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Entries in Shooting (13)

Monday
Dec172012

Dogs Put Smiles on Faces of Sandy Hook School Students

Goodshoot/Thinkstock(NEWTOWN, Conn.) -- Some much-needed smiles were brought to the children of Newtown, Conn., by way of seven dogs especially trained to comfort survivors in the wake of a disaster.

Seeing the dogs led to some of the town’s children smiling for the first time since Friday’s murderous rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, said Tim Hetzner of the Lutheran Church Charities.

The dogs, mostly golden retrievers, “bring some relief” to children, and put, “a smile on their face, kind of like a teddy bear, but a live one,” Hetzner told ABC News.

Hetzner, who has taken dogs to New York and New Jersey after superstorm Sandy hit in October and to Joplin, Mo., following a devastating  tornado, said the animals are “like a counselor” meting out "trusting unconditional love.”

Hetzner says his organization begins training dogs as puppies when they are about five and half weeks old. It takes a year to train the dogs, making them calm enough to work with the public in post-disaster situations.

Some of the dogs were stationed outside an interfaith memorial service on Sunday night, at which President Obama spoke, eulogizing the 20 children and seven adults killed in a massacre at the hands of 20-year-old Adam Lanza last Friday.

According to the Lutheran Church Charities website the seven dogs in Newtown are: Abbie, Chewie, Luther, Ruthie, Barnabas, Hannah, and Portage. Each of the dogs has its own Facebook page.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Dec142012

Newtown, Conn. Shooting: Young Kids, Survivors Cope with Horror

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images(NEWTOWN, Conn.) -- Witnesses at Sandy Hook Elementary School reported horrific scenes as a shooter took 27 lives today -- the shattering sounds of gunshots, children locked in the bathrooms and parents crying outside in the parking lot.

Experts say that the young children who saw events first-hand can have lasting psychological scars, but those whose home lives are stable and supportive will have fewer long-term scars.

"It was horrific," said Kaitlin Roig, a 29-year-old teacher, who was in a morning meeting when the gunman entered the school.

"Suddenly, I heard rapid fire, like an assault weapon," the first grade teacher told ABC. She rounded up her 14 students and locked them and herself in the bathroom. "I helped kids climb on the toilet dispenser [so they could all fit in].

"I thought we were going to die."

Children in such a situation "are terrified, and they don't have the cognitive or emotional capacities to make sense of this," said Dr. Nadine Kaslow, professor and vice chair of the department of psychiatry at Emory School of Medicine.

"Not that any of us can make any sense of this," said Kaslow. "It's truly inconceivable."

At least 27 people, mostly children under the age of 10, were shot and killed at the K-to-4 school this morning, federal and state sources tell ABC News.

The massacre drew SWAT teams to the school and the town of Newtown locked down all its schools, authorities said day.

According to federal sources, the gunman was identified as Adam Lanza, 20. His mother, who worked at the elementary school, was one of the victims.

One mother named Christine who has a child at Sandy Hook told ABC about the chaos that ensued when she arrived at the school this morning.

"When I got there, there were just parents running into the firehouse because they were directing us there. That's where children had been evacuating to, and we went in and people were just grabbing their children and hugging and crying. There were lots of children crying."

She said another parent who had been at the school at the time was "pretty broken up." Many parents didn't know where their children were.

In 1996 in Dunblane, Scotland, 15 children and a teacher were killed in a similar massacre.

Parents and caregivers play the most important role in a child's recovery from a traumatic event, according to Dr. Gene Beresin, director of training in child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"Children need to know that they are safe," he said. "Are people taking care of me? How is this going to affect my life? They need to be reassured."

"Thinking about kids in all disasters, you think about the airlines -- when the oxygen mask drops, you put your mask on first and then help the child next," said Beresin.

"Parents need to take care of themselves first. [The children] need to know you are calm and in control," he said.

Adults and community support is critical, according to Beresin.

Young children who witness violence can have acute or post-traumatic stress disorder. "The immediate reaction is shock and horror," he said.

After events like this, communities typically set up crisis centers in a church or other public place where people can seek professional and spiritual help.

Turn the television off, say experts, but answer your children's questions. Don't disregard an older sibling who is watching the news unfold and is worried. They need assurance, too, he said.

