School shootings are almost unfathomable horrors for all of us, but particularly for those who lost their friends, or soul mates, or children. For the survivors, recovery can be long and painful journeys, rife with reminders that can trigger fear, depression or post-traumatic stress. One school shooting survivor, now in her early twenties, informed me that she felt doubly victimized by staff who grew weary of her ongoing distress only months after a major incident, and told her to “get over it,” – not, I would suggest, that administrator’s best moment, but perhaps he was wrestling with his own demons. We all stumble forward the best we can, with some of us burying the pain, while others howl in grief and rage. Whatever path we find ourselves on, recovery takes far longer than anybody would prefer and leaves deep scars. For the general population, the suffering soon becomes a distant memory – just another school shooting. But for the survivors, the pain at best submerges, surfacing again with each new atrocity, a reopened wound. The pain never really goes away.
Many seek consolation and healing through grief counseling, which is uniformly provided after any major incident at a school, or certainly should be, sometimes in group sessions with others who also have lost friends or children. More than a few have found solace through their religious beliefs or communities as well.
A good many respond in ways that are nothing short of inspirational. One humbling example would be provided by the Amish parents who did their best to forgive the shooter who murdered their children in the West Nickel Mines shootings in 2006. Another great example would be Richard Martinez, a man who extended himself to meet and commiserate with the parents of Elliot Rodger, a mentally ill man who killed six people at the University of California, Santa Barbara in May, 2014. Rodger’s last victim, before taking his own life, was Martinez’s 20-year-old son.
Still other parents and survivors take on school safety as a personal mission, doing their best to share not only their pain, and their paths to recovery, but resources they’ve found or cobbled together in order to help other schools avoid the horrors that they’ve been through. John Michael Keyes, after losing a daughter in the 2006 Platte Canyon High School massacre, went on to build the “I luv you guys” foundation (http://iloveuguys.org/ ).
Kristina Anderson and Heidi Miller were both wounded, but survived the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings and went on to form the Koshka Foundation (http://koshkafoundation.org ).
Michele Gay and Alissa Parker lost daughters at Sandy Hook in 2012.
Together with other parents, educators and community members, they went on to create Safe and Sound: A Sandy Hook Initiative (www.safeandsoundschools.org).
All have devoted themselves to making kids safer, and each has made thoughtful contributions to our shared goal of safer schools. All of them deserve our thanks and profound respect for all that they do.