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A terrible dilemma

Recent news stories have shed more light on the complex and tortured life of Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who killed 20 first-graders and six women at Sandy Hook Elementary School back in December.

They also illuminate, at least partially, the terrible dilemma faced by his mother, Nancy, as she struggled to control her son in the face of what was apparently a growing obsession with violence.

She failed in that effort, and paid the price for her failure when Adam came into her bedroom and shot her to death before driving to the school on his horrific mission.

It would be easy to condemn Nancy Lanza in retrospect. After all, police found a veritable arsenal in her home — an collection of firearms, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, samurai swords, a bayonet and knives.

But she was apparently trying to care for her son, who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and who spent most of his time alone, often playing violent video games such as “Call of Duty.” He may also have had other mental problems more serious than Asperger’s, which is a form of autism not usually associated with violent behavior.

We know that she tried to channel Adam’s interests by making trips with him to a shooting range — attempting to find a way to communicate with him by finding something that sparked his enthusiasm.

Adam, who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s in middle school, began to withdraw when he was 18 ... leaving high school, dropping out of college, working part-time repairing computers. His father, Peter Lanza, had tried to keep ties to Adam after his divorce by taking him hiking and going to coin shows, but Adam abruptly severed ties with his father, and with his brother Ryan, in 2010, making Nancy his sole connection with an increasingly distant and dark world.

We can be sure that Nancy never imagined that the seemingly innocent hobby of target shooting — something she’d done all her life — would help turn her son into a symbol of modern violence and horror.

The sad fact is that there is little help in modern American society for parents struggling to care for children who experience mental health problems. Their pleas for help for their offspring often go unanswered — our laws prohibit most intervention until a crime is actually committed.

We don’t know what Nancy Lanza went through, and although we may condemn her for making bad choices, the truth is that her failure is only a reflection of society’s failure to find good solutions to this intractable problem.

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