Within one week, there have been two suicides of Parkland, Fla., school shooting survivors.
First it was reported that Sydney Aiello died by suicide. Her mother said that she’d been diagnosed with PTSD and she had survivor’s guilt after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting.
Then a second apparent suicide was reported over the weekend. This time, a sophomore who also survived the Parkland shooting last year.
Local leaders and parents are banding together to make sure survivors have the support they need to get through the trauma.
“This is tragic news on the heels of the loss of so many last February — and just a community that’s still in trauma,” says Ryan Petty (@rpetty), who founded the WalkUp Foundation after his 14-year-old daughter Alaina was killed in the Parkland shooting last year.
Petty tells Here & Now‘s Robin Young about what he’s learned since the shooting and what questions he’s asking his own kids to check on them — including the “Columbia Protocol” questions that any parent can ask their children.
On expecting more deaths after the shooting
“I was working with [Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber] and with folks at the Secret Service. One of the things I learned last year in the aftermath of the tragedy [was] trying to make sense of why a student would come and shoot up the school and kill 17 students and teachers. One of the things I learned is that [there are] these follow-on effects from these mass casualty incidents and I learned that there were almost as many that died of suicide after Columbine as [those who] died in the actual event. And that made me very concerned. So in May of last year, we put on a community event focused on suicide prevention. I think we were probably too early. I don’t think the community was ready to hear that. I think we were still dealing with the initial trauma, not ready to hear about secondary trauma. But now unfortunately with the deaths of two more students, I think the community is now ready to hear and ready to do things differently.”
On supporting kids who have been through a shooting
“You have to deal with the trauma [first]. And I think one of the lessons learned coming out of this, particularly in the schools, is that the approach was they went first to counseling and didn’t deal with the trauma. And so we came together yesterday as a community — school district representatives, law enforcement, parents, teachers, the mayor of Parkland — we were all there. And one of the things we recognized is the approach needs to be to deal with the trauma first and then move to counseling.”
On the ‘Columbia Protocol’ questions parents can ask their kids
“The questions are very simple. The Columbia Protocol is something that anyone can do and that’s one of the things that, in my view, is such a blessing — to know that we can all be a part of the solution. There’s just six questions. The first five are the ones that we initially go to, but there are simple questions like, ‘Have you wished you were dead or wish you could go to sleep and not wake up? Have you thought about how you might do this? Or have you had any intention of acting on these thoughts of killing yourself as opposed to — you have the thoughts, but you definitely would not act on them.’ The questions are are incredibly effective and we just need people to be aware and not be afraid to ask.”
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.