Communities continue trying to cope with deaths months after school shootings

By Amanda Leonard || Staff Writer

In the wake of three suicides by friends and family of school shooting victims, their leaders are facing tough questions about the adequacy of the mental health services they provide and are working on ways to deal with the trauma inflicted on their

Sydney Aiello, a student at Florida Atlantic University and 2018 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, died on Sunday, March 17th by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. She suffered from survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder preceding her death. Aiello loved cheerleading and yoga and was close friends with Meadow Pollack, a victim of the February 14th, 2018 shooting.

The following Saturday night, 16-year-old Stoneman Douglas sophomore Calvin Desir died of an apparent suicide. Calvin’s sister Brittnay Wright wrote he wanted to become an engineer and enjoyed riding bikes, shopping, cooking, and spending time with his family.

In an op-ed for Vox following the tragedies, Kyra Parrow, a 2018 graduate of Stoneman Douglas, argued that the mental health resources provided by Broward County Schools were “woefully inadequate.” Mental health clinicians were only available on a day-to-day basis, meaning students seeking multiple counselling sessions met with a different person each time and were unable to the trusting relationship necessary for being able to speak about trauma comfortably, Parrow said.

Subsequently, Parkland community leaders, educational administrators, law enforcement officers and parents met to discuss how the trauma of the shooting has affected their community, and how they can better identify students who need additional support.

Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was killed in the 2018 shooting, said that parents “can be part of the solution.” A main topic of the meeting was determining a list of questions that parents should be asking their children as a means of checking in. “We really need to drive awareness. We need to make sure that everyone, especially parents, understand their child or loved one may be at risk,” Petty said.

President of Children’s Services Council of Broward County Cindy Arenberg Seltzer spoke about the significance of peer-to-peer communication in suicide prevention, as many students may feel more comfortable turning to their peers before their parents.

While the student survivors of school shootings face unimaginable traumatization and guilt, close relatives and friends of victims do not have the same resources to work through their grief, even if they are insufficient, at their immediate disposal.

Jerry Richman, father of Avielle Richman whose life was cut short at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, took his own life in his office at Edmond Town Hall in Newtown, Conn. Richman was a neuroscientist who championed research into the connection between violence and brain health through the founding of the Avielle Foundation.

“He succumbed to the grief that he could not escape. Now we also honor Jeremy through the continued work of our foundation.”

While mass shootings have brutally take the lives of thousands, whether directly or indirectly, the grief, anger and frustration of the survivors is ultimately turns into a burning desire to form a less painful and more peaceful world.

First-Year Amanda Leonard is a staff writer, her email is aleonard@fandm.edu

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