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Never the Same – Coping with the Grief of Mass Shootings

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Never the Same

Coping with the Grief of Mass Shootings

Witnessing unspeakable tragedy changes the lives of those young and old, and typically for the worse. Those left behind struggle to pick up the pieces.

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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An adorable girl in a grainy photo. The longer you stare, the more difficult it is to understand why—at only 6 years of age—she and 19 other children were fatally shot in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

That image brings us ever so slightly into the nightmare of that girl’s father. He chose to end his life six years after the shooting. Jeremy Richman apparently felt that death was the only way to deal with the loss of his daughter, Avielle.

Long after tragedies such as Sandy Hook and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shootings, survivors remain broken over the deaths of their loved ones. For some, the burden is just too much to bear.

Richman committed suicide in March, only days after two Stoneman Douglas students took their own lives. After the suicides, officials in Parkland, Florida, renewed their focus on suicide prevention and mental health resources still in place 13 months after a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 people at the high school.

Mental health experts say the recent string of suicides is tragic but unsurprising.

“One of the big risk factors for suicide is exposure to violence,” said Dr. Louis Kraus, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Even if they were not hit by bullets or did not see shots fired, “anyone who was at that school is at risk,” Dr. Kraus said, and should be screened.

“The scars simply don’t go away with a fresh coat of paint,” he said.

In Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 first-graders and six staff members died at Sandy Hook Elementary back in 2012, the body of 49-year-old Jeremy Richman was found outside his office.

Richman visited Florida only a week prior to ending his life to meet with the parents of Stoneman Douglas victims. Richman, a neuroscientist, and his wife oversaw The Avielle Foundation, a group they started and dedicated to preventing violence by better understanding brain health.

“Our hearts are shattered, and our heads are struggling to comprehend,” the foundation said in a statement. “Tragically, his death speaks to how insidious and formidable a challenge brain health can be and how critical it is for all of us to seek help for ourselves, our loved ones and anyone who we suspect may be in need.”

The Resiliency Center of Newtown was set up shortly after the shooting as a place for therapy and for people to gather to talk. Richman worked with the center in providing “brain health” first aid for children and others.

His friend Stephanie Cinque, the center’s executive director, said people are angry, sad and shocked by his death.

“There’s mixed feelings throughout town,” she said. “Grief is complicated. It’s very sad for the family, the children, the entire community.”

The emotional scars from mass shootings can last long after the tragic event. They can also crush a person’s faith in the direction of society.

Long Shadow

Sydney Aiello was one of the two Stoneman Douglas students who committed suicide. Her mother Cara Aiello told reporters that her 18-year-old daughter had suffered from survivor’s guilt after her friend died in the attack.

Before taking her life, Sydney had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and struggled to attend college because she feared being in a classroom, but never asked for help, her mother said. Just days after Sydney’s death, another apparent suicide of a Stoneman Douglas student was confirmed by Coral Spring police officials.

Community leaders, government officials, parents, police and others held an emergency meeting after the second student death to get out in front of what they hope is not a disturbing trend.

In the meantime, the three suicides associated with high profile school shootings only add to a rising nationwide concern: More than 47,000 U.S. suicides occurred in 2017, at the highest rate in at least half a century—14 per 100,000. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among U.S. teenagers.

Tragedy leaves more tragedy in its wake.

A 16-year-old Stoneman Douglas sophomore who was in a classroom where three students died on February 14, 2018, admitted trying to kill herself four times before she entered therapy.

The girl said she fears not every Stoneman Douglas student who needs counseling is getting it and noted that some teachers seem uncomfortable talking about suicide and simply want to move on.

Yet every mass shooting casts a long shadow. The Las Vegas attack in October 2017, which left 59 dead and more than 850 wounded, brought back horrific memories for other mass shooting victims and families trying to move forward. One victim, who was shot six times during the nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, says he is forced to relive his own tragedy with each new incident.

“Ambulances, police, even glass, as well, is a trigger. Little specific things, sometimes you forget about, and when you see it, you remember,” he said. The Orlando shooting left 49 people dead and dozens more injured.

The experience is similar for Austin Eubanks, just 17 when shot in the hand and knee when two classmates went on a rampage at Columbine High School. His best friend was one of 13 killed in the 1999 attack in Colorado. Mr. Eubanks’ physical injuries healed quickly, but he turned to opioid painkillers to dull the psychological pain and spent 11 years fighting addiction.

Ultimately, Mr. Eubanks said he learned that “you have to find the courage to lean into the pain. In order to heal it you have to feel it. You have to know you will come out the other side.”

Mr. Eubanks says the emotional fallout spreads far beyond the victims to families, the rescuers and the medical professionals.

“The ripple effects of these are tremendous,” he said.

Anxious parents spoke of fears and frustration in trying to get their children help after Parkland.

Lissette Rozenblat recalled how her 16-year-old daughter was in the freshman building the gunman attacked the Florida school.

