How Do Parents of Murderous Teens Cope? Hopkins Expert Weighs In

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Katherine Newman is the outgoing dean of Johns Hopkins’ Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. She’s also an expert on teenage school shooters. Unfortunately, Newman’s expertise has been much in demand recently. She talked to CNN about the Sandy Hook shooting, and weighed in during the aftermath of the 2012 shooting at Perry Hall High School.

In the wake of the Isla Vista shootings last month, Newman wrote an extended meditation about what a killer’s parents face after their children commit mass murder.

As Newman points out, parents contend with their own grief at the death of their son (and it is almost always a son in these cases), at the same time as they struggle to understand who he really was. And then they have to face what their own child has done to innocent people. It’s a whole lot to deal with — but the contemporary media atmosphere isn’t particularly good at letting these parents wrestle with such a complex set of emotions:

They are not allowed to [contend with their grief and other emotions] by a public that looks for someone to blame. They are expected to express contrition, to open their most private experience to scrutiny and they do so willingly in the hope that this will somehow make amends for what they didn’t prevent from happening…. If Adam Lanza’s mother had survived, she would have felt the same pain: a toxic combination of grief and ostracism. To this day she is not counted among the innocent dead in Newtown, Connecticut, because she is not regarded as an innocent, but rather a kind of accomplice for having permitted her disturbed son access to guns. That she too died at his hands seems not to encourage any sympathy in the direction of her family.

Newman writes about how parents are often criticized for not recognizing warning signs, although school shooters are often polite and/or good students. “Young men who know they are spiraling into murderous madness can be very good at concealing the depths of their descent,” Newman writes.

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