Some parents who lost children in the Sandy Hook shooting may never recover from the pain of their death, an expert in post-traumatic stress said today.
We may also never know what triggered gunman Adam Lanza’s killing spree at the elementary school, which left 27 people dead, including 20 children, according to Dr Jennifer Wild, a consultant clinical psychologist at Oxford University and King’s College London.
The people of Newtown, a small community with a population of 27,000 north east of New York City, are today attempting to come to terms with the horrendous events yesterday.
“In terms of pulling through from the trauma of losing your child, it is individual. So some people will be able to get through this at a faster rate than other people and some people may never recover,” Dr Wild said.
“They will always be plagued by the unwanted memories of what happened and the loss of their little child who is no longer with them.”
Lanza’s mother Nancy, who is thought to have taught at the school in Newtown, and the principal Dawn Hochsprung, who had been in charge since 2010, were among the adults shot dead.
The fact that his mother was his first victim and he ended the spree by killing himself means that even if more facts come to light in the days ahead experts would only have limited information about his motives, Dr Wild added.
Lanza’s older brother Ryan, 24, told investigators that Adam, who lived with their mother, was believed to suffer from a personality disorder and be “somewhat autistic”.
“In these sorts of scenarios, often the hypothesis is that it is linked to some sort of mental illness,” she continued.
“But because the perpetrator is dead there is no way of assessing him to determine what actually he may have been suffering from which may have links to his behaviour.
“We know his age is 20. That is usually the age of the onset of schizophrenia. Sometimes these sorts of tragedies are linked to people who are suffering with schizophrenia but we absolutely cannot speculate because he is no longer here and we cannot do a proper psychiatric assessment.”
Dr Wild said that it was natural for families of victims and those who survived the massacre to ask themselves why the shooting had happened immediately afterwards, but if they were still asking those questions months down the road it might be a sign they were suffering from PTSD.
She said long term treatment over the months to come should switch from them asking “why did it happen” to “what can be done?”.
“It’s really important that everybody does pull together when a crisis like this happens, so that community, knowing that the country is behind them, that they have support nationally and internationally, is really going to help them to pull through and to feel supported overall,” she said.
Lanza’s surviving family members will also need help, Dr Wild said.
“They will be in shock as well. The brother is being questioned at this point in time and he is probably also in shock and cannot believe this is happening.
“So he will be grieving the loss of his brother but also the news that this is the kind of person his brother was.”