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Published on March 2nd, 2013 | by -swansong-20
PBS Frontline:Raising Adam Lanza (Review pt.2)
In this article we will continue our review of the recently aired episode of PBS’ Frontline, titled Raising Adam Lanza.
PBS Frontline:Raising Adam Lanza (Review pt.2)
To this point in Frontline’s program we have been told that Adam had been coded, was in an IEP (individual education plan) in New Hampshire and had received some type of diagnosis. Although what that diagnosis was or when it was made remains unclear.
More information on this issue comes to Frontline/The Courant via an email (just one, mind you) from an “anonymous family member”.
The email also said that Adam, as a young boy, had been diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder, a not widely accepted diagnosis involving difficulties processing and reacting to stimuli.
Not being a medical expert or having access to the types of resources available to Frontline I have to rely on the internet to provide my education on this condition. My searches brought me to this site, created specifically for SI.
Sensory processing (sometimes called “sensory integration” or SI) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Whether you are biting into a hamburger, riding a bicycle, or reading a book, your successful completion of the activity requires processing sensation or “sensory integration.”
What Sensory Processing Disorder Looks Like
Sensory Processing Disorder can affect people in only one sense–for example, just touch or just sight or just movement–or in multiple senses. One person with SPD may over-respond to sensation and find clothing, physical contact, light, sound, food, or other sensory input to be unbearable. Another might under-respond and show little or no reaction to stimulation, even pain or extreme hot and cold. In children whose sensory processing of messages from the muscles and joints is impaired, posture and motor skills can be affected. These are the “floppy babies” who worry new parents and the kids who get called “klutz” and “spaz” on the playground. Still other children exhibit an appetite for sensation that is in perpetual overdrive. These kids often are misdiagnosed – and inappropriately medicated – for ADHD.
Since SI can manifest as either a hyper-sensitivity to sensory stimuli or the complete opposite, a complete lack of sensitivity, we must assume, based on the descriptions by LaFontaine that Adam was the former rather than the latter. And, since we have also been told that Adam was diagnosed with SI as a young boy, all of this would have been known at his new school in Newtown, Sandy Hook Elementary.
According to one of Frontline’s other interviews, though, it seems not. Wendy Wipprecht had a son in Adam’s 1st grade class at Sandy Hook. She relates to Frontline how and where she first met Nancy Lanza.
Adam had his 6th birthday party and invited a group of kids to go. That’s where I remember talking with Nancy. Nancy was concerned about Adam. He was shy, a little withdrawn, quiet. She was worried that perhaps he had some kind of neuro-biological condition.
In fact it was Adam’s 7th birthday party. One can forgive Ms. Wipprecht for mis-remembering but not Frontline for failing to correct it. In response to the question of whether or not Adam was being given one-on-one assistance of the sort Wipprecht’s son was receiving, she states…
No. He may not have been diagnosed with anything at the time.
According to information provided as fact by Frontline, Adam had been diagnosed with something, SI. A condition that seems to have manifested itself in Adam as a hyper-sensitivity to touch. So why wouldn’t Adam have a one-on-one aide and why would Nancy put Adam in the situation of being surrounded by 26 hyper-active kids at a birthday party?
In an email to LaFontaine, Nancy describes the upcoming birthday party.
“Wednesday, March 31, 1999″, Nancy writes, “Ryan’s and Adam’s birthdays are coming up. Ryan is having an old friend party and a new friend party. Adam is having only a new friend party but he has 26 new friends. Adam is doing well here and seems to enjoy the new school.”
It should be noted that the birthday party and subsequent conversation with Nancy occurred 14 years ago. During the rest of Frontline’s interview with Wipprecht she mentions no other time she spoke to Nancy. Thus, we are left to assume that one of the only people with whom Frontline could speak with to corroborate their already formulated belief/theory was someone that spoke to Nancy briefly, at a birthday party, 14 years ago.
