Matthew Lysiak Interview
(Newtown: an American tragedy)
Matthew Lysiak knows about American tragedies. He’s covered the Aurora Theatre shooting, Tucson shooter Jared Loughner, Fort Hood Army Psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan and now Adam Lanza.
Matthew Lysiak has written a book on the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting titled Newtown: an American tragedy (Gallery Books).
Q - I saw you being interviewed on HLN and it was said that you had access to emails sent by Adam Lanza’s mother. That information must have come from the police didn’t it?
A - I can’t talk about the source on those emails. I can let you know that I did get some cooperation from police. Not enough, but, you’ll hear that from every reporter on every story. They are never really satisfied. You always want more, but, I did find some people that were helpful. At the end of the day people kind of want the story out. They do want information to come to light.
Q - Did you talk to Adam Lanza’s father and brother?
A - Adam Lanza’s father and brother would not cooperate. I did get some family members to cooperate but because of the sensitivity of the situation with their family, unfortunately, they all wanted to remain anonymous.
Q - Do you know why the father and brother would not talk even to someone like Oprah or Diane Sawyer? Is there a reason for that?
A - My understanding of Peter Lanza, the father is that he’s just very, very shy. He doesn’t want any of the attention. He’s very embarrassed and ashamed of everything. There’s also an aspect I think of not wanting to be in the limelight, letting the victims families who want to get their message out to make sure they got their message out. The father and brother have spokesperson that I’ve been working through. He’s been very nice but he’s made it clear that Ryan (Adam Lanza’s brother) and Peter (Adam Lanza’s father) want their privacy.
Q - Is it true that prior to the Sandy hook shootings, Adam Lanza never had contact with the outside world? He never got sick and went to a doctor? He never worked at a job of any kind?
A - One of the things that vexes me as I researched this story is that Adam was clearly very mentally disturbed, not just a little bit disturbed. He was suffering from a severe case of mental illness. His mother identified this and before he was 18 she had him seeing different therapists. She tried to get him on medication. I believe he was on something but I couldn’t quite get a confirmation on that, on and off through his youth, but, once he turned 18 he refused all medication. He refused all therapy. So, at this point he’s just allowed to be in his bedroom for hours and hours playing video games studying serial killers with garbage bags taped over his windows. I’ve covered all those mass shootings for The New York Daily News. I was in Tucson, and Aurora and Binghamton and Fort Hood. In the case of mental illness with these things, it’s not a coincidence. The fact that Adam was allowed to sit in his room for these years basically playing these violent video games, researching serial killers and not be treated to me, is a real, real big flaw in our system.
Q - What could the mother have done? Kicked him out of the house?
A - No, but, in the 60s, before they closed the mental institutions, you could get a professional to come in and do an evaluation, but now they closed the mental institutions and they were never appropriately replaced with anything. Now, getting somebody committed is next to impossible. Since this book has come out, I’ve gotten literally hundreds of emails from parents telling me they’re in a similar situation. They know someone who suffered from severe mental illness and they can’t get some treatment. A lot of people can call the emergency room or they can call the police department on their child and nobody wants to do that. Neither one is really equipped to handle severe cases of mental illness. It’s tough.
Q - Take a look at the Lee Harvey Oswald. He was diagnosed as being paranoid schizophrenic. I don’t know what kind of treatment was available to someone with that diagnosis in the 1940s in the 1950s in the United States.
A- I’m not implying that those mental institutions were perfect. A lot of them had terrible cases of abuse going on. It definitely has become much harder to commit somebody, to force treatment on an somebody who is over the age of 18. I’m not talking about some kid who likes Marilyn Manson and is wearing Goth. I’m talking about people who have totally lost track of reality.
Q - I was watching Piers Morgan the other night and he said Adam Lanza lived in a dungeon watching mostly videos. I know he covered his windows, but he lived in a room in a beautiful home. It wasn’t a dungeon.
A - He made it so. It’s really scary to think about his self-imposed isolation, how he cut off his brother and father, barely spoke to his mom. He couldn’t touch doorknobs. He had to arrange his food in a certain way on his plate. Really, this very, very sick kid.
Q - Did he graduate from high school?