According to Beresin, young children may not have "discreet memories" of the event, but they can still have an emotional reaction, experiencing nightmares or, conversely, emotional numbing, said Beresin.

"Some kids shut down," he said. "They may actually turn off and not want to be hugged or cuddled -- that's a normal response. Some kids are clingy, and others will withdraw."

Kids can also regress in the aftermath of a traumatic event.

Parents should not force a child to open up, but "don't let them be alone," he said.

One way young children can work out problems are through reenactment. "They may be playing a game about shooting and dying, and parents should not stop that," said Beresin. "Let them do it."

Young children can also ask questions that don't directly relate to the event, according to Rahill Briggs, assistant professor of pediatrics at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

"They can ask directly or less directly about guns, or heaven or death or about a pet that died," she said.

In studies of 9/11 one of the findings -- not a surprising one -- after the terrorist attacks was that those who were most directly affected "suffered the most," according to Briggs. Coping with grief long-term depended on the cohesion of the child's family -- "how well the caregiving system responds to distress. When it is proactive, by definition the children do better."

"What was the most incredibly predictive five years out was how everyone was doing before the incident," said Briggs. "It is the same for mental health in general, those who are coping well in their lives before a trauma are the most likely to cope well afterwards -- even if they saw the towers fall."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Dec142012

Connecticut School Shooting: 4 Tips to Help Kids Cope

Douglas Healey/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Every parent trying to come to grips with the scope of the tragedy in Connecticut is wondering how to talk to their kids about it.

Alan Kazdin, a professor of child psychology at Yale University, offers four tips for parents to frame that discussion and help their kids cope.

Don’t Over-Talk This


Parents can easily project their own fears onto their kids.   Your kids will likely hear about it, so your child has questions. Answer at the level of the question.  Parents shouldn’t dwell on the tragic nature of it, but don’t be evasive.  Don’t lie, don’t withhold.

Shield Kids from the Media

After 9/11, kids suffered trauma from overexposure to the media.  Child psychologists call it “secondary terrorism.” As parents, we sometimes take the stance that our kids need to be tough and “they might as well know the truth.” But psychologists say they need to be "coddled, cushioned and comforted” now so they can be emotionally stronger later.

Don’t Pull Your Kids Out of School Today

Try to keep as many normal rituals going on as possible.  Go to soccer practice.  Keep that play date.  Kids need to know that this doesn’t directly affect them.

Reassure, Reassure


If your child develops a  fear of school, tell them, “This is so rare. Something this terrible has never happened before. This never happened to mommy’s school. Grownups are doing everything to keep kids safe.”

Remember that through “middle childhood,” kids have normal excessive fears: the dark, sharks, etc. If they say, “I don’t want to go to school,” help them distance themselves from it.

Repeatedly reassure without dismissing their fears and give them a hug. Touch makes a huge difference.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Aug062012

Wisconsin Shootings: Sikhs Faced Discrimination Since 9/11

Darren Hauck/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Amardeep Singh, the son of a physicist, was raised in New Jersey where he played Little League and his mother coached softball. Now, he is raising two sons in Hoboken, the third-generation of Sikhs to live in this country.

But because Singh is religious and wears his articles of faith -- a beard and a turban, he faces discrimination at every corner, especially since 9/11. Sunday's shootings in Oak Creek, Wisconsin have made it all the worse.

"People have said to me, 'Get that f'ing rag off your head,' 'Get out of here, terrorist,'" he said. "It's commentary they think is funny and it happens at least half a dozen times a year."

Two days ago, while attending a meeting at his local library as a board member, he says he encountered a teenager who turned to a friend and said, "Here comes bin Laden."

"Being a Sikh in America means, in the very least, cat calls," said Singh, 41.

But today, in the aftermath of the most violent attack against Sikhs, it also means murder. On Sunday, seven people, including two priests and the gunman, were killed in Wisconsin in their gurdwara, or place of worship.

The shooter, Wade Michael Page, a former Army psychological operations specialist and a skinhead, was shot and killed by Wisconsin police at the scene.

