A Johns Hopkins Hospital physician is recovering and two others are dead after a reported murder-suicide occurred around 11 a.m. on Sept. 16, 2010. According to CNN.com, 50-year-old Paul Warren Pardus shot the physician after receiving an update on the condition of his 84-year-old mother, Jean Davis. Pardus then made his way to his mother’s room. After two hours of having no contact with Pardus, police officers used a robot to survey the room. Detecting no movement, the officers entered the room, finding Pardus and his mother dead, each with a single gunshot wound to the head.
The shooting at Johns Hopkins Hospital is only the most recent in what has seemingly become a common occurrence in America.
On Nov. 5, 2009, Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire on his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas. Twelve people were killed and 31 were injured. Hasan was shot but taken into custody alive.
On April 16, 2007, 32 people were killed at Virginia Tech University in what The New York Times called “the deadliest shooting rampage in American history.”
Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 students and faculty. Fifteen people were injured. Cho died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
In the disturbing videos that Cho left behind, he referenced Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the two teenage boys who killed 12 students and a teacher, then themselves, at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., on April 20, 1999. Until the Virginia Tech shootings, Columbine had been the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
So how do communities heal in the after math of public shooting?
Survivors of tragic events like these shootings often experience post-traumatic stress disorder, with symptoms such as flashbacks, bad dreams, invasive thoughts, numbing emotions, feelings of guilt, worry and depression, as well as difficulty sleeping, being startled easily and feeling tense. Counseling is essential for healing in the immediate days and months after a tragic event. However, not all survivors will seek help.
Communities must seek to heal also and, in the years following Columbine and more recently Virginia Tech and Fort Hood, it seems that community resiliency is tied to the resilience of the individuals within that community. The school at Columbine was still closed a year later. Many Columbine teachers and staff retired early or moved away. Some parents took their children out of the school district. There were suicides. A brother who watched his sister being shot to death in the school library spoke to thousands of people about forgiveness and building an environment of tolerance in public schools. A former chemistry teacher who survived Columbine worked returning soldiers from Iraq and shared his experience with PTSD.
The community of Virginia Tech remembered those lost by planting trees in front of the dorm where two were killed. One survivor got a tattoo to memorialize those who were lost on that day. Other members of the Virginia Tech community protested Virginia’s gun laws, which do not require a background check before purchasing a gun.
Some common factors in the resilience of a community are remembering those lost in meaningful ways, activism and service to others. It is common for survivors and family members of those who were lost to want to make meaning of the tragedy. Some people want to find what, if any, mechanisms within the organization failed; others feel the need to offer forgiveness and move on with their lives in a way that honors their loved ones.