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Was the Newtown shooter prenatally exposed?

How can we prevent this from ever happening again? That’s the question plaguing the minds and breaking the hearts of Americans who were at a loss for answers following the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The December shooting that took the lives of 20 first-graders, six adults all at the hands of a barely of legal age shooter. The incident sparked a heated debate about mental health concerns, gun control, mandatory rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The conversation has further polarized an already deeply divided nation.

When shooter Adam Lanza forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He also forced Americans to have a conversation about what we can or are willing to do to protect our children from ever having to experience such atrocities again.

Jody Allen Crowe and Peter Johnson of Healthy Brains for Children, an organization focused on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) education, believe they might have a solution — or at least a new approach to the conversation.

It’s not very political and it has very little to do with Second Amendment rights.

Crowe’s book “The Fatal Link” suggests that more than 80 percent of school shooters in the last three decades may have been prenatally exposed to alcohol — something that has never really been emphasized in the media.

“You really have to dig hard for that information,” Crowe said. “It’s just not something people in the media are going out and looking for.”

There is no scientific evidence connecting school shootings FASD, and that might be because a study has not yet been conducted. But Crowe said that doesn’t mean the conversation isn’t worth having.

“This is everyone’s problem,” Crowe said.

Crowe does make some intriguing observations, having spent time with the families of many of the school shooters in the communities affected by their rampages.

“Very few people have seen the amount that I have seen,” he said of his field research for “The Fatal Link.”

Crowe said his purely empirical research shows a pattern of warning signs that start in early childhood and repeated evidence of physical, behavioral and developmental issues in the case of each shooter he studied.

Crowe discussed his feelings on the Newtown incident which have drawn much speculation from the experts and media, but Crowe said while their guesses are well-intentioned they are misdirected.

“They aren’t going back far enough,” he said. “You have to go back to the day he was born.”

Crowe said his years of teaching students in northern Minnesota who were deeply affected by alcohol use has given him unique insight on what indications might point to prenatal alcohol exposure.

“I sometimes feel like I’m cursed by what I know,” he said.

Crowe said the Newtown rampage shows classic fetal alcohol syndrome behavior. Crowe believes the reason Adam Lanza chose to wage his assault on Newtown was because he connected with the students emotionally. “He was like an 8-year-old,” he said. “People tend to connect with people of their emotional age.”

Crowe cited classic behavioral issues seen in individuals FASD — factors such as poor decision making, a lack of moral center and a void of understanding consequences.

“This is the type of kids that would have been a violent perpetrator even earlier,” Crowe said.

Johnson added that one of the classic effects of prenatal alcohol exposure is a child’s incapacity for moral judgement. “If a kid is prenatally exposed to alcohol he’s not going to go kill somebody,” Johnson said. “But on the other hand of those that do kill, it is highly likely that they were exposed to alcohol.”

Crowe said children who suffer from FASD — especially those who are never diagnosed — have a difficult time living as they are expected to by adults resulting in poor behavior, social disconnect, and in some cases, violent outbursts.

“I think he went (to Sandy Hook) because it made him feel dominant,” Crowe said. “He felt in control.”

Dr. Christina Chambers of the University of San Diego’s Family Preventative Medicine program has spent a decade researching the prevention of alcohol-related birth defects.

“They’re not all violent and they don’t all have mental health issues,” Chambers said, noting that the most common issues tend to lean more towards impaired judgement.

Chambers said while the connection between FASD and school shootings has not been studied, the suggestion does provide some hope for the research surrounding FASD and other alcohol-related birth defects.

“We’ve done so poorly with promoting prevention,” Chambers said. “To Jody’s (Crowe) credit anything you can do to gain attention is worth doing.”

SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at 218-855-5879 or