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Published on February 25th, 2013 | by -swansong-10
PBS Frontline: Raising Adam Lanza (Review pt. 1)
In this article we will review the recently aired episode of PBS’ Frontline, titled Raising Adam Lanza. This review will be split into 2 separate articles.
On February 19th PBS’ Frontline aired an investigative program co-created with The Hartford Courant. The program was intended to provide deeper insight into the mind of Adam Lanza, the life he led with his mother, Nancy and what may have led him to the commit the crimes of which he is accused.
While I had not expected them to delve too deeply into the discrepancies in the “official” story, I had expected them to at least provide some sense of the confusion and contradiction that surrounds it. I could not have been more wrong.
In the wake of the mass killings at Sandy Hook, FRONTLINE looks for answers to the elusive question: who was Adam Lanza?
I can’t say exactly how hard they looked for those answers but I can say that they came up far short of providing them.
Early in the broadcast, Courant reporter, Alaine Griffin, shares with us their concern that there are to be “many obstacles in the reporting of this story.” One of these expected obstacles was the fact that, “the cops aren’t saying much, they’re still sort of holding back.”
We’ll discuss this in more detail later in this review but for now I’ll say, I don’t understand how the Courant reporters could draw that conclusion when, according to the most visible member of law enforcement associated with this case, Connecticut State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance, he wasn’t even contacted by the Courant or Frontline in the lead up to this broadcast.
That glaring oddity aside, there is truth in what Griffin says. The warrants for this investigation remain sealed until late March, the police have been less than forthcoming with information and family members of Nancy and Adam Lanza appear unwilling to speak.
Looking back, though, I now wonder if that comment wasn’t akin to the athlete mentioning the “pain in his side” prior to the big game as a means of providing an excuse for failure.
In their effort to better understand the mind of Adam Lanza did they speak to his friends? Did they speak to his teachers? Did they speak to the kids with whom Adam was in a high school tech-club? Did they speak to any school counselors?
The astonishing answer to every one of those questions is an inexplicable, no. As a matter of fact, in the entire 1 hour program they spoke to exactly one person that had any direct contact with Adam beyond the age of 6. ONE.
PBS Frontline: Raising Adam Lanza (Review pt. 1)
At the beginning of the program, Hartford Courant Editor, Andrew Julien makes the following statement of fact.
Nancy Lanza is the person Adam was closest to in the world. She was the first person he killed. He shot her 4 times in the head while she was in bed and then he went off to Sandy Hook Elementary School.
While it may seem logical to make an assumption like, Nancy was the person to whom Adam was closest, we are provided absolutely no factual basis for the assertion. Furthermore, as a critical thinker, the first thought that entered my mind when presented with the above comment was, if, as asserted by LEO (Law Enforcement Officials), Nancy was shot 4 times in the head while she slept, how was identification of the body made so quickly when the autopsy wasn’t conducted until at least Sunday?
Dr Carver said that he will personally perform an autopsy on the suspected gunman on Sunday, as well as his mother, Nancy, 52, who was shot dead in her upscale Newtown home.
This woman was shot 4 times in the head at close range. One would imagine that 4 bullets to the head, even from a smaller caliber rifle like a .22 would cause significant damage. At least enough damage to make accurate facial identification difficult, if not impossible.
There certainly has been no shortage of mis-reporting surrounding the events of Sandy Hook. Everything from the identity of the shooter, to the number of dead, the weapons used and Nancy Lanza’s characterization as some sort of survivalist or “prepper” was mis-reported by most, if not all media organizations.
Frontline’s examination and commentary on this particular issue was limited to these 3 lonely lines…
Griffin: We had heard a lot of different things about her from other news outlets, we weren’t even sure if they were true. We come to find out later that some of them weren’t.
Kovner: There’s been this firestorm of coverage and some of it was right, some of it was wrong.
