How to Cope with Active Shooting Tragedies

Experts offer tips and resources on dealing with traumatic events. Plus, vigils and other ways to support the MSU community after the recent shooting.
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Photograph by Rux Centea via Unsplash.com

America has a gun violence problem. That problem hit metro Detroit 15 months ago at Oxford High School when a student opened fire, killing four of his classmates — Tate Myre, Madisyn Baldwin, Hana St. Juliana, and Justin Shilling — and injuring seven others.

It hit again on Monday, Feb 13, at Michigan State University when a 43-year-old man began shooting inside of Berkey Hall and MSU Union killing Brian Fraser of Grosse Pointe, Alexandria Vernor of Clawson, and Arielle Anderson of Harper Woods.

That tragedy happened just one day short of the fifth anniversary of the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people, and just over 10 years since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, which claimed the lives of 20 children.

Anti-gun violence organizations like Sandy Hook Promise, which was co-founded by Nicole Hockley, mother of Sandy Hook victim Dylan Hockley, and Mark Barden, the father of another Sandy Hook victim, Daniel Barden, have warned that this epidemic will continue until public officials take action.

“Undisputed research proves that gun violence prevention programs and policies can save lives,” Hockley wrote in a response to the shooting at MSU. “All schools should include training on recognizing warning signs. All legislators should pass sensible policies like background checks for all gun sales, magazine limits for firearms and extreme risk protection orders.”

Until change happens, to help you cope with the grief surrounding the recent violence at MSU, and for when you have to process the next active shooting incident, we offer these tips from national and local organizations.

Plus, details about upcoming vigils in honor of the Michigan State University victims, and other ways to support those affected by the tragedy.

The Warning Signs and What to Do If You See Them

Sandy Hook Promise notes that in four out of every five school shootings, at least one other person had knowledge of the attack, but did not report it because it is easy to miss the warning signs.

The organization lists those potential warning signs as: suddenly withdrawing from friends, family, or activities; bullying, especially toward differences in race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation; excessive irritability; chronic loneliness or social isolation; expressing persistent thoughts of harming themselves or someone else; making direct threats; bragging about access to guns; recruiting accomplices; express a threat as a plan; and cruelty to animals.

They offer a video on these warning signs here.

Through the program “Speak Up, See Something, Say Something,” the State of Michigan offers tips on what you should do when you witness these warning signs. Check out those tips at Michigan.gov.

The state also offers the OK2Say hotline, which takes confidential tips on threats of violence via phone call, text, email, or app.

How to Talk to Kids About Traumatic Events

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA) department of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a handy guide that breaks down how to have age-appropriate conversations with kids about traumatic events.

Generally speaking, SAMSA points to reassurance as key in helping kids through a traumatic time. Younger kids need cuddling, and kids of all ages need to be encouraged to express their emotions.

Other tips for kids that have gone through traumatic experiences are to maintain normal routines, reduce your expectations on them, and to have conversations about the event that answers their questions (as best as you can) without dwelling on frightening details.

The Cleveland Clinic offers tips on how to have those conversations here.

More ways to help your child through the traumatic event, according to the Child Mind Institute, includes encouraging your child to do the activities they enjoy, prevent or limit their exposure to news coverage, acknowledge their feelings, and to listen well when they need to talk. Read their full list of times at childmind.org.

Coping as an Adult

The American Pshycological Association (APA) acknowledges that news reports about shootings can cause stress and anxiety, and leave community members wondering how they can stop such violence in their own area.

To overcome these feelings, the APA suggests that you talk about it with others who have a shared experience; work toward balancing news of tragedy by reminding yourself of the people and things that comfort you; take a break from the news cycle; honor your feelings; and care for yourself, among others.

Learn about more of their tips online at apa.org.

Supporting the Spartans

Michigan State University is taking donations for the Spartan Strong Fund, which is used to address the immediate needs of those affected by unexpected tragedy or events. You can donate to that fund here.

A GoFundMe has also been set up by the older sister of Guadalupe Huapilla-Perez, one of the victims critically injured in the shooting, to help with her medical care. You can donate to that GoFundMe here.

Another GoFundMe for John Hao, a 20-year-old international student from China who was left paralyzed from the chest down from the shooting, has also been set up to support his family with medical care. You can donate to that GoFundMe here.

A third GoFundMe for Nate Statly, an environmental biology and zoology major who is still in critical condition, was set up by his family to help with his medical expenses. You can donate to that GoFundMe here.

The university is also offering mental health services for students. You can access those services by calling 517-316-8200.

We will update this post with more information on how you can support the MSU community as that information becomes available to us.