Since 2001, the Sikh Coalition reports that more than 700 Americans have sought legal assistance after an incident of discrimination or bias -- "everything from violent hate crime to employment discrimination, profiling at the airport or school bullying," according to Singh, who is one of the advocacy group's co-founders.

In the first month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the coalition reports it logged more than 300 such acts around the country. But, Singh said, there are likely "thousands more" across the country that are never reported. The FBI does not track hate crimes against Sikhs.

"When you see a turban and a beard, the number one thing people think of is terrorism," he said.

The first post-9/11 classified hate crime against a Sikh was the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi in Mesa, Ariz. After the terrorist attacks, Frank Silva Roque, an aircraft mechanic, told bystanders at a local restaurant that he wanted to "shoot some rag heads," according to an essay in the Huffington Post.

Recent hate attacks include death threats against a Virginia Sikh family in March 2012; a violent assault on a Sikh in New York City in May 2011; the murders of two elderly Sikhs in Elk Grove, California in March 2011; and the near drowning of a Sikh student in West Texas in December 2009.

Sikhs first came to the United States in the 19th century, part of a wave of immigrants from South Asia who worked in the sawmills and became farmers and railroad workers.

The U.S. Census does not keep data on their numbers, but the coalition estimates there are anywhere from 500,000 to 700,000 practicing Sikhs in the country today, mostly in the San Francisco and New York areas.

"Oak Creek is not a large center and is not the typical immigration pattern," said Singh.

The Sikh Coalition said its surveys indicate 60 percent of all children in their community are teased in school. "That was part of my growing up in America in New Jersey," said Singh.

Another 20 percent reported unwanted physical touching.

In 2008, a student at Hightstown High School in New Jersey set fire to a Sikh student's turban during a fire drill, singeing the boy's hair.

The turban and the beard are "external signifiers of internal belief," said the coalition's education director, Manbeena Kaur. "It is a constant reminder to be kind, generous and honest dealing with people and to be loving and compassionate."

The turban also serves the practical function of covering the wearer's hair. Sikhs, both men and women, do not cut their hair.

"Much like the uniform of a police officer, it is a reminder to uphold the duties of the uniform … what I agreed to, to be a good human being," she said.

The Sikhs practice a monotheist religion based in peace that was founded in the Punjab region of India in 1469. There are more than 25 million followers worldwide.

Sikhism preaches a message of devotion, remembrance of God at all times, truthful living, social justice, while emphatically denouncing superstitions and blind rituals.

"The basic foundation principle is one God for all people and everyone is considered equal in the eyes of God -- which means gender, race and ethnicity," said Kaur.

Sikhs say one can get closer to God by practicing three things: remembering God, living truthfully and offering service to humanity. They say they are meant to uphold the values of honesty, compassion, generosity, humility, integrity and spirituality on a daily basis.

The five articles of faith include the unshorn hair [kes], comb for good hygiene [khangha], steel bracelet [kara], sword [kirpan] and soldier's shorts [kachhehra].

Since the Oak Creek attack, Kaur said the coalition has "sort of been in emergency mode."

Her colleague Singh flew out to Wisconsin today to help the Sikh community there and the families of the shooting victims.

"It's a very little community," said Singh. "We want to be supportive and figure out how to lend a hand. We also want to respond to all public inquiries so the there is a better understanding of who we are in the history of the United States and our contributions."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jul252012

Is Cinema-Phobia Taking Hold?

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When Emilie Yount was in her 20s, she used to spend five days a week huddled in Chicago movie theater seats, "banging out" film reviews and blogs for publications like Reel Reviews and TribecaFilm.com. Being alone in a darkened theater with hundreds of strangers facing the same direction never fazed her.

But on Saturday, Yount, 30, gave away her tickets to see The Dark Knight Rises even though she'd bought them in advance because she loved the second Christopher Nolan Batman film so much. She said she couldn't face going to the theater in the wake of the Colorado shooting on Friday morning that left 12 moviegoers dead at the hands of a stranger.

"My nerves have peaked," she told ABC News. "To have something like that happen… I can't think of anything worse, to be honest."

Yount said she has no history of anxiety or problems with small spaces, but she thinks it will take her a few months to head back to the cinema.

And psychologists say Yount isn't alone.