Wipprecht relates the conversation to Frontline…
Nancy was concerned about Adam. He was shy, a little withdrawn, quiet. She was worried that perhaps he had some kind of neuro-biological condition.
Frontline goes on to include this juicy little piece of speculation.
Griffin: So Nancy, she sort of did it on her own. What do you think that would have been like for you to do it on your own?
WW – Oh, it’s impossible.
While it may seem a rather innocuous piece of information, in my opinion it was included to further the image of Nancy being a woman overwhelmed by the demands of a deeply troubled child. In reality we have no proof Adam was diagnosed with anything and even if he were, we have no evidence to conclude that Nancy didn’t seek out any assistance.
Frontline goes on to explain how they have made repeated efforts to contact Peter Lanza for comment and have been met with silence. This is also where we are presented with the email from the anonymous family member.
We have reached out to multiple family members. There wasn’t anybody that actually wanted to go on record and speak with us but what we had developed along the line is a family member who was willing to give us an email that gave us some really good information about Adam that hadn’t been out there before.
I’ll assume that by “really good information” they mean, information that confirmed what they already believed.
As we have already seen, this email is the basis for the supposed diagnosis of Adam’s SI. What a happy surprise it must have been for Frontline that it also provided them the diagnosis of Aspergers.
Later, in middle school, the family member said Adam would received another diagnosis, Aspergers, a form of autism that interferes with social interaction.
So, in one anonymous (to us) email, Frontline is provided with all the confirmation they require to inform us that Adam was a troubled child with multiple psychological diagnosis. In this exchange with Courant editor, Andrew Julien, they drive home the supposition as fact.
AJ – I want to talk a little bit about the middle school years because isn’t this when we start to hear about Adam having problems that go beyond just the diagnosis of Sensory Integration?
AG – We were told around middle school, around the middle school years.
JK – Right. There was the initial diagnosis and then the diagnosis of Aspergers.
Moments ago the Courant reporters related how difficult it had been to get family members to speak with them…
We have reached out to multiple family members. There wasn’t anybody that actually wanted to go on record and speak with us…
Yet now they provide us with this…
Family members have told us that when middle school came upon Adam and the whole idea of changing classes and being in the hallways, that was too much for him. The noise and the chaos disrupted him is what we were told.
That’s what they were told. By family members, PLURAL. So which is it? Nobody wanted to speak with you, or multiple family members spoke with you?
Frontline goes on to tell us that while Adam was in Sandy Hook Elementary he was receiving special assistance. Although how they came by this information is never revealed.
Initially she had this special program set up for him. He was under the supervision of Newtown schools but he would do some of his work off-site and at home and then he would later return to the school when the rest of the students weren’t there.
Of all the supposition and speculation provided in this program I might have thought this was one they should have been able to officially source. Unfortunately there is no report of any contact with the school district, the one authority that would have been able to positively confirm if any such program exists and/or if it was being used by Adam and Nancy. If Adam was actually in a program that required a teacher to remain at school after hours, did Frontline make any effort to contact him/her? Surely this person would be an authoritative source on Adam’s condition.
The only person connected to the Newtown school district with whom Frontline spoke was an adviser to the high school technology club of which Adam was a member, Richard Novia.
I knew him for about 4 years, between the middle school and the high school. I identified him as a person likely to be bullied or picked on and that’s when I began to interact with his mother.
Frontline describes Novia as the tech-club adviser and leaves us to assume on our own that he is also a teacher at Newtown High. In fact Novia is not a teacher. Not even close.
From Novia’s LinkedIn profile…
Richard J Novia, CPP Licensed Private Investigator
Reputable industry expert with more than 30 years of documented Investigations and security “management” experience.
Accustomed to handling sensitive and confidential matters. Knowledgeable in civil, criminal, corporate, federal sentencing guidelines, civil rights, EEOC, AWD, and Educational Law.