Not exactly the righteous condemnation one might expect considering the utter lack of accuracy in the days following the shootings, unless, of course, you were one of the outlets making the errors.
In an Hartford Courant article from December 14th the paper states,
The gunman drove to the school in his mother’s car, an official said. Three guns were found — a Glock and a Sig Sauer, both pistols, inside the school, and a .223-caliber rifle in the back of a car. Officials said later Friday that more guns were found in the school.
As we now know, Lt. Vance released a statement affirming that the .223 was found in the school and Chief Coroner, H. Wayne Carver II stated in a press conference that the .223 was the only gun used in the attacks at the school.
Reporter #3: But you said that the long rifle was used?
Reporter #3: But the long rifle was discovered in the car.
State Police Lieutenant Vance: That’s not correct, sir.
In the same article we are presented with this interesting, if not wholly incorrect, factoid…
A grandmother of the suspect — who is also the mother of a teacher believed killed — was too distraught to speak when reached by phone at her home in Brooksville, Fla.
“I just don’t know, and I can’t make a comment right now,” Dorothy Champion, 78, said in a shaky voice as she started to cry. She said she hadn’t heard anything official about her daughter and grandsons. She declined to comment further and hung up.
Although not clearly spelled out, the implication is that Nancy was the “teacher”, which, as we know, is completely false. Suffice to say the Courant was as guilty as anyone of mis-reporting various aspects of this story.
As an aside, I find it odd that, along with Peter Lanza, Dorothy Champion first hears of the events in Newtown, not from LEOs, but from the press.
The above quote and contact with Dorothy Champion takes on an interesting hue given the exasperation hinted at by the reporters in trying to get people to comment.
Griffin: People are just worn out from having reporters knocking on their doors, calling their house. They see another reporter and they think why would I want to talk to you after all we’ve been through?
Perhaps the question should have been, why would they want to speak with you when you don’t even have the common decency to allow a poor old woman even one day to absorb the event and grieve the loss of 2 members of her family? Vultures.
As one makes their way through the Frontline/Courant documentary it becomes clear that they learned nothing from earlier mistakes, as illustrated by this quote from Josh Kovner.
We knew there was some diagnosis, some deficit, some social deficiency and how that complicated their relationship and what it took to bring this kid along and to some degree what happened.
“We knew”. How did they know? Did they speak to a Dr. who was treating Adam? Did they speak to a mental health professional from the school division? Were they granted access to documentation that no one else has seen? Or, did they begin their investigation with a belief and seek out commentary to provide confirmation?
The fact is, even after 48 days of investigation into the life of Adam Lanza, this program was unable to provide even one verifiable piece of evidence that Adam was ever diagnosed with anything.
A friend of Nancy Lanza’s, (Marvin LaFontaine) from New Hampshire, does provide us with a detail regarding his development. When asked by Griffin if Nancy had ever mentioned any special programs Adam was in, he responded…
ML – IEP. Individual Education Plan. I could see that it was bringing her down. She didn’t know what to do, and umm, there’s a lot of couselling help available but not all of it’s good and she was very particular about who she would bring him to. She often didn’t trust the intentions of some counsellors that maybe they didn’t know what they were doing or they didn’t understand the situation enough to help
It would seem that Nancy had a healthy distrust of modern psychology…or maybe not. It’s difficult to know for sure if LaFontaine’s account is accurate, since Frontline did not provide us with any verification that Adam was participating in any special programs.
The next substantial piece of tetimony related to Adam’s condition comes to us from John Bergquist, an acquaintance of Nancy’s who lives in Newtown.
Bergquist confirms that Nancy confided in him that Adam had Asperger’s Syndrome. One may hear that from Mr. Bergquist and automatically assume that any condition Adam may have had was actually diagnosed. The truth is we have no evidence to support this.
