42. Prosthetic Environment

October 13, 2006

Edmond Town Hall — Newtown, Connecticut

The town hall was all boarded up for the big remodel, a half-century overdue. There was to be just one more showing in its theater before the work began, and it was a private screening: the town’s Building & Site Commission, gathering to see the latest concept renderings of what the new town hall would look like, projected against the rickety walls of the old. The images showed Fairfield Hills, and the structure until-then known as Bridgeport Hall, sitting right in the center of the oval, where the patients once brought in the harvest from the farm — but the slides advanced, the building was reshaped to fit the town’s needs, now that all the patients were long-gone.

All in attendance agreed that the designs looked ready to go; finally, the town’s Fairfield Hills Master Plan, the new life for the old mental hospital, was coming into focus.

October 24, 2006

Office of Dr. Robert King — Yale Child Study Center

Nancy drove her son out to the old collegiate school in New Haven, for the appointment. She had briefly talked to Dr. King on the phone before the visit — she knew that he was no quack — but still, she didn’t like the idea of another doctor looking at Adam. And she knew where it was headed; Nancy had told Dr. King on the phone that yes, her son did have pronounced OCD, as his father had said. But the OCD came along with his Asperger’s syndrome, which (she was quite sure, and who knew her son better?) he absolutely wasn’t going to take any medication for.

Still, Adam’s father wanted the examination, and she had to cooperate. She could console herself that at least Peter wasn’t going to join them for the session.

* * *

It was to be a single, three-hour evaluation. Nancy met Dr. King, who was a middle-aged man, balding with white hair and mustache, and he was joined by a Licensed Clinical Social Worker for the session; as they introduced themselves to the Lanza family, Dr. King observed Adam to be — as he would describe in his initial report — “a pale, gaunt, and awkward young adolescent standing rigidly with downcast gaze.”

The doctor offered Adam a handshake. Adam declined, desperately avoiding looking Dr. King in the face. Nancy explained that this behavior was something she had noticed her son doing more and more, recently: he wouldn’t look at people.

“Why should I have to?” Adam asked. His voice, rarely heard by anyone but Nancy anymore, was heard by Dr. King to be “in a flat tone, with little inflection and almost mechanical prosody.”

The doctor, having surely been asked this same question — why should I look at people when they speak? — by awkward adolescents many times before, explained how much could be learned from a person’s facial expression that would color their words, and convey the speaker’s feelings: a smile, for example.

Adam answered back that different people could interpret the same smile in different ways: “Some primates smile when they are frightened.”

Sitting down for the evaluation, the doctor went through some more questions, ones designed to get an idea of Adam’s social anxieties, and how severe they might be. “What is a friend?” Dr. King asked.

“It is difficult to define — in whose culture do you refer?”

“Yours,” Dr. King said. What was a friend in Adam’s world?

“I do not know.”

King scribbled some notes. “If you met a fairy godmother and she granted you three wishes, what would you wish for?”

Adam thought for awhile, and finally said he couldn’t think of any. Instead, as King wrote, “He would wish that whatever was granting the wishes would not exist.”

Dr. King asked if he would like to have more friends. Adam said no.

Nancy provided Dr. King with a family medical history — both Peter’s charts, and her own; she didn’t say anything to indicate that she had Multiple Sclerosis, nor any other serious medical condition, at any point then or in the past. (Nothing in her files said anything about the “genetically flawed auto immune system,” or an “on/off switch” in her brain, either. Nothing even close.)

At some point (possibly when filling out the intake form), Nancy indicated to Dr. King that Adam had previously been seen by a Dr. Fox, on ten occasions. She claimed that Dr. Fox had already urged anti-anxiety medication, which Adam had refused.

While both details may (or may not) have been true, Nancy neglected to add one key fact — that Adam was still being treated by Dr. Fox, and so any treatment that Yale provided or suggested would thus be overlapping with whatever their community psychiatrist was doing. It was a significant omission, as she was almost certainly aware; but for some reason, she wanted the experts divided.

Dr. King’s questions continued — some to Adam, but more to Nancy. Her replies painted a picture of their life over the last two years: sometime around the seventh grade, for some reason, Adam became very afraid. He was scared of leaving the house, and the scariest thing of all was the experience of going to school with the other kids. He would refuse to even use the phone, and started missing school, and staying inside. She had turned to St. Rose, but her son’s belief that religion was irrational had “proved the downfall of a brief placement at [the] small supportive Catholic parochial school.” He even ended up staying home for all of eighth grade. He was less afraid at 36 Yogananda, but within its confines, he was developing more and more rituals and superstitions he had to obey, or else he would have an “episode:” in public, that had always meant withdrawing within himself — silent and unmoving, totally unresponsive; at home, often it would be a fit of rage. He constantly washed his hands, was extremely particular about the textures of foods, and Nancy was starting to become a recluse herself in her tireless efforts to help him through each day.

