Columbine, Oklahoma City, Waco all in April

When it comes to national tragedies, what is it about mid-April?

On April 19, 1993, following a 51-day standoff, federal agents raided the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. A fire, later determined to have been set by the Davidians, destroyed the compound and killed 57 of its residents.

On April 19, 1995, a bomb inside a rental truck exploded at the Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, killing 168 people in what was then the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

The killer turned out to be 27-year-old Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh’s ex-Army buddy, Terry Nichols, was also charged in the crime.

On April 20, 1999, two armed highschool seniors, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, walked through Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. In the end, 12 students, one teacher and the two murderers were dead.

Add Monday’s slaughter of 32 by a 23-year-old South Korean student at Virginia Tech to the terrible list.

Area professionals – from seasoned police officers to long-time mental health experts – seem as much at a loss for answers as the rest of us. Some blame America’s violent culture. Others wonder if the change of seasons from winter to spring may be at the root of some problems.

“I don’t have hard scientific studies, and the connection may be coincidental, but we do know that suicides become more frequent in the springtime,” said Richard Traitel, a clinical psychologist working at Comprehensive Psychological Services in Bloomfield Hills.

Kirt Bowden, Bloomfield Township police chief, spoke of reading similar reports that spring was supposed to be a time to be happy and upbeat.

The trouble comes when “people who may be having problems contrast that to their own lives,” Bowden said.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard reported his officers are aware of past events happening around this time of year. “But it’s not a case where we’re going to 12-hour shifts,” he said, or putting staff on special alert. “We’re aware of it, and we’re prepared for it.”

Bouchard planned to read reports of what transpired in Virginia as he did with Columbine, he said, in an attempt to glean something usable from those previous incidents. “What I learned from Columbine stuck with me to this day,” he said.

At Columbine, signs were ignored, he said. “E-mails (Klebold and Harris) sent and pictures posted N~ they were dismissed,” he said. “You can’t do that. You have to run it down for the safety of all involved.”

April can’t get all the blame. A look at a list of other major national school shootings reveals the violence has occurred in almost every month school is in session.

Coping with tragedies

Traitel advises people to share their feelings of pain and grief.

“Talk to a trusted friend,” he said. “Don’t internalize it and keep it inside.”

Modern media, especially TV, has a “problem with overkill” on these tragedies, he said. “Initially, some viewing seems to be helpful, but if you become glued to the TV, watching it over and over, then it becomes overwhelming, and one becomes more traumatized,” he said. “Limit the exposure.”

If children appear to be disturbed by a news event, give them some information. “Let them ask questions,” he said. “Give realistic answers but do not be an alarmist. Explain the perpetrator was mentally ill and there is a relative rarity of it happening again.”

Adults may want to consider taking action, such as sending condolences to the families or taking more interest in one’s own community, he said. They may wish to find ways to teach tolerance and nonviolence in schools. If none of the tips work, Traitel advised, consult with a mental health expert to work through the distress and fear.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday April 19, 2007.
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