"I'm sure there will be people who the horror of that situation will indeed lead them to be afraid of going to the theaters," said Dr. Phillip Levendusky, director of the Psychology Department at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts and a professor at Harvard Medical School. "Do I think it's going to be a crisis in the movie industry? Probably not, but it wouldn't surprise me if some people have a reaction."

Levendusky told ABC News that he has treated phobias from fear of snow to fear of fish, and even to fear of butterflies. He defined a phobia as being afraid of something though conventional wisdom suggests there's no threat.

To be a legitimate phobia, however, the fear has to impede day-to-day activities and last at least six months.

Dr. Fred Neuman, who directs the Anxiety and Phobia Treatment Center in White Plains, N.Y., said he's already heard from patients who said they're uncomfortable going to the movies. In fact, one patient told him he's afraid of seeing the new "Batman" movie in particular.

"The usual thing that happens whenever calamity like this occurs is that people who are already nervous tend to get more nervous, and people who are not nervous in the first place tend to ignore it," Neuman said.

Dr. Donna Pincus, director of the Child and Adolescent Fear and Anxiety Treatment Program at Boston University, told ABC News that the uneasiness some people feel about movie theaters right now is normal.

"When such a tragedy occurs, it focuses our attention on our vulnerabilities rather than control and safety," she said. "Fear is just a natural human emotion…It wouldn't be human not to feel those feelings when you're watching things like this."

But when a fear interferes with a person's ability to function, it's classified as a phobia. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, 8.7 percent of Americans in 2008, or 19.2 billion people, suffered from a phobia of some kind. It's not clear how many people are specifically afraid of theaters.

Pincus said that children and adults should understand the difference between possibility and probability.

"How many movies have you ever been to in your life and how often have you ever had trouble or danger present?" Pincus said. "The news does not show us…thousands of people went to the movies tonight and they they all had a wonderful time and all got home safely."

Yount says she knows she's more likely to be struck by lightning than to be shot at a movie theater, but she can't stop herself from reading news coverage of the shooting in Aurora. Although Yount was an avid Harry Potter fan who attended midnight showings of the films, she said she doesn't think she'll ever go to another midnight release.

"When you really enjoy anything and it kind of gets marred, it's never a nice thing," she said. "It will be months [before I return to the cinema], I can just tell. It's not something I'm going to rush to do."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jul232012

Family of Colorado Shooting Suspect Faces Difficult Emotional Road

University of Colorado Denver(AURORA, Colo.) -- The family of Aurora, Colo., shooting suspect James Holmes faces a difficult emotional road in the days, weeks and months ahead as they struggle to cope with the enormous reality of his alleged actions, experts told ABC News.

In a statement, the family said their "hearts go out to those who [were] involved in this tragedy and to the families and friends of those involved."  His mother also told ABC News earlier her son was likely the accused gunman.

By acknowledging what happened, they are taking important steps in the healing process.  Mental health professionals who do not know the Holmes family, and are speaking about the aftermath of violence in general, said that the healing process will likely include disbelief, anger, guilt and grief.  How they cope depends on factors such as their individual characteristics.

"Invariably, they need to be as candid as they can and give one or two interviews so everybody knows what they know," said Charles Figley, director of Tulane University's Traumatology Institute.  "They will undoubtedly be hounded."

After that time, however, the family will need some privacy to deal with the wide range of emotions they are likely to experience.

"They are in the disbelief stage right now, but they may go through an anger stage, then maybe a guilt stage," said Catherine Mogil, an assistant clinical professor at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.  "They may also feel shame that they didn't do more, and may ask whether they missed warning signs or whether they should have done more."

Grief is also a common reaction in traumatic situations, she explained.

"They may be grieving for someone they thought was their brother or son, who is no longer the person they knew," she said.

And that loss can be compounded by other losses.

"There can be societal stigma toward family members of individuals who have committed these kinds of crimes," said Dr. Amir Afkhami, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University Medical Center.  "There's some degree of thought that they somehow colluded with the killer at some level, or are at least collaterally guilty and created some sort of environment that bred this person."

They may also suffer financially if they have business or economic ties to the community.

"Because of the stigma, they may be threatened with the loss of jobs," he added.

The heavy emotional toll may lead to other serious consequences as well.