One document in Nancy’s files, from around the time of this visit, appears to be a list she had given Dr. King — one that Adam had written to her at some point, enumerated the specific “problems” he had with the environment inside 36 Yogananda that day:

Problems:

The lights were too bright.

There were too many dirty dishes.

I kept spilling food and such.

You were in the room, while I was in the kitchen.

The spiders.

My arm kept touching things.

My hair touched Ryan’s towel in the morning.

There were no tissues.

There were not tissues in the pantry.

My corn was too wet.

My quinoa fork dropped with quinoa and I had to pick it up and there were not tissues and my hands had quinoa on them.

It was too warm.

You were speaking angrily.

There were not enough towels.

My hair touched my desk towel when picking up quinoa.

I could not eat my quinoa because I dropped the fork.

The corn had spots.

There are more reasons.

You threatened me twice.

Nancy explained that her son’s compulsions extended to her actions, too; just as they were pulling up outside, for instance, he objected when she pressed the button on the automatic gate opener. The control panel was a surface that showed fingerprints, the kind that always looked dirty; never mind that it was the only way to get into the parking lot.

Dr. King questioned whether the “homebound” status had been effective at all, given the apparent increase in Adam’s compulsive rituals. Adam insisted it was necessary; that by Newtown Middle School he had concluded that “[I] did not approve with the way I was being educated … it progressed very slowly.”

That led Dr. King to ask Adam why he quit the school band, too. Adam’s reasoning was familiar: he couldn’t stand the other kids. “They all played badly,” Dr. King summarized in his notes. “No one practiced. No one paid attention.”

Finally, Dr. King turned to the subject of Nancy and Peter’s separation, and noted that Adam had insisted that he didn’t want to visit his father at his apartment in Stamford. He asked why, but Adam did not respond. Nancy said that he wouldn’t tell her the reason, either.

Every step in Adam’s evaluation seemed to agitate him further. He could hear them talking about him, piercing the buffer of calm that his mother usually maintained around his person. Specifying things wrong with him. Almost interrogating him. By the end, his baggy shirt was drenched in sweat, and Nancy was more worried for him than ever. It suddenly seemed like all of the calming and seclusion they’d given him to soothe his anxieties over the past year had been undone — like he was right back in the emergency room, at Danbury Hospital. Finally, the visit ended, and Nancy ushered her stricken son back into their luxury sedan, and retreated to the sanctuary of 36 Yogananda.

* * *

Minutes after the session was over, Dr. King’s staff at Yale were exchanging emails: the boy they evaluated that day, they all agreed, would require “tons of special education support, with expert consultation.” He needed the kind of care you could only get in a therapeutic school setting — not at home, and certainly not at any public school.

Dr. King sat down to assemble a draft report on his patient. In his expert view, Adam Lanza “displayed a profound Autism Spectrum Disorder, with rigidity, isolation, and a lack of comprehension of ordinary social interaction and communications.”

Secondary to that disorder, Nancy’s son also exhibited “a variety of rigid, controlling, and avoidant behaviors, which have been loosely described as OCD, but seem to have several facets.” These behaviors were noted to include “his refusal to open doors for himself because he did not like to touch the doorknobs, and his worries about contamination of grease, dirt, and dust.”

King also documented more instances in which Adam’s need for rituals now extended over to Nancy:

He imposes many strictures, which are increasingly onerous for mother. He disapproves if mother leans on anything in the house because it is ‘improper.’ … He is also intolerant if mother brushes by his chair and objected to her new high heel boots, because they were ‘too loud.’ … If mother walks in front of him in the kitchen, he will insist she redo it.

As for Adam’s abrupt social withdrawal that began in the seventh grade, Dr. King admitted that it was “difficult to interpret,” but offered what he emphasized was only a “plausible explanation”:

…Social engagement (largely focused on activities) in the [earlier] school years makes relatively few demands for social sophistication… As Adam’s peers moved into early adolescence and middle school, the demands of social engagement changed dramatically, leaving Adam feeling more inadequate or ostracized, setting off a cycle of withdrawal and avoidance.

