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The terrifying invisibility of Connecticut shooter Adam Lanza

In all of the things I’ve read about Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, one thing has astonished me more than any other. Not the fact that he used an assault rifle on six year olds, horrifying as that is, or that he played violent video games – par for the course – or even the revelation that the guns belonged to his survivalist mother, not him.

No, what astonished me most was this: he didn’t have a Facebook page – let alone a Twitter account, or a YouTube channel, or any of the channels through which we broadcast our lives and our opinions to the world.

In a world where almost everyone wants to be famous, Adam Lanza was invisible.

“His online footprint was minimal” as the BBC notes. There isn’t even a photo of him in his high school yearbook – he was apparently “camera shy”.

Revelations about the family are emerging as the media clamour to find an explanation for the unimaginably awful. How Nancy Lanza liked craft beers and parlour games and never allowed anyone into her house. How she was a survivalist who taught her sons to shoot. But about the young man who put four bullets into her head on the morning of December 14 2012, there is almost nothing.

Everything we know about Adam Lanza is from the brief observations of others, not the man (really still a boy) himself.

Consider, for a moment, how strange that is. Our global, connected culture now is orientated toward the constant visibility, both of our projected images and our inner selves. Those of us on Twitter can point to a track record of thousands of 140-character records of our thoughts and feelings at any given time. Few of us are a mystery to anyone; our lives are open books through which anyone can page in real time.

In the midst of all of this narcissistic noise, we’ve become accustomed to killers who want to tell the world why they kill. Think about the Columbine shooters: Eric Harris’s website, the diaries they kept and the videos they made in the basement.

Or the Virginia Tech shooter who sent a rant-filled DVD to NBC .

Or Anders Breivik, who besides his rambling 1,500 page manifesto was very active on right wing websites.

These were killers who wanted, not just to shock and horrify the world, but to tell us why. But Adam Lanza gave nothing away.

In the coming days and weeks, we will no doubt learn more. According to this report, police are trying to repair a shattered hard drive found in Lanza’s bedroom. Perhaps it will contain clues – but even if it does, the point is that Adam Lanza didn’t choose to share anything with us.

No angst-filled status updates, no rant-filled YouTube videos, no publicly visible warnings at all. For all his love of tech geekery, he seems to be from another era, even as the terrible crime he committed seems so sickeningly contemporary. This unreachable, inscrutable young man will generate millions of tweets without ever having sent one himself.

If Adam Lanza is a reminder of anything, it is that, even now, when it is so very easy to tell the world what goes on in our heads, some people choose to keep their dark thoughts to themselves. And that is what is truly frightening.

Image: Sarah Britten Art.

Author | Sarah Britten

Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten is the strategic planning director at Labstore South Africa. Her relationship status is hidden. More
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  • Bad things happened before social media came along, should not be so surprising.

  • Elite one

    This whole thing is dodgy from the get go.
    Multiple shooters, his dad being a Vice President of GE something, his mom apparently was a teacher at the school but no evidence to show it?.

  • Elite one

    Seems this will be a great excuse to enforce the gun control the American government want so badly.
    Also, the dad was apparently about to testify in a big case. ;)

  • Souvlaki

    This is rubbish. What is terrifying about Adam Lanza being a shy and private person? Nothing at all. There are millions – probably billions – of people who don’t have an online footprint. People – especially those, like you, whose job and much leisure time are spent online and immersed in technology – tend to forget that all of this (pcs, the web, the cyber community, Facebook, Twitter, etc) is very, very new stuff. There are many killers, both before our lives and now, whose motives will never be known to us, despite their access to pen and paper, friends, priests, tape recorders ….

  • Cybernaut

    Sarah must have been rather desperate for material she could write about to stoop as low as to produce this kind of inane stuff. It must rank among the more stupid articles I have read this year.

  • tim

    He was so invisible …NOT ONE WITNESS reported seeing a scrawny guy drive up in clear of several classrooms and get out of the car and walk to the door with all those guns and ammo. Don’t ya think a student or teacher would have screamed…CALL 911 i see a guy with guns just pulled up.

  • Tim

    In clear view …I meant. Plus no photos of the broken glass.

  • SB

    Sarah, you are the most desperate person I know. Desperate for fame. Desperate for a life. Maybe you should go on a killing rampage and kill your sad self. I know the world will be better without you in it.

  • Nupes

    What would be news is if they find out from his repaired hard drive that someone put him up to it…this on the other hand is not newsworthy and just wasted a minute of my life.

  • Mark

    Yeah, in fact thats the problem : nobody saw him arrive armed to the teeth [ excuse the pun ] or bothered to reach out to him coz this world is burying itself in little screens typing away to imaginary friends on FB/Twitter
    Expect it to get worse as we close off real relationships and isolate and immerse ourselves in the digital realm.

  • Satiricalbite

    Playing violent video games… par for the course? Lady, stop with the stereotypes and get with reality — video games are no less an outlet for aggression than football, soccer, rugby or any other. Sheesh.

  • What was life like without Youtube, Facebook, & Twitter? /sarcasm

  • Normal1

    …which we broadcast our lives and our opinions to the world. – Says Who !!!
    “…In a world where almost everyone wants to be famous, Adam Lanza was invisible.” – Speak for yourself.
    This has to be the dumbest article I have ever read. All of a sudden people who do not engage in social media are perceived to be dysfunctional.

  • Princess

    it may be he was invisible but nothing in this world gives anyone the right to walk into a school and shoot innocent children. if he did not like his world and was unhappy he should have shot himself and left all other people alone.

  • MTG303

    It’s more than strange that no one can produce a recent photo of Lanza from the DMV, a student ID, family photo or anything recent. Instead we’re presented with this sanitized image of the geek next door and photos of Lanza at 8 and 14 years old, get real. What is law enforcement and the media hiding? And please stop calling Adam Lanza a boy, you certainly didn’t do that with 17 year old Trayvon Martin who killed no one but was vilified by the media for his own murder. No, Martin was called a “man” even though he was murdered just 5 days after his 17th birthday but Lanza is called a “boy” at 20 WTF? Is it because Lanza was from an upper middle class white family and Martin was not or is it just the same old racial bigotry? Please produce an accurate image of Lanza and a recent photo and stop sanitizing Lanza’s image.

  • Claudio

    Some people just want to watch the world burn.

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