"In the long term, this can lead in two directions," Afkhami said. "There is a high risk of developing psychiatric illnesses because of the social pressure -- major depression, generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress have been reported in family members of killers.  In other cases, family members who are resilient may use their experience as a means of engaging in activism."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jul202012

How to Talk to Children About the Colorado Movie Theater Shooting

Thomas Cooper/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Hours after the horrific shooting during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises at a Colorado movie theater, Melissa Lawrence's young children were on their way to camp, happily oblivious to the tragedy.

They won't stay that way for long. Lawrence said she plans on sitting down her 7- and 8-year-old sons this evening to gently and simply explain to them what happened at an Aurora, Colo., theater hundreds of miles away from their New York home.

"I'll explain that unfortunately these people went to this movie, thinking they were going to enjoy it, and a very ill person came in and did this horrible thing. ... No one expected it to happen in this way," said Lawrence, 42, who wrote about the issue on her parenting how-to video site, CloudMom.com. "I'm not going to lie about it, but I'm not going to go into every detail."

On Friday, parents across the country are struggling with how to talk to their kids in the aftermath of a tragedy that killed and injured both adults and children. Experts generally agree that in the aftermath of such a tragedy, parents should keep their answers simple, leaving out dramatic details, while reassuring their children of their safety.

But there's more to it than that.

Like other massacres, the injuries and the deaths associated with the tragedy are nearly incomprehensible. But unlike other shootings, the fact that it happened during the viewing of a movie -- the third in director Christopher Nolan's popular Batman film franchise -- anticipated by kids and teenagers everywhere may make it feel frighteningly close to home.

"For weeks, I've had kids in my practice talking about how excited they are for the premiere, planning dates with friends, weeks in advance of the premiere for the movie," said Dr. Jerry Weichman, an adolescent psychologist and parenting expert in California. Now those same kids and others may be at risk of developing phobias of theaters that could last for weeks or months, he said.

A shooting during the showing of any movie, Weichman said, could have the same effect -- but "the fact that it was Batman takes it up a notch for them."

New York mom Lawrence said she doesn't plan to tell her sons that the shooting happened during the Batman movie, which the boys are excited to see.

"I think it's going to scare them, and it's not going to help them understand this tragedy," she said.

Not everyone agrees that the Batman factor is important.

"Kids aren't going to be associating this with Batman. It's going to be the trauma of the whole thing," said Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University, and the director of the Yale Parenting Center.

Kazdin said that young children, in particular, will be much more affected by the dramatic visuals associated with the shooting, such as police cars outside the theater, than by any ties to The Dark Knight.

Kazdin recommends shielding children from media reports on the shooting to reduce the risk of "secondary terrorism" -- a phenomenon witnessed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"There were children who had nothing to do with 9/11 but saw endlessly [reports about it] in the media and some developed traumatic reactions," Kazdin explained. "Such exposure can really have enormous impact."

When a child does show signs of being upset by the tragedy, parents should still plan to return with them to the movies eventually, some experts say.

"Anxious, shy, inhibited kids may need to stay back a few days or weeks. Others may want to go and feel better with friends or family. Teens as well may want to hold off or go with others. I would tend to base the decision on going on how anxious, worried and upset the child is," said Dr. Gene Beresin, director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Residency Training at Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital. "Frankly, if you keep them away for too long, they may develop a phobia of movies. While we don't want to push them, we do not want to give them the message that movies are dangerous places. They are not!"

Here are more tips from parenting experts on the best ways to address the Colorado shooting with your children:

Watch for Trauma: "Young children may have difficulties identifying and expressing feelings. Parents should pay attention to the children's play (for instance, preoccupation with certain aggressive electronic games, drawings, repetitive play that imitates the traumatic event or events). Another sign of trauma is avoidance of reminders (in this case, going to the movies or to a show or watching certain movies or avoiding other activities that they didn't avoid before)." -- Dr. Aurelia Bizamcer, Medical Director, Outpatient Psychiatry at Temple University Hospital.

Keep Answers Truthful but Simple: "We're not holding back, but we're not giving more because the giving more could have the risk of alarming the child. ... As a parent you have an obligation to protect a young child from being overwhelmed." -- Alan Kazdin, Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University; Director of the Yale Parenting Center.