The doctor assessed that Adam “fell somewhere in the Pervasive Developmental Disorder or Autism Spectrum,” and recommended further psychological evaluations, as well as sessions to identify his “cognitive, social, and linguistic strengths and weakness.” As for treatment, Dr. King was clear that any sufficiently effective measures would be “difficult to implement outside of a broader therapeutic day school setting.”

Nearing the conclusion of his report, Dr. King offered a glimpse into one possible future for the Lanza family, if the trends he identified continued unabated:

Beyond the impact of OCD symptoms on himself and his mother, we are very concerned about Adam’s increasingly constricted social and educational world. Much of emphasis has been on finding curricular level of instruction. Inability to tolerate even minimal interaction with even older more mature classmates will have grave consequences for his future education and social and occupational adaptation unless means of remediation are found. Inability to interact with classmates will prove increasingly deleterious to education. We believe it is very important to reframe the discussion with school from issues of curricular content to much more urgent issues of how to accommodate Adam’s severe social disabilities in a way that would permit him to be around peers and to progress, rather than regress, socially, as well as academically.

Understandably, Adam’s parents have gone to great lengths to compensate for Adam’s hypersensitivities and social difficulties and aversions by providing home-bound instruction.

However we believe that there is a significant risk to Adam in creating, even with the best of intentions, a prosthetic environment which spares him having to encounter other students or to work to overcome his social difficulties. Having the emphasis on adapting the world to Adam, rather than helping him to adapt to the world, is a recipe for him to be a homebound recluse, unable to attend college or work productively into his twenties and thirties and beyond with mother becoming increasingly isolated and burdened.

King went on to explain to Nancy (and Peter, who received a copy of the document) that in order to assemble an effective plan for Adam’s learning, it would be “essential” to subject their patient to further “psychological, speech, language, and occupational therapy assessments,” and for Newtown Schools to schedule a meeting of his IEP team soon, to update the plan accordingly. King also recommended that the new IEP should include input from “experts in Autism Spectrum/Pervasive Development Disorders.”

It was Adam’s use of social language, in particular, that the Yale report urged them focus on — “using communication that is appropriate to setting, listener, context, or purpose.” Dr. King believed that in the appropriate school setting — specially tailored for children who were intellectually bright, but with developmental challenges — therapeutic measures would have to be introduced right as Adam’s “disabling OCD symptoms” appeared. It wasn’t something that could be done through weekly, office-based therapy. Adam needed more — much, much, more.

And finally, the program Dr. King had in mind would include medication.

He explained how serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) worked (such as Zoloft, Luvox, Celexa, Lexapro, or Paxil) and how they could likely be “helpful in reducing Adam’s overall anxiety which inhibits him in risking new experiences.”

In closing, Dr. King advised that the Lanza family would need “tons of parental guidance — without that, any office based approach to [Adam’s challenges] will fail, certainly if it is without medication.”

Years later, Dr. King would still remember that day he met Adam Lanza. “My concern,” he would tell police, “was that the [patient’s] social isolation and withdrawal was increasing.”

October 25, 2006

36 Yogananda — Sandy Hook, Connecticut

Nancy read the initial report from Yale the next morning — and sent a reply e-mail directly to Dr. King, clearly exasperated that his recommendations had exceeded the limits she had laid out in advance:

Thank you for taking the time to meet with Adam yesterday… I wanted to let you know that the options you presented are not going to work at this time. I would like to save you any further investment of your time.

As I mentioned during the telephone conversation previous to our meeting, Adam’s OCD component is strongly tied to Asperger Syndrome and he is adamantly opposed to medication. The OCD component is now based on superstition or in an effort to influence outside events or luck. I thought I had been clear that I was looking for individual intervention, perhaps some sort of behavior modification, for the Asperger Syndrome foremost, sensory integration disorder, and the two OCD like components that are impacting his ability to attend school.

His refusal to take medication would make it impossible for him to be part of the study group and will just further agitate him. He was quite angry about the line of questioning that the interview took. As you might expect from an Asperger child, he had no understanding of the metaphors, and was quite disturbed by the fairy godmother scenario you gave him. You mentioned that the wait list for treatment for Asperger is quite lengthy, and that the study group was the alternative. However, participation in a study group, with the implied possibility of medication, will not be helpful in this case. So while I very much appreciate your effort, this is not the right course of treatment for him.

