Almost one year ago, I started a piece about the Newtown tragedy by saying, "Last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut, the bells at Trinity Episcopal Church chimed 26 times. At 9:30am, people across the country, even at the White House, observed a moment of silence to remember the dead. 26 tolls of the church bells and a moment of silence. The silence surrounding the 27th victim continues to reverberate." The 27th victim I was referring to was Nancy Lanza, the mother of the shooter, Adam Lanza. A year later and I'm still struck by headlines like: "Bells toll 26 times in Newtown in remembrance of shooting victims." A year ago, there weren't 26 shooting victims; there were 27 but Nancy Lanza didn't seem to count then and doesn't seem to count now.
I don't think much has changed in the year since Nancy Lanza was shot in her home, in her bed, by her son who would leave the scene of that murder and go on to commit the atrocities at Sandy Hook. If anything, Nancy Lanza seems to have faded even more from memory. In a recent article about the one year anniversary, a resident of Newtown was quoted as saying, "You kind of hope the town can put it behind without forgetting about the victims." Reading that quote, I wanted to say, "Too late. You've already forgotten about Nancy Lanza." But, somehow, Nancy Lanza was never really counted as a victim.
After the massacre, authorities made plans to demolish Sandy Hook Elementary. On October 25, 2013, that demolition began, with one headline announcing, "No trace of Sandy Hook Elementary will be left." There is very little trace of Nancy Lanza left in coverage a year later. Deep in the story about the anniversary, she finally shows up toward the end: "The 20 year old gunman, Adam Lanza, killed his mother inside their Newtown home on Dec. 14, 2012, before driving to the school where he carried out his rampage with his parent's weapons." Nancy Lanza doesn't even have a name in this story. She is identified as the gunman's mother and as the source of the weapons used.
A year ago, I concluded, "Nancy Lanza seems to be tainted, her memory absorbing a portion of the blame for the shootings that started with her death." Nothing appears to have changed in a year. Nancy Lanza is still not considered a true victim. She is the mother who failed to stop the monster. She is the person who bought the guns. But Nancy Lanza is more than that. Nancy Lanza has family who loved her, a living son who had nothing to do with the acts of the other. I can't help but wonder what those grieving family members think on this anniversary when they see headlines that only mention 26 bells. I wonder what they feel when, instead of being grouped with the innocent victims, their loved one is grouped with the guilty.
Nancy Lanza is worth remembering and not as a tainted afterthought. She was not a perfect parent -- no one is -- but she isn't responsible for any of the deaths -- her own or others -- because she bought the guns Adam later stole. Such thoughts are part of a blame-the-victim mentality that can be used to regain a sense of control over senseless acts of violence. In a blame-the-victim scenario, if Nancy Lanza is responsible then there is a reason why. If there is a reason why, then there is one less unfathomable act of violence and the world seems, somehow, safer.
A year ago, right after Newtown, another woman with a troubled teenager wrote an article entitled, "I am Adam Lanza's Mother" outlining her frustrations with the mental health system and fears for her own troubled teen. Nancy Lanza needs to be remembered because she is not alone.