“My daughter doesn’t want to go to therapy anymore either. I have to make the appointments…and she’s like, ‘oh can we reschedule,’” Mrs. Rozenblat said. “They don’t want to talk about it, but we know better. Sooner or later it’s going to catch up to them.”

Other parents also said they feel helpless because of the difficulty of forcing kids to get help.

“My son doesn’t want to discuss it at all either,” said Joe Safonte, whose 17-year-old narrowly missed an encounter with the gunman.

His son stopped therapy after six months, saying it was not helping anymore, according to Mr. Safonte. But just last week, the father noted, his son was terrified when an alarm went off in their hotel room.

“Maybe it’s time to go back,” he said.

The Avielle Foundation posted a statement on their website following the death of their founder Jeremy Richman. The text appeared next to a black-and-white photo of him wearing a “Be Human” shirt and lecturing others about coping with the loss of a loved one. An excerpt from the announcement illustrates the despair and helplessness felt by those associated with mass shootings.

“Our hearts are shattered and our heads are struggling to comprehend. Jeremy was a champion father, husband, neuroscientist, and for the past seven years a crusader on a mission to help uncover the neurological underpinnings of violence through the Avielle Foundation he and his wife Jennifer Hensel founded after the death of their daughter Avielle at Sandy Hook Elementary School.”

After detailing more about all Richman helped accomplish with the foundation, the statement summarized how the group will move forward: “Jeremy’s mission will be carried on by the many who love him, including many who share the heartache and trauma that he has suffered since December 14, 2012. We are crushed to pieces, but this important work will continue, because, as Jeremy would say, we have to.”

What Is Really Happening

The core of what Jeremy Richman searched for and the natural question for anyone seeking to fix the problem of mass shootings is, why? Why are some motivated to mercilessly take young lives who have done no harm?

And, despite our continued best efforts, why can we not stop them?

Politicians, law enforcement, and religious counselors cannot seem to provide adequate explanations. At best, they address the effects and not the cause.

The ultimate question: Why would God allow this?

You do not have to be left wondering what is going on in this dark world that is only getting darker. Though a myriad of problems exist, there is one true cause.

The Real Truth Editor-in-Chief David Pack addressed this in A World in Captivity.

“How did the world come to be the way that it is? Why is it in such a state of confusion, suffering and ignorance? Why can’t governments get along—avoid war—find peace—reach agreement? Why such constant instability, scandal and division among leaders and seemingly endless revolutions and military coups? Why is there no shortage of demagogues, dictators and revolutionaries, who always promise to make things better, yet are only able to preside over a continual worsening of problems and conditions?

“Despite these conditions, most theologians, religionists and ministers blindly assume that this is God’s world—that it reflects His guidance, His Way.”

Read that last sentence again. It begins to explain why tragic incidents, such as mass shootings and other violent acts, are perplexing and devastating society. Why does God allow such violence and the trauma that ruins the lives of those involved?

What you are about to read may shock you. It typically does surprise those who read and understand it for the first time.

Even though God created the world and all that dwell upon it, this is not currently His world. The God of the universe—for His own great purpose—has relinquished control of this world to another being. Read for yourself: “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (II Cor. 4:3-4).

The God of the Bible calls Satan the “god of this world.” John 12:31, 14:30 and 16:11 label the devil as the “prince of this world.” The devil even offered Jesus Christ control of the world’s kingdoms (Matt. 4:8-9) because he owned them!

Put together, you can see that Satan has tremendous sway over modern events. This, along with the devil’s murderous character (John 8:44), explains the violence and depravity occurring.

Virtually all mankind is blinded to the fact that this supernatural being is the mastermind behind the world’s slaughter. Revelation 12:9 says Satan “deceives the whole world.” This not only emphasizes his power, it also explains why the vast majority do not even believe Satan exists—let alone rules the entire planet.

A World in Captivity details how Satan rebelled against God’s government prior to the Creation account in Genesis 1. Isaiah 14:12-14 reveals that he had ruled the Earth, and Ezekiel 28:15 shows that he was a created being—a great, perfect archangel. Yet he turned bitter against his Creator, and his mind became warped, twisted and evil.

The bad news is that same being remains ruler over Earth today.

The good news is he will be removed and replaced by Jesus Christ, who qualified to replace him during His earthly ministry, death and resurrection. Christ said: “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18), and “all things” were put under Him (I Cor. 15:27).

As with tragedies seen today, why would God allow Satan to rule? This is part of His great purpose for mankind. The Creator is allowing space for humanity to see that the devil’s and its own ways do not work—they just bring pain, misery and death.

The book of II Peter explains God’s thinking: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

God does not want anyone to perish eternally! Those who have died in tragic shootings or the aftermath are included—and all will have a chance to enjoy the culmination of God’s Plan.

Notice Revelation 21: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (vs. 14).

Understanding the origin of mankind’s problems will not completely remove the misery from mass shootings. However, it does begin to give those left behind answers.

For more on the big picture related to what ails the world, read all of A World in Captivity. It not only discusses more on the cause of the problems in this world, it also reveals the awesome, ultimate solutions for which all mankind longs.

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