On Valentine’s Day 2018, a shooter killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Sydney Aiello survived the shooting, but died by suicide last week. Aiello’s mother said she suffered from survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder, CNN reported.
"Unfortunately, what we've learned is that the survivors of a traumatic event like a school shooting carry with them a lot of guilt, anxiety, pressures, depression even," said Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina Petty died in the shooting. Petty’s other child, who survived the attack, began WalkUp Foundation, which focused on preventing suicide after the shooting.
"We just have to assume as a parent that your child is not immune for that. Your child is at risk, and you need to take that seriously," he said.
The school district, parents, law enforcement, and other community leaders met to discuss how to address the trauma of the survivors.
"Even if everything appears to be OK, you need to take that seriously," he said. "You need to ask them the questions. Have you thought about killing yourself? Have you thought about ways you might do that?"
Although the students were offered resources such as counseling options after the shooting, Petty explains that there are sometimes stigmas associated with getting help. Sometimes, students just pretended that they were fine.
"So unfortunately some students are not availing themselves of those opportunities, and some parents are not understanding that the risks of anxiety and depression in a post-traumatic environment like a school shooting," Petty said.
"So our message is parents we have to take this seriously. We have to take this into our own hands. ... Regardless of your proximity to the building and whether or not you saw the horrific events of that day that took 17 lives and injured 17 others, you're part of a school community and that community is suffering."
The President of Children’s Services Council of Broward County, Cindy Arenberg Seltzer, attended the town meeting.
"One of the things that I have heard parents and children say is that nobody cares, and they just want us to get on with our lives. And I really want them to know that that's not true," she said. "I just left a room full of 60 people who came on a moment's notice on a Sunday afternoon to show how much they care."
She reminded that peer-to-peer communication could be helpful for survivors. "We want to harness the power of the young people to speak to each other," she said. That may include using Instagram, Snapchat or any other method that could "yield huge benefits."
This peer-to-peer communication has already begun. MSD students have already reached out to extend comfort to others who have experienced similar trauma. Survivors started a letter-writing campaign to help those affected by the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.