Reassure Them: "We need to appreciate that kids have different fears. Many will worry about the movies, but others will worry about such events spilling over to other areas, such as the mall, school, the neighborhood. For kids of all ages, it is really important to let them know that these kinds of events are incredibly rare. Movie theaters are very safe places. Just think of all the movies you, mom and dad and everyone has gone to. Things like this really do not happen much at all." -- Dr. Gene Beresin, Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Residency Training, Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital.

Keep Answers Age-Appropriate: "Parents should be sure to pitch the discussion to their kids' developmental level. For a 6-year-old, it's completely appropriate to reassure them of their safety, with some emphasis on the fact that police have caught the person they think did this, and he is no longer at large. For kids over the age of 8, more concrete details are appropriate, along with, perhaps, a general discussion of how to be safe in public -- locating exit doors for instance, and getting to safety in the event of any dangerous occurrence." -- Jay Reeve,President and Chief Executive Officer, Apalachee Center

Don't Make Assumptions: "Don't project your own feelings, fears and anxiety on kids because you know you don't really know exactly what your kids are feeling until you talk to them." -- Dr. Jane Taylor, psychiatrist

Here are sample answers and tactics meant to reassure children of specific ages, courtesy of Dr. Anand Pandya, co-founder of the Disaster Psychiatry Outreach Center and an associate professor of psychiatry at UCLA:

Preschool Age:
"Something bad happened, but we're going to keep you safe."

School-Age Children: "These things almost never happen. Shootings are extremely rare, and there may be an individual who is sick or who has problems who did this."

Teenagers: Teenagers will be watching the news reports with or without their parents. Engage in a conversation with them. Ask your teenager, "What do you think we should do?" This may strike up a conversation about gun safety or regulations. Again, remind them that this is rare. If they do want to go to the movies, reinforce safety routines.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jul202012

Aurora Suspect May Be Delusional, Psychologists Say

Univ of Colorado Denver/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As authorities are investigating the shooting rampage at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in an Aurora, Col., movie theater, details are emerging about James Holmes, the 24-year-old who allegedly donned riot gear and stalked the aisles with a rifle.

Psychology experts say it's hard to know what Holmes's state of mind was before the shooting, but emerging details suggest he was a deeply disturbed individual.

"He said he was the Joker," one law enforcement official told ABC News, referring to a villain from the Batman series.

Authorities report that 12 people were killed and 59 were injured. Holmes was arrested in the parking lot of the movie theater, looking like "a villain in a movie," a Congressional official briefed on the situation told ABC News. His apartment is filled with explosives and being searched by Hazmat teams.

Kaitlyn Fonzi, who lives directly below Holmes's Aurora apartment, told ABC News that around midnight, she heard very loud music coming from the apartment above her.

The "same techno song that sounded like it included gunshots was playing in a loop for a long time," she said.

Fonzi said the music abruptly stopped at 1 a.m.

ABC News has confirmed that Holmes was a PhD student in the neuroscience department of the University of Colorado at Denver. In a statement, the university said Holmes was in the process of withdrawing from the program after enrolling in June 2011.

It's not clear whether he had a history of violence or psychotic behavior, but Holmes's mother told ABC News that she felt that her son was likely the culprit.

"You have the right person," she said in a phone interview from her San Diego home.

As the investigation continues, psychologists say it's likely that certain parts of Holmes's life and behavior will emerge that point to signs warning of his actions. But those warning signs may not have been necessarily obvious indications of violence.

ABC News spoke with several psychologists, none of whom has direct knowledge of Holmes.

"This is not a person that gets in bar fights and hurts other people," said Dr. Stevan Hobfoll, a professor of behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "They're more likely to make statements about how they're going to get people. Those people are going to see they'll know who he is, and they'll be sorry."

"In general, these people tend to be socially inept and alienated from the mainstream," said Dr. Felipe Amunategui, an associate training director for child and adolescent psychiatry at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

Psychologists said shooters who go on rampages, targeting random people with no apparent motive, may or may not have a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia. Rather, Holmes was likely living in a world of an alternate reality, suffering from delusions of threats and making plans to make right things that he perceived were wrong.

