Prather’s Pick: ‘Newtown: An American Tragedy’ is a horrifying tale

Horrified. That’s the way I began to feel after I got forty or so pages into this week’s featured book. The book is “Newtown: An American Tragedy,” written by Matthew Lysiak, a journalist and staff writer at the New York Daily News.

It is the story of the tragedy that took place Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

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Diane Prather

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Courtesy

The book begins on a morning that probably started as any other as parents got their children ready for school. Everybody was thinking about Christmas, which was fast approaching. “Last Good-Byes” features the children who lost their lives later that day.

The second chapter features Sandy Hook Elementary School Principal Dawn Hochsprung, known for her positive approach to education. She had a reputation for “high expectations,” among them keeping the children safe. During her time at the school, new safety measures had been put into place, including a buzzer to let school officials know that a visitor was there. Even parents were asked to show photo identification before being admitted to the school. Security cameras were also installed.

Hochsprung also cared about her teachers and other school personnel. Brief biographies of some of these educators, also victims of the tragedy, are included in the chapter.

Beginning with Chapter 3, the author turns his attention to Adam Lanza, the shooter of that day’s tragedy. The realization of just how far-reaching the effects of untreated mental health issues (at least those covered in this book) can be is horrifying, indeed.

The author devotes four chapters to Lanza’s life, beginning with a fall morning in 2006, when he was having an anxiety attack because he did not want to go to Newtown Middle School, where he was an eighth-grader. It wasn’t that Adam had trouble with the classes or teachers. It was the noises and crowding from all of the students.

Adam had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, when he was 5 years old. Later, his mother Nancy reported that he also had a sensory processing disorder, SPD. According to the author’s research, Adam could not stand to be touched. He often could not recognize hot and cold. It bothered him to have his skin touched by his own clothing; he even was bothered by the texture of food he chewed. The author covers all of this and more in the book.

The author writes that Nancy had taken Adam to specialist after specialist, but none of them were able to help him. The only connection Nancy had with her son was at the shooting range, where he seemed to feel comfortable with a gun. The book covers Adam’s increasing isolation into his own world that focused on Internet chat rooms, violent video games, weapons, the military and research about mass killings.

Beginning with Chapter 8, “Five Minutes, 154 Bullets,” the book is an account of the school tragedy and the aftermath, including the funerals of the 20 children and six adults. The author covers the recovery process of everyone in Newtown, including children, parents, policemen, clergy and others — even local businesses.

The book ends with an afterword of what-ifs, such as “What if Adam hadn’t had access to ultraviolet images?” and “What if Adam didn’t have access to high-powered weapons?”

In order to research the book, author Matthew Lysiak actually moved to Newtown, where he interviewed people and reviewed emails and police documents.

Lysiak explains that he wrote the book so that people can be better informed about the happenings at Sandy Hook. He feels that is important as the country moves forward in trying to figure out how to prevent a tragedy like it from happening again.

Although this is a difficult book to read, I recommend it highly for the very reason the author intended — to be better informed.

“Newtown: An American Tragedy” is published by Gallery Books, 2013. It costs $25.99 in hardcover. You also can find the book at the Moffat County Library with the new books.

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