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The Adam Lanza of Air Travel

Who knows what lurks beneath a smile, an answer to an inquiry about one’s day, or the voice of a pilot who might announce, “We’re at cruising altitude. You can unbuckle your seatbelt and move around the cabin”?

When my husband died and someone, even the mortician, asked how I was doing, I said, “Fine, thank you.” Even though I was far from okay.

An attendant, or the commanding pilot, may have asked 28-year-old Andreas Lubitz who’s blamed for the crash this politeness on the morning he knew he was going to kill 150 people and shatter the lives of their families.

Lubitz may have answered, “Fine.” Certainly he wouldn’t have said, “I’m suicidal, depressed, feeling murderous.”

Andreas Lubitz is now the Adam Lanza of air travel.

Adam Lanza may have said he was fine during the days leading up to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre (December 14, 2012) where he delivered the deadliest mass shooting in US history, killing 20 children and six adults and then committing suicide. He shot his mother at home before going to the school.

Investigators will inspect every detail of Lubitz’s life, just as they did Lanza’s. There will be a search of his house. Most likely they’re there as I write, seizing his computer, examining its hard drive. Lanza destroyed his. Perhaps Lubitz did as well.

Will signs emerge? Certainly they did with Lanza—his fascination with mass shooting, psychological problems, diagnoses of sensory-integration disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Asperger syndrome. His father said he possibly had undiagnosed schizophrenia and psychopathy.

What will we learn about Lubitz? Did he indicate to friends or family that he was troubled? Did he allude to a plan, a scheme perceived as a joke? Mention suicide? Did he have a lover to whom he whispered secrets, his fears, his despair, hatred of someone, self-loathing?

Something usually is discovered, behind a facial expression, just underneath words. Too late, though—too late to prevent a tragedy.

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com