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In the last section, we discussed four stages of early community recovery from a school shooting tragedy. These four stages are closing ranks, cracks in the foundation, healing at different speeds, and the impact of shooters' families.
In this section, we will discuss three conflicts that impact early community recovery following a school shooting. These three conflicts are, getting stuck vs moving on, who owns the problem, and who are the "real" victims.
Their neighbors, on the other hand may not be able to comprehend why those most severely wounded keep bringing up events they no longer wish to talk about. One Westside counselor described the problem faced by the highly traumatized by stating, "The social norm is that you do not talk about the shooting. Or if you do, you get an attitude from people like, ‘What’s the matter with you? Why are you still talking about it?’" A mother of one victim described feeling as though her need for continued support was like a contagious disease, which caused the neighbors to avoid her.
A common question I hear is what is the basis for this hostility from those on the fringes of the event? Certainly, denial and survivor guilt are two strong factors. However, perhaps a stronger one may be concern over the vulnerability the shooting represents. Would you agree?
♦ Conflict # 2 - Who Owns the Problem?
This feeling was not helped by the fact that a number of Jonesboro district schools received a Federal Safe Schools/Healthy Students Grant, which provides security measures, educational reform, teacher training, and mental health services. Many of these schools used the funds to provide case managers to provide counseling or therapy for students. Although Westside also benefited from this grant, many Westside residents felt that Jonesboro was using their tragedy.
On the other side of this conflict, Jonesboro residents soon tired of the negative associations and stigma. In this, the conflict moved from a battle over who should benefit from the tragedy, to include a conflict over who was responsible for answering for the problems related to the shooting.
♦ Conflict # 3 - Who are the "Real" Victims
However, some individuals felt that this ignored the 89 students and 9 teachers who had also been on the side of the school where the shootings occurred. Clearly, these individuals were direct witnesses to a traumatic event, and likely to experience difficulties. Holly Gates, who witnessed the shootings firsthand but escaped physically unscathed, was later diagnosed with Raynaud’s syndrome, post traumatic stress syndrome, and panic disorder.
Holly lost a great deal of weight, began to do poorly in classes, and had to quit sports due to her immune system being suppressed. However, Holly’s mother had to fight hard to receive any financial support from the victims’ funds to help pay for Holly’s treatments. Essential uncertainty over cases like Holly’s created distinct barriers to community healing. The conflict further extended to questions over the correct process for community in and of itself. In this situation, how do you think the needs of direct and primarily traumatized victims could be balanced?
The confidentiality boundary issue arises concerning providing third parties with client information linking that client’s need for treatment to a particular trauma in order to receive financial support.
One question that came up was regarding the correct process for healing concerned when students should be expected to return to school. At Westside, a consensus emerged that it would be best for the students to return to normalcy as soon as possible. Would you agree? While this plan certainly worked for some, many teachers who responded immediately to the call to return the next day later realized they felt their own needs had not been taken into consideration.
One teacher complained, "After being shot at, after having our friends and students killed, not getting sleep, we had to go back to school the next morning and act like everything was okay." Ethically, how do you feel the school should respond to the needs of both teachers and students? Was returning right away the best decision for all concerned? How does this decision further demarcate the line between those who are perceived to be victims and those who are not?
In this section, we have discussed three conflicts that impact early community recovery following a school shooting. These three conflicts are getting stuck vs moving on, who owns the problem, and who are the "real" victims.
Vieselmeyer, J., Holguin, J., & Mezulis, A. (2017). The role of resilience and gratitude in posttraumatic stress and growth following a campus shooting. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9(1), 62–69.
Wozniak, J. D., Caudle, H. E., Harding, K., Vieselmeyer, J., & Mezulis, A. H. (2020). The effect of trauma proximity and ruminative response styles on posttraumatic stress and posttraumatic growth following a university shooting. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(3), 227–234.