It's happened again: schoolchildren shot down in a place they should feel safe. And, yet again, a disturbed young man is at the heart of a brutal massacre that steals parents' hopes and dreams, ripping children from their loving families forever. But what about the parents of the killers? What will life be like for them from this day forward?
The names of the place of death become inextricably intertwined in the nation's psyche: Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech and now, Sandy Hook. And the names of those who perpetrated these horrors also become household names. But who are these people? And who are the parents who brought them to life? Adam Lanza, Jared Loughner, James Holmes, Seung-Hui Cho, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold — all young men whose families had raised them from tiny babies. Who taught them to tie their shoes and brush their teeth, who (presumably) read to them, rocked them to sleep, soothed their nightmares. How do you reconcile yourself to the fact that the son (and it's nearly always sons) you brought into the world with such joy could rain down such sadness on other mothers and fathers?
Susan Klebold, the mother of Columbine killer Dylan Klebold, wrote a searching and searing essay for O Magazine, in which she recounted how she found out that her son was responsible for — at that time — the worst school massacre in American history. "How could we think for even a second that Dylan could shoot someone? Shame on us for even considering the idea. Dylan was a gentle, sensible kid. No one in our family had ever owned a gun. How in the world could he be part of something like this?" she wrote.
"In the weeks and months that followed the killings, I was nearly insane with sorrow for the suffering my son had caused, and with grief for the child I had lost. Much of the time, I felt that I could not breathe, and I often wished that I would die … It was impossible to believe that someone I had raised could cause so much suffering," she wrote.
The pain and suffering that the parents of Sandy Hook are experiencing is truly horrific. I truly don't know how I'd be able to go on if someone murdered my child. Yet the pain that the parents of those who committed these heinous acts is acute as well. Nancy Lanza isn't feeling that pain now: her son shot and killed her before he went to the school. But his father and brother still live. They must live with the knowledge that their son and brother committed such brutal acts. And they must find in their souls the courage to move forward. They must search in their minds for the unanswerable "why"? And they must live with the fact that they, whether it was possible to or not, did not stop Adam from committing murder.
For every person who kills another, there is more than one victim. There are the parents of the victims, the parents of the killer, the siblings and grandparents and children left wondering what they could have done differently. For the parents of mass killers like Adam Lanza and James Holmes, the public's finger of blame points to them. But can we blame them more than they blame themselves? Are they not asking forever more: Why did we not see this coming? Why didn't we stop it from happening?
And while we grieve for the latest victims of madness, let us also spare a thought for the parents of the killers. Their hearts have broken, too.