Was the Newtown Shooter Trying to Mimic Norway's Massacre?

Dashiell Bennett
The Atlantic Wire

A new report claims that killer who shot 26 children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, believed that he was "in direct competition" with a notorious mass murderer, but upon a closer look, the basis of that claim seems pretty shaky. 

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CBS News reported that "two officials who have been briefed" on the Newtown investigation told them that Newtown killer Adam Lanza was "obsessed" with Anders Breivik, the Norwegian murderer who attacked a youth camp in July 2011 and shot 69 people, mostly teenagers. (He also killed eight more with a car bomb in downtown Oslo.) According to these unnamed officials, investigators have uncovered evidence that suggests Lanza wanted to out-do Breivik's death toll, and that he chose the Sandy Hook Elementary school because it was a "easy target" with large groups of potential victims. 

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The CBS report also claims that Lanza was obsessed with first-person shooter computer games and that his attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School was him "acting out the fantasies of a video game," where each death added to his "score." They claim he played violent games for hours in his darkened bedroom and believed he was honing his shooting skills by doing so.

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The new story paints a compelling picture of Lanza as a hyper-competitive loner fueled by an addiction to video games, but doesn't really offer anything solid to build that picture on. The "law enforcement sources" are not only anonymous, it's not even clear what their role in the investigation is. They don't even hint at what the evidence is that could have led to these conclusions, whether its something Lanza left behind, the opinion of forensic psychologists, or just a guess made by some officer. (The Hartford Courant said "the theory is based in part on several news articles about Breivik," which is a big leap to "obsessed.") Without more details about the reasoning behind these claims, it's very hard to judge how solid they are. 

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The uncertainty of the report was underscored when the Connecticut State Police responded to the story by saying that investigators have not assigned a motive for the shootings, and "any statements about the shooter's intent are mere speculation." Police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance was even more adamant is his denial saying,  "The whole story is inaccurate ... It's all speculation. It's hideous." That's a pretty strong response, suggesting that whoever is talking to the media is misinformed or saying things they shouldn't.

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Lanza did not leave behind a note (and unlike Breivik) he did not allow himself to be captured, so any attempt to guess what was "in his mind" seems presumptuous, and is unlikely to be more than a guess.