For all we know, Nancy may have had suspicions about why her son was shy and withdrawn (if, indeed, he was) and made an assumption that it was attributable to a medically recognized condition. Perhaps instead of saying something vague like, “my son is shy and withdrawn and I don’t know why”, she may simply have given it a name to help articulate her suspicions.
During the course of their conversation with Mr. Bergquist, the Courant reporters also asked how Nancy dealt with this supposed diagnosis.
Bergquist: You know, she was always very positive. She never talked about having a rough day, umm, you know, and that could be she, when she, you know, came into the bar that was her release and maybe she didn’t want to talk about, uhh, things like that but, you know, I can’t ever remember Nancy having a rough day, you know, and just unloading on me.
They go on to ask if Nancy seemed to be in denial of Adam’s diagnosis or if she “embraced it”.
Bergquist: I think she fully embraced that diagnosis and she was taking it on the way that she thought was best. Making sure that he was going to lead as normal life as possible.
So, we have been painted a picture of a cheerful woman that didn’t complain about her lot, or her son and a woman that “embraced” her son’s diagnosis, yet later on in this program we are presented with this hypothesis when it’s asked why Nancy may have actively avoided joining any groups in town that dealt with Asperger’s.
Griffin: It could have been an issue of ignorance. It could have also been an issue of denial.
Unless Frontline was privy to information that they chose not to share, I saw nothing to indicate either of these theories. As with most of the contentions provided in this program it comes without source or substantiation.
One of the people heavily relied upon to provide us a perception of Adam and Nancy is Marvin LaFontaine. Mr. Lafontaine is a resident of New Hampshire and spent time with Nancy and her sons when they lived in New Hampshire. LaFontaine tells us their meeting came in 1994 or 1995 when Nancy signed her boys up for the Cub Scouts.
That’s the way it was aired on PBS, anyway. When one goes to the PBS website and reads over the Q&A with LaFontaine we find this…
Griffin/Kovner: I just want to just sort of get a little bit of a history here. Tell me how you first met Nancy.
LaFontaine: Through the scouts.
Griffin/Kovner: And that was what like ’87, ’88?
LaFontaine: No. I think it was 1994.
This, I assume, is what passes for research in the land of the Hartford Courant and Frontline. Ryan Lanza was born in 1988. Adam was born in 1992. But, maybe I’m being hasty. Perhaps the Scouts now accept new-borns and the yet to be born.
As mentioned, Adam was born in 1992. At the time of meeting LaFontaine he would have been 2 or 3 years old. When his family left New Hampshire he would have been 6 years old. According to the Boy Scouts of America website…
Cub Scouting is for boys in the first through fifth grades, or 7 to 10 years of age.
One is left to wonder why Frontline made no effort to clarify LaFontaine’s remarks when it appears very likely that Adam would have been too young to join the Scouts while in New Hampshire.
Was LaFontaine mistaking Ryan for Adam? Was he just making it all up? Is it reasonable to assume that Adam was allowed to use firearms at less than 6 years of age? These questions and many more will not be answered in our next episode. Thanks, Frontline.
The Courant continues it’s interview with LaFontaine.
AG – Just In terms of Adam, what do you remember seeing?
ML – Just a quiet kid. he kept to himself. There was a weirdness about him and Nancy warned me once at one of the scout meetings, she said, “Just so you know, and I know you wouldn’t do this, but just so you know…don’t touch Adam.” I go, “Well I wouldn’t touch him.” She goes, “No I don’t mean like that but I mean like, don’t do an atta-boy thing or shake his hand and say way to go Brother”, ya know. She said, “He just can’t stand that.”
First of all, who characterizes the personality of a 2-6 year old as, weird? Second, if, as LaFontaine asserts, Adam was prone to anger when touched, why would Nancy place him in a situation with many other children where that was likely to occur frequently?
From this writer’s point of view, Mr. LaFontaine’s entire story (including saving emails for over 10 years) seems curious. At the very least worthy of deeper examination.
Stay tuned for part 2…
Update – Part 2 is now available here