By Philip Haldiman
That’s where she went immediately.
They were the first to hit Kelly Carbello’s mind after shots were reported in the nation’s latest two mass shootings.
Then, as more news rolled in, her heart started to break.
The shootings, of course, did not happen on school campuses, but visions of playgrounds and classrooms pour over her whenever mass shootings occur.
She said parents can’t help but think about it.
The chances of a school shooting are 1 in 6.4 million and there is no need to be alarmed, she said, but emotionally, the statistics mean nothing.
There are days Ms. Carbello is terrified to send her kids to school in the Peoria Unified School District.
“I drop them off and I feel my stomach drop. My nervousness grows throughout the day. I try to ignore it and act as if I am not afraid.
“I remind myself that my kids are safe and I trust that my school and school district are doing everything they can to make sure my kids are safe,” Ms. Carbello said.
“If I get a call from the school, sometimes I freeze. I have to remind myself to breathe and answer the phone, instead of letting my thoughts run rampant.”
What to do?
At least 31 people were killed in two separate mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio over 13 hours on Aug. 3 and 4.
The nation, as it has done too many times before, once again mourns and wonders how to respond to such senseless death and violence.
William Marsh, licensed clinical psychologist and a primary supervisor for Southwest Behavioral Health & Services, said mass shootings are incredibly tragic and weigh heavy on society.
Unfortunately, he said, symptoms of depression and anxiety are common reactions to such tragedies and can be difficult to understand and regulate.
Mr. Marsh said it is important to remain aware of these feelings and manage them through self-care and support. Mourning and fear are part of the human experience and people work through their feelings in various ways.
“People may benefit from spending quality time with loved ones, engaging in physical activity, reading a book you’ve been meaning to read, planting that garden you’ve always wanted, or finding new meaningful activities to fill your life with. Be mindful of what you find meaningful and embrace it,” he said.
“It is also equally important to know when you need to seek professional help from a therapist, doctor, or crisis line, particularly when you are becoming overwhelmed with negative feelings and they are impacting your life.”
The five stages of grief are shock, denial, blame, bargaining, and acceptance, according to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D., in her book “On Death and Dying.”
Ms. Carbell said Americans may have come to accept that mass attacks are now a part of life and that’s just the way it is.
“I hope that’s not the case,” she said.
Ms. Carbello is well versed in the nature of a healthy mind. She is a mental and behavioral heath consultant and participated in emergency training with FEMA for the Peoria Unified School District.
But she still struggles with the inability to overcome this American problem.
Each time a mass shooting happens, she reflects on every time something like this happened — the forgotten victims and survivors, as well as those who love them, as far back as Columbine.
“I think about what has changed and what we have done to prevent another mass attack or school shooting,” she said.
“The school security industry has grown and made mass profits. School safety task forces have grown exponentially in government and the community at-large, more resources are being allocated to schools and there is greater disagreement on the solution.”
Much has changed since the watershed event at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, when 12 students and one teacher were murdered on campus.
No school has gone without adding safety measures that stem from that moment.
The Peoria Unified School District Governing Board earlier this year approved a maintenance and operations override for the November ballot that will fund school programs and people.
Spokeswoman Danielle Airey said the override, if approved, would allocate about $4 million for safety initiatives such as hiring counselors and intervention positions, as well as safety-related staff training.
When mass shootings happen, she said the district receives calls from parents no matter where the shooting happens, whether it be a church or school or anywhere else.
The district has a comprehensive emergency plan that addresses school crisis situations, she said.
Peoria Unified administrators have been trained and drilled on many types of emergency situations – with and without students present.
Specifically, each school conducts monthly evacuation drills, two lockdown drills per school year, two shelter-in-place drills per school year and two bus-evacuation drills per year
She also said the district has a strong relationship with local municipalities and law enforcement agencies in case of an incident, and plans are updated annually to allow the best outcome in the event of a crisis.
To maintain the district’s focus on student and staff safety, specific details of the plans are not shared with the public, Ms. Airey said.
“We know these events are not just at schools, and safety is always a top priority,” she said. “We always try to reassure parents that public schools have people who are dedicated to the safety and well-being of children and have proactive plans in place that have been vetted.”
From a long-term perspective PUSD has been implementing a program intended to create a functional, sustainable and evidence-based district-wide culture of caring to make for a safer learning environment.
The program’s focus is social/emotional learning, a model that is culturally sensitive, diverse, as well as family and community oriented to meet the needs of every student in the district.
Ms. Airey said the district added a lead nurse and lead counselor to the program this year. The two work for all district schools.
“A holistic approach exists on every campus in being proactive and responsive to those with social and emotional needs,” she said.
Thoughts and prayers
In addition to working with the district, Peoria Police Department works with local businesses offering site-security surveys. The department also provides education to public groups through their Police Citizens Academy, regarding what citizens can do to protect themselves in an event of an active threat incident.
The department encourages citizens to contact police if they see anything suspicious.
In an emailed statement sent to the Peoria Independent, the Peoria Police Department stated: “We would much rather check it out and it be nothing, than to not know about it in the first place … The men and women of the Peoria Police Department and the entire city of Peoria offer our thoughts and condolences to the many families and communities that have been affected by the recent tragedies in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. We constantly monitor incidents throughout the country and evaluate our training, education and response options. We are committed to keeping citizens safe in their homes, businesses or while they may be spending time in Peoria.”
Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.
It’s ok to ask for help
Services for those in need that have been affected by the recent mass services can be obtained at Southwest Behavioral & Health Services. To schedule an appointment or obtain assistance, call 602-285-4288. To access the Telecommunications Relay Service for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, dial 7-1-1.