Uvalde, Texas – Bullet fragments in the arms and legs of the children. Traumatic flashbacks flood their nightmares. For the 17 people injured in a mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas last week, healing will be slow in a community mourning the death 21 others.
As the tight-knit city from 16,000 holds funeral after funeral and investigators are investigating how The police responded to the shooting At Robb Elementary School, several of the victims are still in hospitals in San Antonio, over an hour’s drive away, being treated for gunshot wounds.
Uvalde Memorial Hospital, which treated 11 children and four adults in the hours after the shooting, discharged 10 of those patients later that day and transferred five to hospitals in San Antonio. The grandmother of the gunman, who was shot in the face before the 18-year-old gunman entered the school, was also hospitalized. As of Wednesday, San Antonio hospitals were still treating five patients, with a 10-year-old girl in serious condition and the rest believed to be in good condition.
Among the injured were several fourth graders whose classmates and teachers were shot. A young survivor, 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo, told CNN that she and a friend used her dead teacher’s cell phone to call 911 and waited what felt like hours for officers to arrive. Miah, who suffered a shrapnel from a bullet to her back, said she covered herself in a friend’s blood and pretended to be dead.
“We just take it day by day,” the girl’s father, Miguel Cerrillo, said in a brief phone interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The family raises money for Miah’s medical expenses to treat both the injuries caused by the bullet fragment and the mental trauma of surviving the shooting. Cerrillo said that although his daughter is home now, she has not disclosed to him what happened in the classroom.
The long-term devastation of the shooting of those closest to them weighed heavily on their family members this week as they put together fundraisers to pay for their treatment.
Noah Orona, 10, “was trying not only to understand his wounds but also to witness the suffering of his friends, classmates and his beloved teachers,” his older sister Laura Holcek wrote on a GoFundMe page for his treatment.
Orona had been hit in the shoulder blade by a bullet that left his back and left shrapnel in his arm Washington Post reported.
Family members of 9-year-old Kendall Olivarez reported in another fundraiser that she would need multiple surgeries after she was shot in the left shoulder and bullet fragments hit her right leg and tailbone.
Her uncle Jimmy Olivarez said Wednesday that Kendall was “okay.”
But the emotional scars of the shooting reached far beyond the hospital beds, to a community where parents have been holding children with racing hearts, where local police are facing mounting questions about how quickly they acted to stop the shooter, and where mental health experts say the scars of trauma become indelibly engraved.
“You’re holding on to this horrible, horrible memory,” said Dr. Amanda Wetegrove-Romine, a San Antonio psychologist who attended Uvalde High School and assisted with community counseling services in the days after the May 24 shooting.
Children had nightmares and clung to their parents, she said.
a third grader, 8-year-old Jeremiah Lennon, feared he would be killed if he went back to school after surviving the shooting in a classroom next to the room where three of his friends were killed. He was changed by the shooting, said his grandmother Brenda Morales, who now sits quietly, not eating much and just staring into space.
“He has changed. Everything has changed,” she said.
As Erika Santiago attended the funeral of 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza this week, she shared how her 10-year-old son Adriel looked on in horror when the first pictures hit the news and he recognized two of his friends from kindergarten: Amerie and Maite Rodriguez.
Although the Santiago family moved and now lives in San Antonio, Adriel didn’t want to go back to his school: “He said to me, ‘Mom, I just don’t feel safe.'”
Mental health experts said trauma can have particularly long-lasting effects because most of the victims were children.
“You are in an important development phase. Their worldview is formed and they learn if the world is safe or unsafe,” said Dr. Arash Javanbakht, who directs the Stress, Trauma, and Anxiety Research Clinic at Wayne State University.
“Trauma stays with children for the rest of their lives,” he said, adding that childhood trauma has been linked to a variety of health problems later in life.
In communities across the country that have been rocked by school shootings over the years — Columbine High School in Colorado, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Santa Fe High School in Texas, and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut — the trauma has since years manifested. Columbine survivors, now adults, have spoken out in recent days to say that news of the shooting has reopened the wounds of their trauma.
“I spent the formative part of my career in an elementary school in Connecticut. I will never forget the ripple effect of fear and heartbreak that swept through students and teachers after the horrific Sandy Hook shootings,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement Wednesday, announcing the establishment of a federal program to provide mental health support in Uvalde to.
Mental health experts said survivors will need a range of support, starting with so-called “psychological first aid” in the immediate aftermath to counseling sessions to manage trauma symptoms that can last for months and even years. The community’s ability to come together to heal will also be vital, with parents playing an important role in speaking to their children about emotions.
“Support and connection with community members and fellow survivors can be a powerful source of resilience, collective memory, collective healing and purpose,” said Nicole Nugent, an expert in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder who serves as a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
Wetegrove-Romine, the psychologist, said Uvalde is a “close-knit” community where “everyone is connected” but intense scrutiny of the speed of police response has also prompted “conflictual grief”.
She worried that in the small Texas community where mental health resources are scant and where she described a culture of stoicism prevalent among many, people don’t get help when they need it. She has started collecting trade journals to send to adults in Uvalde to help them process their grief.
“I’m concerned for the long-term resources – there will likely be another shooting like this and resources will have to be left behind,” she said, addressing the survivors of this tragedy. “What is happening to the people of Uvalde?”
Groves reports from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Associated Press writers Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas and Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed.
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https://www.local10.com/health/2022/06/02/day-by-day-uvalde-survivors-recover-from-wounds-trauma/ “Day by day:” Uvalde survivors recover from wounds, trauma