In December 2012, the Connecticut community witnessed brutal killing of children. This mass killing of 20 young defenseless kindergarten children and seven adults was committed by a man with unknown motive (Candiotti & Aarthun, 2012). Adam Peter Lanza, who after the attack killed his mother and committed suicide, was the perpetrator. The incidence as stressor resulted in adverse impacts on survivors. As a result of shooting in Connecticut, there was a high rate of mortality rate, morbidity rates, and great loss to the victims’ families. Those who witnessed the shooting and saw their colleagues and loved ones perish were affected socially, emotionally, and psychologically. Trauma-associated conditions were inevitable. This mass killing was devastating to people and resulted in trauma or shock, which was adverse and remained to be a long-term stressor in their lives. Young innocent children who saw this incident happen are thought to have been severely affected because their peers demised prematurely and insanely.
Series of mass shooting and brutal killings had occurred in the USA even before this one. Among the worst incidents was a school shooting in the US Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, which led to death of 32 students (Kaine, 2007). These series of mass shootings led to a great loss to family members who lost their beloved ones and also to the country as a nation. Such incidences result in emotional and psychological torture for victims’ relatives and friends who survived. The shooting spree as a stressor is a factor of long-term mental distortion. This paper aims to evaluate mass school shooting in Connecticut as an underlying stressor for survivors, first responders, victims’ relatives, and the community.
Psychological Impacts of Mass Shooting
Mass shootings and mass killing in schools can cause an emotionally strong outcry in a country affected by such a tragedy. In the USA, within a span of five years from 1997 to 2001, there happened a consequent series of mass shootings and mass killings, which led to panic concerning numerous life losses (Muschert, 2007). This has led to fear, mistrust, and unknown risk exposure, which has resulted in formation of a word known as ‘Columbine’ that means a plant that have a bell-shaped flowers that spur. This is to show that mass killings have been cropping up in the USA and have been spreading extremely fast, as well as being devastating for human beings (Muschert, 2007).
Shooting that took place in Sandy Hook School in New Port in Connecticut, the USA, caused some long-term and short-term consequences that were devastating for victims. The incident affected survivors, families, first responders, witnesses, and the entire community of Connecticut. Components of stressors change with time with respect to consequences of the post-traumatic stress reactions (Jones & Ollendick, 2005). Losses and temporary inability to act in accordance with expectations relating to safety of friends can be deemed relevant aggregate stressors as it proves increased prevalence of those affected by stress due to the shock after such an incidence as mass shooting (Brymer, 2007). As the event in Connecticut affected the social network and thinking capacity, it also increased fear and worry among young children who survived and others who became numb for some time after the tragic incident.
This incident created a perception in the people’s mind known as Rashomon effect. The Rashomon effect describes creation of some realities in the mind of those who observed a single incident perceived as incompatible, yet it is what has really happened (Heider, 1988). The Rashomon’s effect description is applicable to the incident that happened in Connecticut. Young children who survived the tragedy were left in the Rashomon effect situation. In psychiatric description, they could not really visualize what had happened and had different contradicting versions in their minds about this incident.
Mental illnesses due to stress, anxiety, and trauma among victims and those who were near are reported to occur due to the shooting stressor. Mental health challenges are intensified with the presence of mixed personality disorder, depression, and suicidal tendencies. Their combined effects can result in shock that one gets after the tragic accident (Harter, Low, & Whitesell, 2003). The shock described above can be described as induced. The gun sound during a shooting is also factor that causes significant mental shock among survivors. The sound of firearm shots is loud enough to make anybody experience a mental health challenge, especially when survivors do not know what is going on around them. Depression as a standalone mental disorder can come later after the shooting dust is settled. Immediate survivors, parents/relatives of victims, parents of children who survived are highly likely to get depressed due to death of their innocent young children that perished without committing any guilt and due to the fact that survivors could have perished. After the incident, normal learning for stakeholders of the Connecticut shooting was impossible. It was impossible to convince children survivors to go back to the same school and impossible for parents to allow their children go back regardless of safety and security assurance.
Cultural concerns are factors that exacerbate the impact of such odd school shootings. Of course, all shootings are odd no matter how justified they can be made to look. The culture of carrying guns and private firearm ownership is a source of great fear to the public and this has increased victimization incidents. One study in Texas revealed that there was increased fear of victimization among children at the ages from 12 to 17 after the 1999 shooting in Collumbine (Addington, 2003). In another study of secondary school students in Texas, they turned out to be affected by fear of victimization (Snell, Bailey, Corona, & Mebane, 2002). After the Connecticut shooting, some children developed a sensory integration disorder and others developed the Asperger syndrome and schizophrenia. These are brain-related disorders affecting the sensory-processing system, which also affects functioning of the whole body. In Sandy Hook School, one student developed an obsessive-compulsive disorder after the shooting and was found to change his socks and wash his hands for about 20 times a day; an occurrence that forced his mother to do laundry three times a day.
Reactions to traumatic tragedies reveal that the post-traumatic stress is expressed in people who seem to be further away from the tragedy than those people who are directly exposed to the trauma (Galea et al., 2003). However, due to the ecological and social surrounding, it is not clear in some circumstances what kinds of exposures may increase posttraumatic stress reactions after such shootings.
Impact of Mass Shooting on the Organization
Sandy Hook Elementary School was greatly affected as an organization on the whole. Teachers, librarians, the subordinate staff, first responders, and the community of Connecticut and the state were affected not only in psychological, but also in economic terms. The school was closed immediately after the attack. All activities were stopped due to the shooting and even employees who witnessed the scene were affected psychologically and became mentally ill due to the post-traumatic stress. There was no way the staff could continue their day-to-day work of running school activities after the incident. Later, performance of the school in general was thought to have dropped since most children were under depression and they could not continue with their normal learning and routine activities. The school property was not also spared and constituted a part of increased financial and emotional stress for the school community.
Solutions to the School Shooting
As much as a mass shooting may seem a criminal or terror attack, it is generally difficult to control such incidences. Since in most school shootings a perpetrator has been a just and individual person who is not connected to any group, it is difficult to determine who will be a suspect and where the shooting will occur next. Mass education on this vice and psychological counseling of teens suspected to have troubled life should be offered. It is easier to determine the target population that requires this education. Schools and other organizations should reinforce safety of occupants in institutions. In this scenario, if Sandy Hook Elementary School had really reinforced security in their vicinity, it could have saved a lot of children who perished since the perpetrator could have been caught before performing the attack. Mental health counseling should be established to help survivors, witnesses, first responders, and families who have lost their loved ones in the attack. This will help those people who feel stressed and depressed due to the trauma they develop after the attack.
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Psychological and social consequences can be devastating for first responders (who can also be termed as survivors), witnesses, families, and survivors after the attack. Post-traumatic stress disorder, which can take a long time to heal, can result in lifetime mental health challenges. Although mass shooting is a challenge at personal, family, local, and national levels, it seems difficult to find an appropriate solution because of difficulties in establishing suspects and their motives.