Dr. King wrote back as quickly as he could, trying to salvage his opportunity to intervene; yes, the group placement that he had recommended for Adam (which was part of a clinical research study) would have required that he take medication. However, if the Lanzas refused, there was another option that he thought could still be of some benefit. It was a totally different approach: there was an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) at Yale named Kathleen Koenig, and she was the coordinator of a group for children with Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). She seemed a perfect fit, and would be happy to work with Adam and Nancy directly, King assured. And she had a wealth of knowledge on “treatment/education resources in the community.”

Nancy agreed to take Adam to see the nurse practitioner. She also clarified in her reply that it was mostly just Dr. King’s recommendations of treatment for Adam that she disagreed with; the Yale report on her son was “insightful,” and there were other recommendations King had made that she felt were “worth pursuing.”

To others, Nancy was less charitable in her assessment. Just two days after the evaluation with King, she would write to an unidentified friend that she “felt horrible” in the session. She said that Adam was “frustrated, and angry and anxious” during the interview, to the point where “his palms were sweating so much that his shirt got wet and he looked like he could have cried at any moment.” To her, it was as if Adam was being “tortured” during the Yale session (an expression reminiscent of how she characterized the Danbury Hospital visit’s effect on her son: “abusive.”) Quite the opposite of what she had told Dr. King the day before, she said the Yale report didn’t have “even a glimmer of hope attached to it,” and that the visit may even have made Adam worse than when he came in — he was so angry about “the whole thing,” that “short of strapping him down,” she couldn’t see Adam going to another doctor anytime soon.

Still, she kept the scheduled meeting with APRN Koenig. It was what Peter wanted. And in the meantime, there was more work to be done for Adam’s IEP.

December 1, 2006

Newtown School District — Office of Dr. Ridley

Dr. Michael Ridley was a psychiatrist on staff with the Newtown School District. He had reviewed his subject’s file (which went all the way back to the first grade), and so he was familiar with Adam’s different IEPs from his years at Sandy Hook Elementary. From there, the IEPs stopped, but transfer records showed the Lanza boy finished fifth and sixth grade at Reed Intermediate School, where there had been no documented sign of any trouble — but then again, there were barely any records at all from the brand new school. And then, right when he resurfaced in the seventh grade, everything seemed to go wrong, with Adam moving schools, and then dropping out, and then going homebound.

But Dr. Ridley wasn’t going to counsel the boy, just now emerging from his cave; his role was only to measure just what 14-year-old Adam’s learning capabilities were, so that his school curriculum could be updated accordingly.

Adam came to see Dr. Ridley three times that month, to complete a series of standardized tests. These included the Woodcock–Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities (which involves studying images for patterns and changes, audio memory tests, and logic puzzles) as well as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC, which has similar tests, and also measures intellectual abilities such as vocabulary and general knowledge).

After Adam completed the evaluation process, Dr. Ridley’s conclusion was that his patient’s “overall cognitive functioning falls in the average range.” He then went on to list Adam’s specific scores in each category:

Verbal Reasoning: Average

Nonverbal Reasoning: Average

Processing Speed: Average

Working Memory: Superior

These sorts of tests showcased Adam’s competencies, such as they were. But it was on the “Comprehension Sub-test” where his deficiencies stood out: described in official records as “a task that requires social sensitivity and common sense reasoning,” on this test Adam provided his responses to each item shown to him, but often, the response he chose was not “socially sensitive.” He also fell short of average in his “nonverbal speed and accuracy and immediate visual recall on a scanning task involving symbols.”

Having measured Adam’s abilities, Dr. Ridley then evaluated his existing achievement levels — what, of the public-school curriculum, he already knew — for grade placement:

Reading: Average

Math Reasoning & Calculation: High Average

Written Language Skills: Superior

Adam understood the rules of language, like grammar and spelling, very very well. But again, in specific sub-tests, his seemingly strong foundation began to show deep cracks: his “[reading] passage comprehension and writing sample fell in the low average range,” and a “test of long-term retrieval fell in the well below average range.”

Dr. Ridley’s conclusion was that, based on Adam’s testing performance, there was “no evidence of any specific learning disability,” and that instead, Adam’s issues were “related to his identified emotional and/or Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) spectrum behaviors.” Based on this, his recommendation was that he would benefit the most from “continuing to be eased into more regular classroom time,” though he would continue to “need tutoring to assist him with keeping current with his academic needs relative to high school graduation requirements.”

In short, he should be at Newtown High School, and they should try to transition him back into normal classrooms — gradually, and with any necessary supports to address his emotional needs and developmental delays: the “least restrictive environment” they could manage.