Specialties: Experienced Private Sector to Law Enforcement Liaison, accustomed to public visibility, customer and employee relations, corporate adviser and management of Security and Investigative best practices.
…according to a former school official. Their fear wasn’t that he was dangerous. “It was completely the opposite,” said Richard J. Novia, the director of security at Newtown School District at the time in 2007. “At that point in his life, he posed no threat to anyone else. We were worried about him being the victim or that he could hurt himself.”. . .
Should you wish to get a greater sense of the qualifications possessed by Mr. Novia to comment on Adam’s supposed psychological issues you can check out his website.
Perhaps Frontline should have hired Mr. Novia to conduct their investigations. Maybe then we might have gotten some actual evidence rather than heresay and supposition. Frankly I’m astonished that Frontline would choose to speak to Mr. Novia rather than an actual educator/counselor (former or current) from the school district.
Frontline doesn’t seem interested in whether Adam actually was bullied, makes no effort to determine what types of relationships he had with his classmates nor do they even bother to ask for clarification when Novia mentions Adam having friends. I can’t help but wonder if Frontline didn’t want to hear the answers to these questions for fear they would derail their pre-planned direction.
At this point I’m going to diverge from the actual Frontline program and turn to the transcript of their interview with Novia, available on their website. It contains further details not available in the program.
Unlike the aired program, the transcript tells us that Novia actually started the tech-club as he was a self-described “geek”.
Griffin/Kovner – Now you mentioned from your security and investigative background, you had an affinity for electronics … so you went on about starting a tech club, a computer club at the high school?
Novia – Right, I was basically a geek. … So I could see that several types of students, the geeky type, or the nerds, which I related to very well, were missing something on the campuses at the time, and it was a way for me to pull them in.
And these were also types of students that often become victims of bullying, harassing, hazing. So I developed a tech club, to bring these students in and interact with them. And it grew from two or three to as high at 40 kids.
Novia goes on to say that by the mid 2000s Ryan Lanza had become a member of the tech-club. Also at that time Novia was attempting to expand the tech-club to include middle school kids.
We began to interact with the middle schools, the students in the 6th and 7th grades, and bring programs to them. So the tech club members and myself would take robotics down there.
He is then asked if that was where he first met Adam, to which he replies, “I believe so.” Frontline goes on to ask if Adam participated in the tech-club activities during it’s early expansion into middle school.
Inside events, when we had like activities like tech club night sleepovers. We’d spend a weekend or overnight in the school, lock it down. I’m in charge, as a director of security. You had 30 kids, some of them were middle schoolers whose parents allow them to come over and stay overnight. He did partake in those.
This not only seems a curious admission on the part of Novia it seems an even more curious omission on the part of Frontline from their aired program. Did Frontline not want a picture painted of Adam as a normal kid participating in normal activities? Or was it simply the fact that it sounds odd to have a bunch of young boys locked in a school for an entire weekend with one adult supervisor?
I was quite surprised to learn that Nancy would even be willing to allow her son to stay overnight, away from home, away from her when he is described as being so troubled. Reading on, Novia provides a possible reason for why she may have allowed it.
Early on Ryan, unfortunately, he had to [be] somewhat of a caregiver for his brother, when all he wanted to do is be a typical 16 year old and have his fun, which meant video shoots and computer games and all kinds of stuff throughout the night. But yeah, they were together at one point.
Novia goes on to say that having identified Adam as a child with the potential to be bullied he made contact with Nancy Lanza. Frontline asks Novia what Nancy told him.
Oh, she told me that he had several disorders.
Griffin/Kovner – Did she say he had Asperger’s?
RN – Yes. I believe, yeah, she did. That’s where I first [got] the information. Because I was going to be responsible for him and wanted to do well by him and integrate him.
Griffin/Kovner – Did she also say that he had a sensory processing disorder?
RN – Yes, she did. Yes.
Griffin/Kovner – And did that fall into one of the areas of concern, because maybe he wouldn’t report an injury, report pain, seek help as someone else would?