"The thing to realize is that within his own thoughts, what he was doing was completely logical. To him, he was accomplishing something worth doing," said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Va.

Amunategui said it's likely that Holmes had been obsessively thinking about his plan until some unknown event spurred him to action.

 "There's generally an event or a situation where the individual feels he has to intervene or somehow drastic action is called for. And then you see the horrible event that you saw last night," he said.

Hobfell said the Internet can be an important tool in fueling a person's assurance that their alternate reality is the correct one.

"You can become part of a cult or way of thinking through a chat room and develop a whole mindset with a group of people online. They spur each other on, they develop a common language," he said. "The Internet and games, that becomes the world they are living in."

There is also speculation about whether Holmes may have drawn inspiration from the storyline of the movie itself. His clothing and appearance are similar to the villain in The Dark Knight Rises, Bane, who wears a gas mask, bulletproof vest and carries a gun. Others say it's impossible to know right now what factors drove the shooter.

Currently, nothing is known about whether Holmes had undergone psychiatric treatment or received a diagnosis of a mental health problem. But Torrey said he believes that the increasing numbers of shooting rampages -- Jared Loughner's 2011 attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the shooting at Fort Hood in 2009, the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007 -- are largely the result of decreasing resources and funding for the mentally ill in state budgets throughout the U.S.

"This is just another tragedy of the many tragedies we're seeing like this. The sad thing is they are preventable if we treat these people," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jul202012

Shooting Witnesses: Shock Value Could Add to PTSD Vulnerability

Medioimages/Photodisc(NEW YORK) -- A shooting erupted at the midnight premiere showing of Dark Knight Rises in an Aurora, Colo., theater complex filled with young adults, teenagers and young children with their families, some dressed in playful Batman-genre costumes.

Everyone expected a night of fun; not a massacre. Smoke bombs went off. A gunman stalked victims in the aisles, killing at least 12 people. Witnesses said blood was everywhere.

The surprise, as well as the magnitude of the mass shooting, was enough to trigger post-traumatic stress symptoms in those who were vulnerable, said Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman, psychiatrist in chief at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia University Medical Center and director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

"On the emotional Richter scale it was very high," he said. "You go to a movie like Batman because it's fun-loving entertainment, and you are seeing kids in costumes and the last thought you are thinking about is some type of seriously dangerous, potentially life-threatening situation. The contrast adds to the potential for emotional trauma."

One witness told ABC News, "You just smelled smoke and you just kept hearing it. You just heard bam bam bam, nonstop. "The gunman never had to reload. Shots just kept going, kept going, kept going."

Psychiatric experts said it was hard to know who would experience serious after-effects of the attack. Only about 7 to 8 percent of all individuals will go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, after such an event, according to the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

Most people, if they are not exposed to repeated trauma like war, are resilient and have extraordinary coping skills. But those who are vulnerable can have lifelong effects, said experts.

"We all have our breaking points," said Lieberman. "Everyone, given sufficient stress, like prisoners of war, have different levels of endurance. But events have a residual effect."

Nine miles away in 1999, among those who witnessed the slaughter of 19 students and teachers at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., a handful went on to experience repeated nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety-related disorders.

"Even for those people who were not affected, these are peripheral events for people who live in the town and in the state, and they can have an identification from the geography and connection to this," said Lieberman.

About 10 percent of women develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with 5 percent of men -- about 5.2 million adults in a given year, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Children, it seems, are more resilient than adults.

"It has an impact on them," said Lieberman. "But they have in place readily defined support systems in family and school social structures."

Those who are most prone to PTSD were directly exposed to a traumatic event -- they were either victims or witnesses, or were seriously injured. But one study after the 9/11 attacks found rippling effects on witnesses.

At one school two blocks from the World Trade Center, about 27 percent of staff members who saw a plane fly into one of the towers lost time from work because of physical symptoms, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. About one-third reported symptoms consistent with depression.

The degree to which people are affected is determined by their proximity and how sustained or horrific their exposure; their own psychological make-up and the help they receive after the event.

"Your individual vulnerability and resilience is determined by your genetic make-up, and also in part by the psychological features you have developed over the course of your lifetime -- were you confident and successful and could you overcome experiences, or were you cautious and fearful?" said Lieberman.

