[I originally wrote and published the material below this paragraph on DailyKos a year ago 2014-11-26]. The new report by the Office of the Child Advocate of CT (Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School) confirms that he had been dangerously thin and malnourished for a number of years, but still doesn't discuss the possible psychological problems this malnourishment can cause, or the psychological problems that can result from vitamin D and B12 deficiency (as described in the comments below).]
Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school, at the time of his autopsy, was 72 inches tall and weighed only 112 pounds. If he was anorexic, what bio-psychological effects might this have had on him?
Was Adam Lanza, the shooter in Newtown, anorexic?
Background on the Newtown State Attorney's Report
I just read the Newtown CT State's Attorney report on Adam Lanza and the Sandy Hook shootings. It is, of course, very upsetting. It's a cold report, with almost no empathy expressed for anyone, which makes it even more disturbing.
It sounds like Adam Lanza's social isolation in the last few months of his life was near total. The report says that he was barely even talking with his mother on the other side of his bedroom wall; mostly communicating with even her via email. They don't think he even talked with anyone on his cell phone. Maybe he talked with a person at the movie theater with whom he engaged in marathon Dance Dance Revolution sessions. The report claims he broke off communication, including even email, with his father 2 years before, and his brother as well.
He was apparently obsessed with mass shootings, including Columbine, and made a spreadsheet chronicling them. He played many very violent video games.
The home was an arsenal, bristling with multiple guns and other weapons. The report didn't discuss his sense of masculinity. This factor of school shootings has too often overlooked (see for example, "School Shootings The Result Of Crisis Of Masculinity, Gun Culture, Professor Argues" , and "What the News Isn’t Saying about Men’s Violence Against Women" ). In particular, it is seldom remarked upon, including not in the most recent report, that the adults that Lanza shot, including of course his mother, were all women. The Newtown massacre was also a case of femicide.
As someone who works in the field of school-violence prevention (and the promotion of constructive conflict transformation), there's a lot more I could say about these and other aspects of the report, but for now I want to examine one detail that startled me as I read the report tonight.
Was Adam Lanza Anorexic? If he Was, Did his Anorexia Fuel his Violence?
One detail I found bizarre, but I haven't seen in any of the news reports on Adam Lanza yet. On page 27 of the report (p. 31 of the pdf), it says that Lanza at the time of his autopsy was 72 inches tall and weighed only 112 pounds. If this is accurate, Adam Lanza had a body mass index of 15.1. The wikipedia page on BMI says, "A BMI nearing 15 is usually used as an indicator for starvation and the health risks involved, with a BMI less than 17.5 being an informal criterion for the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa." . A BMI this low is far below 19, the 5th percentile curve (the lowest line) on this growth chart (http://pediatrics.about.com/...).
The report also says that Adam Lanza made what might be described as obsessive demands about food. (In a chilling choice, most of the report refers to Adam Lanza only as "the shooter.")
The shooter was particular about the food that he ate and its arrangement on a plate in relation to other foods on the plate.(page 30 of the report, p. 34 of the pdf).
Certain types of dishware could not be used for particular foods. The mother would shop for him and cook to the shooter’s specifications, though sometimes he would cook for himself.
Apparently, there is a high correlation between people with autism spectrum disorders, which characterized Adam Lanza, and those suffering from anorexia (according to Wikipedia a study in Sweden found 23% of those with anorexia are "on the autism spectrum." The same wikipedia page says a study done in the UK found a high degree of traits overlap as well, including "poor executive function, autism quotient score, central coherence, theory of mind, cognitive-behavioural flexibility, emotion regulation and understanding facial expressions."
Because of my peace activism, I'm also familiar with the Minnesota Starvation experiment, conducted on US Conscientious Objectors to WWII, which found that
prolonged semi-starvation produces significant increases in depression, hysteria and hypochondriasis as measured using the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Indeed, most of the subjects experienced periods of severe emotional distress and depression.The study also found an increase in social isolation and "self-mutilation."
Anorexia is increasingly being understood as a biological disorder itself. And anorexia may be a risk factor for overtly violent suicide, at least among girls. According to Sarah Luczaj, a therapist from the UK, in an article entitled, "Just How Strong is the Link between Anorexia and Suicide?" girls suffering from anorexia are more than 50 times more likely than healthy women to attempt suicide. It is worth quoting Luczaj at length on this subject:
It brings a whole new level of violence and desperation to the picture. These people, usually women, cannot stand their existences anymore and want to put an end to them quickly and forcefully. There seems to be active self hatred at work.I don't know if the same holds true for boys and men who suffer from anorexia, but in the militaristic culture in which Adam Lanza apparently immersed himself (the report also says he was considering joining the military), boys and men are expected to channel their rage outwards. It appears that Adam Lanza channeled his rage in both directions.
There is a certain prevalent image of the character type of a young woman suffering from anorexia which stresses her perfectionism, desire to fulfill expectations, to be a good girl, to the extent where she forgets her own basic needs entirely and starts to be trapped within her own rules. It is a picture of passive “femininity” taken to a lethal extreme. I would say that there is important insight here but the image overlooks a kind of violence, the sheer force involved in anorexia.
This is gruesome to speculate about, so you might want to stop reading here, but it's possible that Adam Lanza weighed more before the attack because he might have lost a lot of blood from his self-inflicted gunshot wound. But even if the autopsy weighed him after he lost all his blood, apparently blood only weighs 7% of body weight, meaning that Adam Lanza would have weighed a maximum of 120 lbs before his attack, with a BMI still well into the anorexic range at 16.3.
I know this is all speculation, but if it is an angle into trying to understand this seemingly unfathomable crime that might help us come closer to understand, and maybe in the future better prevent, these crimes, then I believe it is an angle worth investigating.