* * *

Newtown sent a copy of Dr. Ridley’s assessment to the staff at the Child Study Center. Yale found the data useful, and it supported one of their hypotheses: they were already skeptical of Nancy’s belief that her son was “gifted,” or “unique” in terms of his abilities. They believed it was her son’s “singular appetites for certain types of learning” that really created the perception that he was exceptionally smart, when in fact this behavior was just “arising from his obsessive-compulsive tendencies.” (In other words, he was fussy because he had severe OCD, not because he was some perfectionist kid-genius.) They also believed that “his parents, and certainly his mother, may have had greater than average difficulty with accepting the extent of their son’s disabilities.” Nancy exaggerated (or even imagined) his strengths, and minimized his weaknesses. What she could not, or would not see, was that her son “had average aptitude, and great deficits in certain areas.”

Newtown High School

Halfway through Adam’s freshman year, his IEP team convened — “ostensibly to review the district’s psychological evaluation” — but the records from this meeting do not show that Dr. Ridley’s test results were even discussed. Still, the plan did get an update: Adam was again determined to be eligible for special education, and the team updated his heretofore “to be determined” primary disability — not to Autism, as Dr. Fox had recommended, and not to Emotional Disturbance, as the Child Advocate would later determine was appropriate — but instead, to something the state recognized as “Other Health Impairment.”

This classification was designed for “students with limited strength, vitality or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment,” if the impairment was due to “chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, and sickle cell anemia.”

Adam had never been diagnosed with any of these conditions; the doctors from the Child Advocate’s Office would determine that, based on the information the IEP team had at the time, this classification was “not appropriate.”

From this flawed starting point, Nancy’s Planning and Placement Team created an education plan that was “almost entirely without reference to [Adam’s] social-emotional difficulties, except to say that his anxiety disorder, Asperger Syndrome, compulsive disorder, and rigidity impacted his learning in a regular education environment as well as his ability to take part in a general education curriculum.” The only plan to address what the Child Advocate would call his “crippling” social development issues was to “increase time with others in a school setting.”

Going forward into the rest of Adam’s freshman year, there was to be “no performance criteria or evaluative procedures [beyond] teacher observation.” And, though Adam was observed having difficulty in communicating with others, this time, there would be no speech or language related services in his IEP at all; next to the box where such supports would have been listed, the team wrote simply “Not Applicable.”

36 Yogananda — Sandy Hook, Connecticut

One day when Adam came home, he went to his room upstairs, and logged onto his computer. He starting clicking around, reading stuff online like he always did. He came across a news article: it was about a shooting that had occurred in Montreal, at Dawson College. The coward in the mohawk.

There had been so, so many school attacks in the United States that fall; but as a calm finally started to settle with the dawn of 2007, the shooting that still lingered in American headlines was the one that hit in Canada… and it was for the strangest of reasons.

Like the shooter at Red Lake, the Dawson College attacker had maintained several online profiles, each of which listed his favorite media: everything about him had screamed “school shooter profile,” from the movies (Zero Day and Bang Bang You’re Dead, both depicting school shootings) to the music (“German Metal” and Marilyn Manson), but it was the “Favorite Video Games” section of the Dawson College shooter’s online profile that the media latched onto. There, nestled between two Warcraft titles, was a game no one had ever heard of: “Super Columbine Massacre RPG!”

* * *

By 2006, video games had gone mainstream in most respects, but the concept of an “indie” video game was practically alien to most Americans. The title of the “Columbine game,” by itself, suggested ominous connections: Had this latest Columbine-obsessed shooter, in Canada, played too much of that video game? Did he use it to train for his own school shooting?

The sensational headlines implied answers: “Montreal gunman said in blog that he liked role-playing game about Columbine shootings,” and “Video Game Killer – ‘Columbine Massacre’ was gunman’s favorite before he went on Montreal college spree.” Another said simply, “Killer Loved Columbine Game.”

Reading these stories that covered the controversy, some web users, naturally, went searching for the Columbine game itself, curious to see for themselves the software that had allegedly wrought such carnage in another country.

Google would bring them straight to the game designer’s red-on-black homepage, emblazoned “Welcome to the world of Super Columbine Massacre RPG!” over a security-camera-still of the Columbine killers — the image pixelized, like the event had been piped through a Super Nintendo cartridge. Just a few rows down on the page, there was already a link titled “Dawson College Shooting Statement,” containing a message from a man who identified himself as Danny, and who had designed and produced the game all by himself:

To the Public:

I am, like most, saddened by the news of the recent shooting at Dawson College. I extend my condolences to those affected by this painful event. Please refer to the artist’s statement for the game’s intent. For further questions, please contact me [by email.]

