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Crisis teams respond to school shootings

BY GEORGE PIPER | LITTLETON, CO | April 20, 1999

LITTLETON, CO (April 20, 1999) -- The shooting is over in Littleton, but

the process of reattaching fragile emotions is only beginning for people

like Dr. Bruce R. Heany.

A pastoral psychotherapist at Pastoral Counseling for Denver (PCD), a group

of therapists operating out of faith-based perspective, Heany expects his

organization to be actively involved in counseling efforts in the

Littleton community after Tuesday's deadly shooting at Columbine High

School.

Police said 15 people died and another 26 were injured -- some

critically -- when two armed students entered the suburban Denver school and

opened fire late Tuesday morning on classmates and teachers in the deadliest

armed violence ever in U.S. public schools. Police found two of the suspects

dead, arrested a third student and are calling the episode a suicide

mission.

The death toll is more than the combined totals of the last seven

documented school shootings covering two years.

Faith-based organizations will continue to take a major role during the

healing process. Heany already is notifying Littleton churches that PCD

will provide free counseling, and Church World Service (CWS) is also

offering assistance to faith organizations.

The Jefferson County Crisis Response Teams are setting up a crisis

headquarters at Light of the World Catholic Church in Littleton, a city of

35,000 on Denver's southwest side.

Several Denver-area churches conducted prayer services for victims and

survivors, said Gary Haddock, a CWS disaster resource consultant based in

Windsor, CO, and related to the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

He anticipates CWS involvement when the Littleton faith community begins

formulating a recovery response.

People will have a variety of responses initially after a disaster, says

Heany, describing a typical pattern. But eventually the stress will have

some degree of impact.

"A lot of people are in shock right now. They don't even know how they

feel," he says, adding that it may be a couple of days before the reality

sinks in.

A key in most emotional recoveries is having the survivor talk about their

experiences -- sometimes repeatedly -- until they are ready to take action

that makes them feel safe again, Heany says. That could take form in safety

awareness classes or support groups.

Anger toward God is often part of the therapeutic process, and that's fine,

says Heany. Eventually, people realize that God did not cause this absolute

horror to happen, he adds, and down the road there may be something good

that arises from tragedy.

Right now, though, it's difficult to find anything positive in senseless

killing of young lives. The question on everyone's mind is why? The answer,

says Lauranell Scarfo, a youth counselor in Portland, Ore., is never easy.

Scarfo counseled youth outside of Thurston High School in Springfield, OR,

last May when a 15-year-old boy allegedly opened fire at the school's

cafeteria, killing two students and injuring 20.

"It's something that unfortunately you hear about, but you don't expect to

happen in front of you to people you know," she says.

Shock and fear likely are prevalent in Littleton if it's anything like

Springfield, she said. But the tough part comes when trying to guide youths

through an emotional battlefield where Scarfo says they feel they have no

control over anything in their lives.

The best thing counselors can do now, says Scarfo, is listen and let

survivors express their emotions.

"They might have to tell the story over and over and over again," she says.

"They need somebody to witness their pain."

Television exposes today's students to violence and death -- either real or

fictionalized -- to the point it doesn't seem real, Scarfo says. She sees it

in her 8- to 12-year-old at-risk students. When she talked with them Tuesday

afternoon about the Littleton shooting, they expressed few worries.

People following the coverage may get the sense that no where is safe, says

Haddock, and that could spawn mini-recoveries well outside of Littleton.

"The feeling I get is that it's going to hit people not just in Colorado,

but across the nation," he says.

Updated April 22, 1999


Related Topics:

Faith leaders explore what's next

Is mass murder a form of protest?

Faith leaders provide Las Vegas support


More links on Public Violence

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