Survivors recently marked the ten year anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting. On April 16, 2007, a VT senior terrorized the campus, killing 32 people and wounding 17 others before taking his own life. Several more students were injured jumping out of windows to safety.
But many, many more victims were left in the killer’s wake. Students and teachers who witnessed the shootings, first responders, hospital staff, administrators and countless others suffered secondary trauma and were left at risk of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Because they were not physically harmed, many secondary trauma survivors may be reluctant to seek help.
“My mind felt like a confused, scrambled mess. I constantly compared myself to the physically injured survivors,” wrote Lisa Hamp in Campus Safety Magazine. “They had to cope with physical injury while I walked out of the building unharmed. Because of this, I thought I was undeserving of being recognized as a ‘survivor,’ that I lucked out, and that I needed to be quiet and make myself small.”
Hamp suffered with feelings of anxiety, vulnerability, fear, loneliness for years after the shooting, despite giving the appearance of moving on with her life. Counseling helped her recognize and resolve the mismatch between her outward appearance and inward turmoil.
“Today, I understand that survivors include both physically injured and non-physically injured individuals. You don’t have to be shot to be injured,” wrote Hamp. “Recovery is both physical and mental. The psychological effect of surviving an active shooter situation is intangible and boundless, and the level of trauma that each individual experiences will vary.”
Hamp advocates for recovery plans to include a mental health component, and should include outreach to all survivors and first responders.
The U.S. Department of Education has also produced a helpful list of lessons learned from school crises and emergencies that includes a detailed section on short and long term effects of trauma.