In the press I’ve been getting lately, I have tried to articulate very clearly that Columbine was a “wake up call” not just for our society but for ME in particular as I was once headed down a similar road. I found other outlets such as filmmaking and theater… unfortunately, those like the Columbine shooters, and apparently the Dawson College shooter, did not.

As a game, “SCMRPG” was really nothing much: a 16-bit top-down RPG in a style that the Final Fantasy series had popularized in roughly 1994 — except that the clip art, music, and text were all customized to depict the events of the Columbine shootings (or at least a stylized version of them). The notion that anyone could “train” for a school shooting by playing this simplistic home-brew game was absurd; the supposed “Columbine game” would have seemed archaic to the Columbine shooters themselves.

Another link on the page read “Discuss the game here.” And as one might expect, the SCMRPG forum hosted discussions similar to those that “Blarvink” had participated in on GameFAQs, with users helping each other through stages of the game. But the community here was expected to drift off-topic, and have conversations about whatever was on their mind — especially Columbine, and other school shootings. These discussions were not just encouraged; they were practically the whole point of the “Columbine game” itself, as Danny explained in the “Artist’s statement” that accompanied the download:

This game asks more of its audience than rudimentary button-pushing and map navigation; it implores introspection. This is why the game’s forum is equally important to the SCMRPG project. Through it, people from six continents and all walks of life are discussing the game itself and the incident it is based on. […] At the end of the day, the understanding of the Columbine school shooting is deepened and redefined. That is the real object of the game.

Indeed, upon entering the forum, the first thing a visitor would see was that the “Talk about the shooting” section was by far the most active, easily eclipsing the “Help with the game” section. The forum was like a universe that was locked in the immediate aftermath of the Columbine shootings, when the conversations heard in the halls of Newtown High School were captured by the Newtown Bee. Most of the topics of discussion on the SCMRPG forum weren’t much different:

* your schools before versus after Columbine (29 posts; 1,425 views)

* Why is school such bullshit? (12 posts; 1,292 views)

* The Shooting Was NOT Caused By Bullying (18 posts; 2,454 views)

Over time, for regular visitors to the forum, the “Columbine game” itself became an afterthought. Their discussions proceeded of their own momentum.

* * *

One day in late 2006, Adam was one of the curious searchers who found the Columbine game and its accompanying discussion forum. (You didn’t have to register an account to access the forum, just to post on it; it was a public page, for anyone to read.) And while he would later demonstrate a very detailed knowledge of the conversations that occurred in this early era of the site’s forum, he didn’t register an account of his own; he thought about it, but he could not muster the nerve. And it wasn’t just his normal aversion to communication: his fears were reflected, and seemingly confirmed, in one of the forum’s most-read posts at the time, bumped to the very top of the page:

Author: DISGUSTED

Subject: FBI TRACKING LIST

Message: Anyone who plays this game is obviously not a stranger to death and torture and being sick. Its obvious to me that this is yet another Site that your IP ADDRESS is copied in and kept in file.

Its pretty well known that the FBI screens all books in Public Libraries and black flags special books.

There is no doubt in my mind that many people will end up in deep trouble resulting from this disgusting download.

* * *

Sometime during Adam’s ninth grade year, Nancy started telling people a really wild story: that the FBI had recently paid a surprise visit to 36 Yogananda. The way she explained it to one of the other moms in the neighborhood, there was a team of agents that came knocking on the door because Adam had “hacked through two levels of security on one of their computer networks.” Fortunately, she kept her cool, and was able to convince them that her son was simply a “computer whiz” and “just a kid that was challenging himself.”

She told the same story to an on-again, off-again boyfriend at the time; he remembers her saying that “Adam hacked into a Government website and agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation came to her residence.”

But the neighborhood friend never actually saw, herself, any FBI vehicles heading up the driveway to the pale yellow house. And, as the woman’s daughter knew, that was the same home that was broadcasting unsecured Wi-Fi to the whole block — hardly the signal you would expect to be coming from the lair of a phenom computer hacker. The boy who lived there was more likely to be terrified of even accidentally breaking the law.

Still, it wasn’t impossible. It was just one of those special stories that Nancy told people about her son, the one who wouldn’t speak for himself, and was always in a panic over something. Maybe she did embellish things, now and then. But people would have to take her word for it.