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In wake of U.S. shooting tragedy, it’s time to talk about mental health, too

This 2005 photo provided by neighbor Barbara Frey and verified by Richard Novia, shows Adam Lanza. Authorities have identified Lanza as the gunman who killed his mother at their home and then opened fire Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, inside an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., killing 26 people, including 20 children, before killing himself. Novia was the school district's former head of security and he advised the school technology club that Adam and his older brother belonged to.

Barbara Frey/AP Photo

Bad reporting about the suspected Sandy Hook shooter may be having a beneficial effect.

On Friday, after unconfirmed reports emerged that Adam Lanza may have had Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, mental health advocates rushed to ensure the syndrome would not become linked in the public's mind with violence.

"The search for answers should not be a search for a scapegoat," Autism Rights Watch, a non-profit organization based in Charlottesville, Va., said in a statement issued Saturday. "Autism is no excuse or explanation to evil. Being 'autistic,' 'odd,' 'awkward,' 'camera shy,' a 'nerd' and 'uncomfortable with others' does not cause a person to become a mass murderer."

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But the mother of one teenage boy, who suffers from what she says is an undiagnosed mental illness, used the sudden national conversation as an opportunity to plead for help and understanding.

In "I am Adam Lanza's Mother," writer Liza Long, based in Boise, Idaho, described the terror of living with a clinically disturbed 13-year-old who has failed to respond to medical treatment.

"A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7- and 9-year-old siblings knew the safety plan – they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to," wrote Ms. Long on her personal blog, in a post that was later picked up by larger blogs including Gawker and Buzzfeed.

She added that she was, in essence, the mother of Adam Lanza; of the Columbine killers, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris; of the Aurora, Colo., movie theatre suspect, James Holmes; of Gabrielle Giffords's assailant, Jared Lee Loughner; and of the Virginia Polytechnic killer, Seung-Hui Cho.

"And these boys – and their mothers – need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it's easy to talk about guns," she wrote. "But it's time to talk about mental illness."

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More


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