A - Well, this was a mystery to a lot of people. Nancy Lanza (Adam’s mother) took him out of high school after his sophomore year. There was conjecture on why would she do this. I found his academic advisor who agreed to speak to me, Richard Novia , a very, very good man. He met Adam and kind of took him under his wing. He’d known that Adam was a victim of bullying. He knew about Adam’s mental illness and he was working with Adam to kind of bring him out of his shell and also serving as a bit of his protector which was very important to Nancy. But after Adams sophomore year Richard let Nancy know that he was changing jobs, was leaving the school and Nancy did not believe that with Richard gone her son would be protected at the school and pulled him out. He was able to get his diploma. He went to a few different community colleges. But, he never really got himself back into society.
Q - Are you saying he got his GED from high school after his mother pulled him out?
A - Yes.
Q - He didn’t participate in any high school graduation ceremonies then?
A – No.
Q- Then he enrolled in a community college and he took what kind of courses?
A - He took philosophy, ethics. He took a history course. Normal courses nothing really stood out about his time at college. His behavior was a little bit off but his mom identified him as mentally ill at about the age of five. But, the real, real severe part came at about 2010. So up until then it was just kind of like odd behavior, antisocial behavior, outbursts. But, she felt that he had an intelligent side. She always sort of felt that eventually Adam’s intelligent side would break through to his mental illness.
Q- I know the parents were divorced but did the father know there was something wrong?
A- They both tried to get Adam help at several different times and had Adam see therapists, but, in 2010 Adam turns 18. He stops talking to his dad. He stops talking to his brother. He’s refusing therapy and medications. He’s just staying in his room studying violence basically.
Q- How long did he last in college? A semester?
A- I’m not sure. I think it was a total of two semesters at two different places that were local.
Q- After that he pretty much stayed in his room? He didn’t go to a restaurant or to see a movie?
A- He would once in a while go to a movie with a friend who I could never locate that was in the police report, but, aside from that. That’s what strikes me, how this is something that could’ve been prevented. It’s clear that Adam didn’t just snap one day and tried to kill a bunch of people. He was planning this for years. He was showing real telltale signs of somebody who not necessarily walk into a school and do something like this but who could commit a terrible act either to himself or somebody else. Part of the reason I wrote this book is moving forward there’s other parents who might be able to see similar signs of distress and the time where we’re more passive and kind of take away the fear approach, I think we don’t know that luxury after Sandy Hook. I’m not a mental health expert. I’m a journalist but, I think the mental health people should get together and really figure out a way to get people who are over the age of 18 treatment who are severely mentally ill, but refusing.
Q - Do you know from your research why Adam Lanza would have targeted an elementary school? Did he have a bad experience with the teacher at a grade school?
A - We don’t know. He was bullied a little bit at Sandy Hook, throughout his entire academic career. I had no evidence there was severe bullying. His father described his time at Sandy hook through his spokesperson as the happiest time of his life. I believe he just wanted to kill as many people as possible and children offered the least resistance.
Q - The school principal had a new security system put in to place just weeks before Adam entered Sandy hook. Was that publicized that all? In the papers?
A - It was in the local paper but I doubt Adam would have been aware of it. But, unless your gonna put kids in a fort, there’s really no security system that could have prevented him from shooting through a window with a high-powered weapon and walking through it.
Q - Had the door been plexiglass instead of glass would it have been harder for him to blast his way in?
A - I don’t think so with the weapon he had. Unless you’re going to put our kids in forts, I think it’s going to be a tough issue to take that we could’ve prevented this. Sandy Hook did everything right. They had the security systems where you go up to the door, you push the doorbell, the camera is looking at you, you’re verified in by a secretary and then you go right to the office.
Q - I take it there was no armed guard there.
A - There is a lot of things where you kind of like to look back and it’s hard not to and think about all the things that could have been done. Putting armed guards in front of elementary schools I kind of think that would scare people a little bit. I have a daughter in second grade. I think she’d be a little rattled by that. At the end of the day, it’s hard not to go back and think how things could have been done differently to prevent this kind of tragedy.
Q - I interviewed Jay Johnson of the website sandyhoolhoax.com he believes the photo of Adam Lanza was altered or Photoshoped if you will. Is that a real picture of Adam Lanza?
A - I didn’t question the veracity of the picture. I didn’t get it examined. I’ve heard that. I believe it’s real. To be honest, it’s not something I researched.
