Can We Promote Safety After Mass Shootings?

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James Halpern

Emeritus Professor

Founding Director,

Institute for Disaster Mental Health

SUNY New Paltz

IN THE DECADE SINCE SANDY HOOK, there have been 948 school shootings with nearly 300,000 traumatized students on school grounds during these events ( Families impacted by these and other high-profile tragedies need support, stability and compassion from everyone surrounding them, and their surviving children need parents who can provide attention and care to facilitate recovery. Unfortunately, not only have we not protected America’s children, we have not protected survivors after these tragedies. I and other Red Cross counselors doing all we could to assist Sandy Hook families were sickened to learn that members of the Westboro Baptist Church announced that its congregants would picket and protest at the funerals of the murdered children. They maintained that the killings were God’s revenge for Connecticut allowing gay marriage. The research makes clear that this kind of corrosive revictimization is very damaging and obstructs recovery, yet our current laws do little to protect survivors from this second level of victimization.

The night of the Sandy Hook School shooting, teams of three professionals – clergy, mental health and law enforcement – made official death notifications to each family. These professionals do not typically work together, but mass killings call for new partnerships. For example, a state trooper was assigned to each family – not typical practice, but an effective action to promote safety. It is needed, as inevitably after school shootings there are rumors, threats and bomb scares, making it difficult for parents to reassure surviving children that they will be safe. This partnership of mental health and law enforcement after tragedy needs to continue long after death notifications. We need to anticipate there will be malevolent people determined to harass and threaten survivors of school shootings and we need to find ways to both warn and better protect them. To continue reading click here.