’s darkened haven from the outside world:
NEWTOWN, Conn. — Adam Lanza spent the final months of his life mostly alone in his bedroom. His windows were covered with black trash bags. He was preoccupied with violent video games and created a spreadsheet of some of the worst massacres in American history.
Mr. Lanza refused to speak even to his mother, communicating with her only by email, even though their bedrooms shared the same floor of their house on Yogananda Street. … No one else was allowed into his room, including his mother, who nevertheless did her son’s laundry daily because he changed his clothes often.
The report notes that while “significant mental health issues” affected his ability to live a normal life and interact with others, it remained unclear if they contributed in any way to his actions last December. Mr. Lanza received a diagnosis in 2005 of an autism variant known as Asperger’s syndrome, but there is no evidence that people with Asperger’s are more likely than others to commit violent crimes.
However, way, way, way down in the Times story is another very strange set of facts. Clearly, the Times editors decided to be very cautious in how they handled one explosive theme in this young killer’s life:
Investigators found a wealth of disturbing digital evidence at the Lanza home, but were not able to recover any information from one hard drive that he had destroyed. Mr. Lanza had two videos showing suicide by gunshot, a five-second video dramatization showing a child being shot, and images of Mr. Lanza himself holding a gun to his head.
He collected information on gun violence, including newspaper articles from 1891 “pertaining to the shooting of schoolchildren,” the report said. He used spreadsheets to chronicle mass shootings. He also had “materials regarding the topic of pedophilia and advocating for the rights for pedophiles.” The report made a point of noting that the materials were not child pornography, and the report did not otherwise address pedophilia.
Mr. Lanza was enthralled by violent video games, including one called “School Shooting,” a modified version of another online game.
While the Times was very discreet, The Daily Beast — which will never be called a conservative publication — was stunningly blunt.
Writer Michael Daly connected the dots into one logical set of facts: More often than not, investigators see guns as symbols of sexual power and often assume that mass murderers are acting out of sexual frustration. Daly notes at the very top of his story (using the journalistically suspect word “maybe”):
Monday’s report doesn’t conclusively name a reason for the shooting last December, but we know why Adam Lanza was at the elementary school: He wanted to shoot kids.
So maybe 20-year-old Adam Lanza was a kind of pedophile whose idea of having sex with kids was to shoot them. A hint at that is in the report on the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders released on Monday by the Connecticut state attorney’s office in Danbury.
Among the items the report says detectives found in Lanza’s room were “materials regarding the topic of pedophilia and advocating for rights for pedophiles.” The report adds, “Not child pornography.” But maybe Lanza’s equivalent of kiddie porn was a five-second dramatization of children being shot that was found among this things at home.
And what was in the hard drive that Lanza destroyed? What was so shameful, so evil, that Lanza felt the need to hide it from the world, even though he left behind so much other information that was so damning?
Whatever it was, it must have been relevant to the crime. Surely the unnamed demon at the heart of this crime lived in that hard drive.