RN – Exactly. So my first interaction with her was to understand what I had to be concerned about, what I needed to know about him.
Perhaps it’s the fact I’m not a mental health professional but I’m having a difficult time jibing the descriptions by LaFontaine of Adam as a hyper-sensitive kid prone to emotional outbursts if touched and the description by Novia of a boy interacting in groups and completely unaffected by physical contact, to the point of it being a hazard.
Why Frontline would choose Novia for the purpose of defining Adam’s mental health instead of one of the support personnel tasked with assisting him is a mystery. Perhaps Frontline had other topics on their mind, like tying this event to gun control, video games and disorders from the autism spectrum. Fortunately for them, Novia provides the confirmation they were seeking.
Novia – So what Adam had shown at that point early on [was] some high interest in the violent aspect of those games.
Frontline – You know that firsthand?
Novia – I remember that he would opt to sit on the computer playing games like that than to go play DDR, which is Dance Dance Revolution.
Frontline – You would remember what game he may have played?
Novia – The best of my recollection, and some people have said there are other games too, but it was World of Warcraft at that time. But again, these are simulators, and the more a person like him is playing these games, even a normal human being like yourself and I who are healthy would be desensitized towards the violence. A person in his situation would become involved to a much higher level, where they might act out…
Frontline – When it was observed that Adam in high school was playing violent video games, did anyone try to dissuade him?
Novia – A lot of kids were playing violent video games. But they’re healthy. Healthy kids. Adam was not a healthy child.
Interesting Novia doesn’t provide a direct answer to that question. He claims that Adam was not a healthy kid, had multiple psychological issues, but was allowed to play violent video games and no one, including Novia, dissuaded him from doing so.
I’m no expert on video games but if I’m not mistaken DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) is a rather larger game/machine upon which players stand and attempt to match prompts on the screen with movements of their feet on the pad attached to the game.
First of all…they had this game at the school? Second…is it really that unusual that a teenage boy might not wish to play such a silly game? (Apologies to DDR fans). Furthermore, Novia’s characterization of Adam’s penchant for certain games as showing, “some high interest in the violent aspect of those games” is barely followed up on by Frontline.
When asked if he observed this “high interest” from Adam first hand, Novia points us to Adam’s unwillingness to play DDR. Again, this hardly amounts to confirmation of a high interest in the violent aspects of some games. It may simply point to a deep disinterest in dancing. No other proof is offered for this remark.
One final point regarding Mr. Novia.
In Frontline’s interview they suggest that Mr. Novia left the Newtown school district in 2007 to pursue greener pastures.
JK – And when you left for other pursuits in July of 2008 did you learn that Nancy Lanza had taken Adam out of high school?
In the transcript for Novia’s interview he describes it like this…
At the same time I was leaving the Board of Education
Clearly we are being led to believe that Novia was leaving of his own free will to pursue other avenues of interest. When we do a little more searching, though, we are presented with this…
Gloria Milas, Joshua’s mother, recalled a school meeting in 2008 organised by the gunman’s mother to try to save the job of the club’s adviser.
At the meeting, Milas said, Adam Lanza’s brother Ryan said a few words in support of the adviser, who he said had taken his brother under his wing.
How do you view his departure, now? Why was he being forced out? Is any of it actually true or just more heresay?
Perhaps more astonishing than the sneakiness with which Frontline manipulates our perceptions of Novia’s departure from the Newtown school district is this piece of info regarding the same family mentioned above.
Joshua Milas, who graduated from Newtown High in 2009 and belonged to the school technology club with him, said that Lanza was generally a happy person but that he hadn’t seen him in a few years.
“We would hang out, and he was a good kid. He was smart,” Joshua Milas said. “He was probably one of the smartest kids I know. He was probably a genius.”
What??? Adam had a friend??? That he hung out with??? Apparently so. I can’t help but think that Joshua may have been a more enlightening interview than a woman who spoke to Nancy 14 years ago. Sigh…
John Bergquist, Nancy’s acquaintance from Newtown, is asked by Kovner about the lack of company Nancy allowed into her home.
JK – John, was it your impression that not a lot of people went into the house? Not a lot of visitors even friends? Or did they go into the house?
JB – No, not a lot of people went into the house. You know, Nancy was very particular just like me, you know, I’m a bit of a neat freak and I just assumed that she was towards the more the extreme end but I don’t think that was it. Maybe that was a little bit of an excuse and I think Adam was, you know, uncomfortable having too
many people around.
It’s clear to me from Bergquists response that his theory is based on information obtained after the shootings. He has no idea if Nancy shunned company because of Adam and frankly it may have only been him that wasn’t invited to the Lanza home. We have no way of knowing.
What we do know, though, thanks to the emails kept by LaFontaine for more than a decade, is that Nancy seemed to enjoy entertaining very much and often had people over to the home. Some even staying for days at a time.
Tue, 2 Feb 1999
I have to run…I have guests coming down tomorrow for the weekend, so I want to get some extra sleep. I have a busy day of prep work tomorrow!!!
Thu, 18 Feb 1999
I have to run…I have a busy night ahead of me. I am expecting house guests this weekend, and want to get a jump on planning the menus, etc
Tue, 23 Feb 1999
Hi!! Sorry I haven’t written, but it has taken me this long to recover from having guests last weekend. I have actually gone to bed early for a couple of nights. We had an excellent weekend…very nice visit. The boys always enjoy their old friends, and I love to catch up on Kingston gossip.
Fri, 5 Mar 1999
As for the wedding…if you have to stay over in Connecticut, you are certainly welcome to stay here and save yourself a hotel bill.
Got to run…company coming in two hours, and I have to get a few things done first.
Thu, 15 Jul 1999
I haven’t had a moment to check lately, because I unexpectedly have a couple of professional soccer players living with me. (One from Ireland, one from England) and yesterday they came home with two more! (They asked of course!) Things are WILD here…but we are having a blast…
They played with the kids…enjoyed the Nintendo 64 and constructed Lego sets to amuse Adam.
For some reason we are not provided with emails beyond 1999 by LaFontaine. That is astonishing to me. Did Nancy and Marvin stop communicating? Was there information in those emails (if they exist) that would paint Nancy and Adam in a light different from the one Frontline had wished? We may never know.
One piece of information that leads me to believe they may have stopped communicating is this comment by Marvin LaFontaine.
Frontline – Did she talk about the divorce proceedings if there was a problem? If they didn’t agree?
LaFontaine – She didn’t. And she didn’t even tell me that she was getting divorced. … There were no details. However I talked to her about my divorce and the details, because that’s the kind of person she was. She was very helpful and knowledgeable and experienced … and she would give me a lot of advice on how to handle it. She was really good that way.
Given the level and topics of conversation between them I find it odd that Nancy would have left this part out were they still in regular communication. Was LaFontaine “interested” in Nancy after his divorce? Did Nancy not mention her divorce for fear it might encourage him?
The emails also seem to paint Adam as an exceptionally normal kid involved in the same groups and activities as many other kids.
Mon, 12 Apr 1999
Adam started in his theater group last week and enjoys it.
Mon, 10 May 1999
Friday…First grade field trip to Beardsley Zoological Gardens.
Fri, 21 May 1999
Adam is in two plays next week.
Thu, 27 May 1999
Hi! Another incredibly busy week! Adam’s first play went well…his second one is this afternoon with a second showing this evening.
Fri, 4 Jun 1999
Peter and the boys are going on an overnight camping trip with the Cub Scouts this weekend. Luckily, they are supposed to have excellent weather for it.
Wed, 16 Jun 1999
Adam had a field trip. Monday was Adam’s class picnic and the fifth grade day at Treadwell Park.
The boys have a very full summer planned.
They have “Education Connection” the first week in July. They have planned activities for the first half of the day, then they go to the park for the rest of the day. They are enrolled in soccer camp…karate camp…tennis lessons…swimming lessons.
Mon, 28 Jun 1999
I have to get going…the boys are going over to friends houses this afternoon. Try to stay cool up there!!!!
Thu, 1 Jul 1999
I have to run…I am taking the boys to a carnival and fireworks later today.
No matter how many times I go over these emails and the Frontline program I can’t seem to reconcile the description of Adam being forwarded by media and the description of his utter normalcy by his mother and others.
The last example of shoddy journalism I’d like to highlight from Frontline’s program is this revolting piece of rhetoric.
VO – The Courant has learned that investigators have speculated privately that Adam may have carried out the shooting in a manner consistent with video gaming, changing his weapons magazine frequently even though it was not empty.
CBS also provides us with their own rhetorical version of this story.
Law enforcement sources say Adam Lanza was motivated by violent video games and a strong desire to kill more people than another infamous mass murderer.
Sources say Lanza saw himself as being in direct competition with Anders Breivik, a Norwegian man who killed 77 people in July 2011.
A rather damning piece of evidence if true…but is it?
Lt Vance was criticizing several news organizations that either printed or broadcast reports incorporating specific details about the investigation and suggesting possible motives for the mass shooting, without attributing their information. In most cases, those reports instead cite either law enforcement sources or others close to the investigation.
“It’s very troubling,” Lt Vance said. “These sources are not coming forward to substantiate and authenticate the information [being reported].”
He said CBS never contacted his office regarding a weekend report citing two sources suggesting that Newtown shooter Adam Lanza may have been trying to rival Norwegian Anders
A Hartford Courant feature that was published last weekend detailed much of the information that was included in a half-hour PBS broadcast Tuesday evening examining the relationship between Nancy and Adam Lanza. But Lt Vance said he received no calls to verify information in that Courant report either.
“The Courant and CBS never called to determine if there was any truth to it, and some of it is just wrong,” Lt Vance said. “It’s aggravating and irresponsible for anyone to provide public information they get from those affiliated or associated with the case. Taking information out of context can also be misleading.”
Connecticut State Police went as far as to issue a press release detailing their frustration.
Recent electronic and print media reports regarding specific information in this tragic investigation have apparently originated from “SOURCES” who are not identified and remain unnamed. The unfortunate origin of unsubstantiated details of this case are both hurtful and, many times, inaccurate.
Finally, while not tied to the topic of Adam or Nancy Lanza, there was one comment from the second part of the Frontline program that caught my attention. It came during the hearings held in Newtown following the shootings. A mother of one of the children in Victoria Soto’s class approaches the microphone and says…
My daughter was a student in Victoria Soto’s first grade class. She survived. She and 8 other children ran from that room directly past him but not before witnessing her friends and her teacher slaughtered in front of her.
Her daughter and 8 other children escaped from Soto’s class by running right past the shooter. That’s 9 children now claimed to have escaped from that class of 16. yet we have been told time and again that 6 children escaped that class and ran to Gene Rosen’s…6 or 7 were huddled in a closet/bathroom…and 6 or 7 more were shot along with Soto. I’m no mathematician but clearly the numbers don’t add up.
In summation, I have no idea why Frontline would allow such a poorly investigated program to air. Nor can I even begin to explain why absolutely no member of the Lanza/Champion family is coming forward to provide us with a more nuanced and sympathetic view of Nancy and/or Adam.
Any reasonably interested viewer will note that the program provided absolutely nothing of substance nor did it provide any factual insight into the mind of Adam Lanza or his relationship with his mother, Nancy.
It did, however, seem hell-bent on forever linking SI/Autism/Asperger’s to violent crime and painting gun ownership in a most unfavorable light.
All in all it was among the most poorly investigated and produced programs I have ever had the displeasure of viewing on PBS. What do you think?