HARTFORD, Conn. — The body of the man who massacred 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school was claimed by his father, a family spokesman said Monday, but the public may never know what happened with the remains.
Like families of other mass killers, Adam Lanza’s father has to balance his own mourning with consideration for the victims, intense media scrutiny and the risk that a public gravesite could be desecrated.
“I know it’s very sensitive for the family. They have many, many concerns and it’s a very sad time for them,” said Kingston, N.H. Police Chief Donald Briggs, a family acquaintance who helped the Lanzas coordinate services for Lanza’s slain mother.
Lanza shot and killed his mother, Nancy, inside their Newtown home on Dec. 14 before driving to Sandy Hook Elementary School, shooting his way in and gunning down 20 first-graders and six school employees. He committed suicide as police arrived. The massacre claimed more lives that any school shooting in U.S. history, except for the 2007 Virginia Tech rampage that left 33 people dead.
Lanza’s father, Peter Lanza, of Stamford, Conn., claimed his son’s body Thursday, and there were “private arrangements” over the weekend, according to the family spokesman. He would not elaborate on what those arrangements were.
For some in Newtown, it would be just fine to not have any public reminder of Adam Lanza.
“People are sad enough around here,” said Robin Houser, 52, who was working at a center coordinating Newtown volunteers. “I would have donated his body to science and let them see what made him tick inside. And then have them take care of it.”
A private service was held earlier this month at an undisclosed location in New Hampshire for Nancy Lanza, who was divorced from Peter Lanza. Briggs said a public memorial service is also planned for her sometime in the spring.
Authorities have not offered a motive for the killings. State police say they have been exploring all aspects of Adam Lanza’s life including his education, family history and medical treatment for clues. Authorities have said it could take months to produce a final report on their investigation.
The state’s chief medical examiner has sought help from the University of Connecticut genetics department to study Lanza’s DNA and determine if there is any identifiable disease associated with his behavior.
Concern about gravesite vandalism has weighed on the families of other notorious killers, including one of the gunmen in the 1999 Columbine High School attack in Colorado. Dylan Klebold’s family had him cremated, according to the Rev. Don Marxhausen, who presided over his funeral.
“He couldn’t publicly go in a cemetery,” Marxhausen said. “There is that issue of people who would desecrate.”
Marxhausen said a policeman escorted him to the funeral, and others took circuitous routes to avoid being followed by the media. Marxhausen’s role at the funeral sparked an outcry and he later lost his position as pastor at the St. Philip Lutheran Church in Littleton, Colo., but he said he does not regret his role.
“Christ always goes where it’s darkest. You do your job,” he said.
The family of the other Columbine shooter, Eric Harris, has never publicly revealed his final resting place.
James Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, said it is not unusual for notorious criminals to be buried in undisclosed locations to keep away the media, protesters and potential vandals. He said there could be an increased risk of a gravesite becoming a target in Lanza’s case because he took his own life and was not punished.
“There is the potential for people to express anger, hostility, rage at the symbol of a person’s grave if it were known,” he said.
In a statement issued a day after the Newtown massacre, Peter Lanza said the family was struggling to make sense of what happened and “trying to find whatever answers we can.” He also expressed sympathy for the victims’ families.