Q - Jay Johnson finds this long face of Adam Lanza to be highly suspicious.
A - I was in Sandy hook the day this happened. I spoke to the families. This was not a hoax. I understand where a lot of these people who have conspiracy theories are coming from. The two things I kind of attributed it to; I know some acquaintances of mine have those theories and the two reasons I see for drawing the Sandy Hook back truthers is number one the issue with the guns. It came really quickly it became political. From my research, none of those gun laws people are proposing could have changed what happened because Nancy (Lanza) bought the guns legally and then legally gave them to her son. So, people who I know who think it’s a hoax think it’s become publicized so quickly within hours as an attempt for the government to get more control over guns, when guns weren’t an issue that could have prevented this unless you’re talking about banning all guns. The other thing is the lack of information from the state’s attorney’s office. They are not being very forthcoming in releasing information. I think that fuels those kinds of conspiracy theories. I wish they would’ve given more information.
Q - That’s relevant to this next Jay Johnson quote I’m going to read you. He said, there’s absolutely no way that anyone with the slightest intellect can believe Sandy Hook happened the way they say it happened.
A - Well, I’ve spoken to countless teachers, educators in the school and parents who lost children. When he says the way they say it happened, I do put the narrative (in the book) of what we believe happened inside the school. I believe that’s exactly how it happened.
Q - How about the reports of different guns being used?
A - Look, I’ve worked with the police in New York City for upwards of seven years. I can tell you the police are not always honest with the media in terms of what happened. I go into these scenarios with a healthy amount of cynicism as to what the official story is and what facts are going to come out. I have no doubt that the people who believe that Sandy Hook was a hoax that they are misled.
Q - You don’t believe that anybody is hiding anything do you?
A - Yeah well, I think that states attorney’s office has intentionally gone out of their way to withhold information. So, I do believe that.
Q – As pertaining to the school scene or Adam Lanza himself?
A - Relevant to the entire investigation. They’re not been forthcoming.
Q - There were some parents who buried their children without looking at their children’s bodies. Is that true? Did that happen?
A - I believe it did. I don’t want to go into great detail on what happened to some of those children. They made special exceptions in certain cases for some of the children I was told with the identification process because of the condition of the body. I believe a lot of them were identified by the clothing they were wearing.
Q - I often hear commentators ask the question what can we learn from this? When talking about a tragedy such as Sandy Hook. But, every shooting is different. How can you prevent it from happening again? It all goes back to mental illness doesn’t it?
A - Yeah. That’s been the thread. Columbine was different and so was Fort Hood but, the rest of the shootings that I was at, all of them over the past seven years, mass shootings, involved cases of severe mental illness. Even in this guy in the Washington Navy Yard recently, I think he thought Obama was putting microwaves in his body, trying to control him. I do think these cases of mass shootings are just going to continue to escalate.
Q - You almost don’t want to leave your house.
A - It’s scary, but, overall these are pretty rare occurrences. Violent crime overall is at a historic low right now.
Q - I talked to one guy who believes the media should report a story like Sandy Hook once and be done with it and not have program after program on one of these mass shootings where the shooter is almost glamorized and the reporting gives likeminded individuals and incentive to go out and pull copycat crimes.
A - As someone who’s written a book on this, I’ve thought about it quite a bit. As a journalist I feel were obligated to ask these questions and try to answer the question why? Because the minute we decide were not going to try and understand and get the facts of what happened at Sandy Hook. We kind of concede the future to the next gunmen. We throw up our arms and say, okay we give up. These things are not like those random weather events that just happen. There is a reason they happen, and we have it in our power to prevent them. It starts with first understanding why. I think these are important questions and conversations like the one were having now, I think they need to happen. There is no glory here for Adam Lanza. He’s a sick, sick kid who couldn’t possibly, I think if he were here trying to explain it to us, it would make no sense. He was so far removed from reality. The idea of giving the next shooter more glory, I think we need to get the shooter therapy and medication more than anything.
Q - It’s difficult to get people to admit they have a problem. There is a stigma attached to mental illness in the United States.
A - I’m hoping that eventually that things are going to change. The course of evolution will kind of see these things right themselves eventually. I’m optimistic that eventually we’ll be able to get these people who are severely ill treatment.
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