The best approach for immediate support is a technique called psychological first aid, according to Robin Kerner, director of quality initiative and outcomes at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City.

Rather than asking people to retell their traumatic stories, responders tend to the victims' immediate needs, reassure and comfort them and "perhaps, most importantly, connect them with their social supports.

"Research has shown that the retelling of the traumatic story in the immediate aftermath can lead to retraumatization and does not provide comfort to victims," said Kerner.

The probability of developing PTSD is increased if the victims had direct exposure or were seriously hurt or believed they or their families were in danger. Reactions such as crying, shaking, vomiting, feeling apart from their surroundings or helpless to get out, can be signals, Kerner said.

An earlier life-threatening event, a history of child abuse or mental problems raises the vulnerability level.

Those exposed to the movie theater shooting through images and reports on Twitter may see these posts and feel anxious or worried.

Viewing such events can be "disturbing if not dangerous" for young children, said Dr. Eugene Beresin, director of training in child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

"This has largely been seen and studied in a number of situations, such as the Oklahoma City Bombing, the Challenger disaster and the 9/11 attack," he said. "There is considerable evidence that PTSD in kids may develop by watching such events in the media."

Parents can help their children by encouraging them to express their thoughts about the event, and reassure them they are safe. Stick to usual routines, and seek help if the child has distressing dreams of the event or relives the trauma through repetitive play.

Experts recommend that parents limit their children's viewing of television news coverage of the Aurora shooting. Pediatric research shows it can be associated with more long-term distress.

No one is exempt from that emotional distress, say experts.

"One reason is that events such as this are a threat to our assumptive world," said Dr. David J. Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

"Every day, we make assumptions about our safety and those we care about. Otherwise, we may become overwhelmed by the harsh reality that, at any point, tragedy can happen to those we love," he said. "When something like this event occurs, it forces us to acknowledge that these are assumptions and therefore may not be true. It leaves us feeling vulnerable and unsettled."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar122012

Could US Soldier's Afghan Killing Spree Have Been Prevented?

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Whether it was a psychotic break or an underlying mental illness that led a United States Army soldier to allegedly massacre 16 Afghan civilians -- including women and children -- is still unclear.

But as military investigators reportedly interrogate the 38-year-old staff sergeant they believe is behind the Sunday morning killing spree, psychological experts said such actions are generally preceded by strong signals that something is wrong -- signals that, in this case, may have been missed or gone unreported.

The soldier, whose name has not been released, is believed to have returned to the base on his own volition after the killings and turned himself in.  According to military statements, investigators have the soldier in custody and are trying to learn more about what happened, and what may have precipitated the incident.

All of the mental health experts contacted by ABC News said that until more information is made available they could only speculate as to exactly what happened.  But most said that warning signs generally presage violent actions like this one.

"This could have been signaled by erratic and changed behavior in the soldier including strange or unusual behavior, insomnia, weight loss, talking nonsensically or incoherently, making threatening statements and using drugs," said Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, in an email.  "Rarely do such incidents of extreme behavior occur without some preceding signs."

"The individuals responsible for mass murders similar to this in the United States... have often given off strong signals of serious mental illness to friends, parents, associates, etc. prior to the incident," said Dr. Paul Newhouse, director of the Center for Cognitive Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn., and a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, in an email.  "If this individual was seriously mentally ill, then it is possible that he may have showed signs of this type of disturbance to fellow soldiers and NCOs or medical personnel."

Dr. Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, said in an email that warning signs "are not always obvious," but he noted that some of the more well-known ones -- such as "difficulty regulating emotions, discipline problems, getting into fights, withdrawal from others, damaging/destroying property [and] increasing risk-taking behavior" -- may be observed before an act of extreme violence.

Whether any of these warning signs were present before the alleged mass killing is not yet known.  But Dr. Bengt Arnetz, professor of occupational and environmental medicine at Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich., said that even if these signals were present, the current system used by the military is woefully inadequate at detecting them.

"All the systems have never been evaluated," said Arnetz, whose research focuses on the effects of stress on the psychological well being of police, first responders and soldiers.  "I think that they're very, very bad at monitoring people close to the breaking point.  We don't have good surveillance tools."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio