Sandy Hook Elementary shooting: A month later

Sandy HookThe tragic acts of violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School have shaken the entire nation.  It pushed all of us to come together to share our repulsion and grief. It led us to talk about how to move forward in light of this tragic event, how to prevent violence before it happens, and how to create peaceful communities with thriving youth.

Inclinations to intensify security in schools are being reconsidered.  Parents and teachers, however, have warned us that we should not turn our schools into fortresses.  Other emphases have focused on asking whether the shooter could have been identified ahead of time, the presence of mental illness and identifying the characteristics of mass shooters that can shed a light on his motivation for the heinous act.  These concerns highlight the need for more mental health support resources and threat assessment teams in every school.  The goal is for people to seek assistance when they recognize that someone is troubled and requires help. Effective prevention cannot wait until there is a gunman in the school parking lot.

This time the tragedy took place in a school. But plenty of shootings occur in communities throughout the United States every day.  Few of them occur in schools and though they are especially tragic, children are safer in schools than in almost any other place, including for many, their own homes.  Data from the National Survey of Children Exposed to Violence shows that children’s exposure to violence is pervasive in the United States and that it has an accumulated effect. If a child is exposed to one type of violence he/she is more likely to be experience other types of victimization. The economic costs of violence are high, but the social costs, even though less quantifiable, are even higher.  Evidence suggests that children and youth exposed to violence in their home and communities are at greater risk of developing physical, mental and socially negative outcomes.

Violence is preventable and there is a strong and growing evidence base to support that fact.  However, because prevention occurs well before the violence would occur — and if it is successful, violence doesn’t occur at all— activities may not be recognized as violence prevention at all.

The nation’s approach to violence has largely been to wait to act until a violent event occurs that causes considerable harm.  All too often, opportunities are missed to use evidence-based approaches to prevent the occurrence, establish building blocks for healthy development in all young people and limit the family, environment and community violence that increase risks.

Check back with us tomorrow as we address some of the questions many have had in the wake of this tragic shooting.

A Tragic First Day of School: Tools to help students

Monday, the first day back to class for Perry Hall High School students, a 15-year-old student bought a gun to school and allegedly shot another student, who remains in critical condition.

As we’ve discussed before, community and school violence can do more than injure a child physically. The damage exposure to violence can do to children mentally and emotionally can have long-term effects and hinder their development.

A guidance counselor wrestled alleged gunman Robert Wayne Gladden Jr. to the floor, protecting surrounding students.  In the days and weeks to follow, students may need help coping with and understanding what happened. Our new toolkit, which includes an easy to understand infographic full of suggestions of how to help, is for teachers who may find themselves in the same situation as Perry Hall teachers.

Our thoughts and hopes of healing are with the injured student, his family and the young shooter who the media reports had been bullied previously.

Here are some other Safe Start’s resources in an effort to assist adults and children who may have witnessed this event.

Healing the Invisible Wounds: Children’s Exposure to Violence – A Guide for Families

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A symptom of a wider problem

Why us?

Why here?

Why did he do it?

These are the questions people always have in the face of tragedy and loss. When things like the Chardon High School shooting happen, often the public and community’s focus is on looking at the lives of the victims and understanding the shooter’s motivation, usually with the feeling of anger.  But it’s really important to make sure we remember to look at the whole picture.

News headlines are showing a variety of reasons and speculation for why T.J. Lane – for all appearances, a normal, great kid with a bright future – did something this.

Was it just random?

One report said

“Lane told police that he did not know the students, that he picked them randomly,
according to the report. But some of the students who were shot had known
Lane since at least middle school. Some rode the bus with him each day.”

Was he just an overlooked danger?

Because another one points out that

“Lane wasn’t a student at Chardon, but he went there to catch a bus that would
drop him off at an alternative school for at-risk teens.”

Or is he repeating a cycle of violence from things he witnessed as a child?

Because, yet another report mentions that

“Both parents were charged with domestic violence against
each other and his father was very violent.”

Or finally, did he just do it because of a broken heart?

Because yet, another report says that

“A group of friends close to Lane’s former girlfriend told ABC News that the girl had dated Lane, and that after they broke up, she began seeing one of the victims, Russell King Jr. Lane felt forgotten after the couple broke up, one of the students said.”

The reality is that we may never know why he brought the gun that day and shot those other teens. There is no excuse that will ever justify T.J. Lane’s actions that day, but there is an explanation. It’s vital we try to understand the root cause, and this is outlined in The National Survey on Children’s Exposure to Violence.

“ [It] confirms that most of our society’s children are exposed to violence in their daily lives. More than 60 percent of the children surveyed were exposed to violence within the past year, either directly or indirectly (i.e., as a witness to a violent act; by learning of a violent act against a family member, neighbor, or close friend; or from a threat against their home or school).”

There are two sides to every story, and many reasons that tragedies happen, but a variety of violence exposures are often at the root of these occurrences, and they are the symptoms of a wider problem. Knowing how often our children are exposed to violence is imperative, and we have to understand the whole picture of violence.

This can be done through:

  1. Continued training of practitioners and public health officials
  2. Public awareness about the problem of violence exposure
  3. Recognition of the signs of trauma
  4. Continued field research on the issue

Exposure to violence is an epidemic and a problem that affects everyone that it touches; things like the Chardon School shooting are often a symptom of this wider problem. So, what’s really important beyond just helping schools and communities to heal is to understand this whole picture of violence and continue finding ways to prevent and protect our children.

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