Through a window over a music festival, the perpetrator of the Las Vegas mass shooting — known as 1 October — has created a new dynamic of fear, one local psychologist said.
“Shots coming at them from above made the whole experience that much more frightening, because it was more difficult to know what to do to protect yourself,” said Dr. Dan Mosley, the Red Cross’ volunteer chief of disaster mental health in Las Vegas. “That’s something that really struck me as an additional component to this particular tragedy. ... There will be a recovery period for sure.”
Psychologist Scott Poland, a faculty member at Nova Southeastern University, says the mental-health response to a mass killing is basically psychological triage. Poland has provided counseling in connection to 15 school shootings, including Columbine, so he has seen the acute effects on survivors. He also has seen how the world around these individuals can fall short in terms of sensitivity to the trauma.
“Not too long after tragedies, somebody is told something like this: ‘Oh, you should be over that by now, I’m tired of hearing you talk about this,’ ” Poland said. “And the reality is that every person who was at that concert (in Las Vegas) has a story to tell.”
John Steinbeck, Clark County Fire Department deputy chief and emergency manager, said during a Thursday news conference that officials have a realistic timeline for services. An assistance center for victims and families will exist for some time.
But Mosley said this type of attack has a much larger impact: “There are ripple effects that course through the whole community, whether or not you were a witness or were present or you just heard on the news.”
Mass killings can shake people’s core feeling of safety and security — that things are going to be OK, Mosley said.
“So all of us, however remotely impacted we were, it gives us pause in terms of that basic sense of normalcy and security,” he said. “All of us have some recovery to do in terms of returning to some sense of balance, returning to some sense of normalcy, and especially for folks impacted directly, things will never be totally normal.”
Mosley said that even then, it’s important to acknowledge that people can still recover.
“This will always be part of their experience, but they will be able to compartmentalize it; they will be able to process it; they will be able to integrate it into their life history in ways that don’t have lingering effects forever,” he said. “It’s important not to presume that people, even those directly affected, are likely to be traumatized or wounded forever. People need to know and be reminded that we all have a degree of resiliency, and that resiliency really gets tapped in times like this. ... All kinds of resources are available that they need to tap into. Mutual support, mutual understanding, and step-by-step getting back some sense of 'life will go on for me.' ”
Construction of a community healing garden was started days after the shooting, and lines at blood banks were long earlier this week. Many other community members have volunteered products or time as the city grappled with understanding the attack.
Psychologist Scott Poland, an expert on the psychology of mass killings at Nova Southeastern University, said his main area of expertise is school violence. He has responded to 15 school shootings and said support in this case is really challenging.
“If we were were talking about a school shooting, this would be a lot simpler,” he said. “We have to help the faculty first; we have to help the parents next; we have to make sure that all the adults are modeling coping, optimism and hope. We need to have long-term support and services. We need to be aware of anniversary dates, birthdays the deceased had. We need to get the kids more involved in safety. We need to help them raise money and awareness and do things that we would call a gift of hope.” But in this case, he said, many people were not local, and outreach is important to continue after a week and a month and beyond.
“The PTSD is really based on the fear and anxiety from, ‘I could have been killed,’ ” Poland said. “Which I guess would be the reality for everybody who was at that concert. ... The challenge of this is not only the mass casualties, but the large numbers of people exposed to this traumatic event.“
University of Kansas political science professor Don Haider-Markel, who researches extremism, terrorism and violence, echoed the thought that people in the venue and those nearby are at risk for post-traumatic stress syndrome, while pointing to the collective emotions of the community.
“In many ways for the whole city of Las Vegas, and in some ways for the whole country, there’s always a sort of collective shock and yet another trauma undergone. But for Vegas in particular it will likely have somewhat longer-term (effects) — certainly not forever, but a lull over the city and its activities,” he said. “But in the end, we’ve seen it again and again; communities sort of use this as a way to unite and come together and resist this notion that we’re going to change what we do and change who we are because of one person’s actions.”
HOW MASS KILLINGS AFFECT COMMUNITIES
Poland said this rule illustrates who may be most at risk of psychological issues after mass killings. “Sixty percent of us, no matter how staggering the tragedy, we’re going to be OK because of our faith, our family, our support system, our problem-solving skills, etc.,” he said. “They do OK when they are provided ongoing opportunities to vent and share strong emotions. ... They do OK because they’re optimistic about the future. Obviously, if I had a magic wand, I would wish that for every single person.”
Poland said 20 percent will have "minor problems" tied to the emotional trauma. "Unfortunately," he added, "we would have to predict 20 percent would have major problems.” Such problems range from substance abuse and reckless behavior to depression, thoughts or attempts at self-harm, or even death.
Circles of risk
Poland sees trauma-related risk fitting into three overlapping circles, with the center accounting for those most vulnerable. “From a psychological standpoint, here’s how we might figure out who are the 20 percent that we might need to have really long-term help for,” he said. One circle represents people who were at or near the concert, the second accounts for people who maybe weren’t there but knew someone who was, and the third group is made up of those who were already dealing with previous, unrelated traumas. “That’s how I try to approach every situation in terms of geographic proximity, psychosocial proximity, and trauma history,” he said.
How to support those most vulnerable
Poland says to let survivors of the event know you’re always there to listen to what they went through. He says that as a psychologist, he never uses the words, “I understand.” He says people are more apt to then spend the next 10 minutes explaining why that isn’t true. Instead, say:
• I’m here to listen.
• How can I help?
• Help me understand what you’re going through.
• I wasn’t there, I can’t imagine what you experienced, but I’m going to be here for you every step of the way. –Yvonne Gonzalez
COMMUNITY IN MOURNING
The impact radius of the Las Vegas massacre can’t be measured. One person took dozens of lives and directly shook many thousands more, and the pain, fear and sense of loss inescapably ripple to all who knew the victims and all who feel for them. These locals were among the 58 people killed.
Charleston Hartfield, 34
Served in the National Guard before working his way up the ranks of Metro Police. He was a husband, a father and a youth football coach affectionately nicknamed “Chucky.”
Friend Troy Rhett said, “He was one of the best people you’ll ever know — down-to-earth, hardworking, but also very charismatic, caring and well-rounded.”
Hartfield, who posted a photo from the festival on Facebook hours before gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire, was one of six valley residents to lose their lives that night. Both Metro and Hartfield’s team, the Henderson Cowboys, released statements mourning his loss.
“One of the most energetic, charismatic, greatest people I’ve been around. To think about someone who has been such a big part of my life shot dead trying to help others is a terrible feeling,” read a tweeted photo of a letter handwritten by 15-year-old former Cowboy Micah Bowens, now a sophomore quarterback at Bishop Gorman.
Hartfield’s book, “Memoirs of a Public Servant,” was released in July. It detailed his career as a Metro officer and personal struggles after witnessing horrific deaths. On Twitter, he provided advice and support to local reporters and members of the community.
Brennan Stewart, 30
Was a diehard fan of the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco 49ers. He loved to play guitar, ride dirt bikes and hunt, his sister-in-law Kelly Stewart said.
The final actions of Stewart’s life were heroic, she said. Stewart shielded his girlfriend as bullets flew and helped others to safety before he was struck.
“He made close friends quickly, was loved and will be missed greatly,” Kelly Stewart said. “But his memory will live on.”
Cameron Robinson, 28
Graduated from Nevada State College at age 20 and soon after joined the city of Las Vegas as a records keeper. He’d recently moved to St. George, Utah, to live with his boyfriend Bobby Eardley, commuting back and forth.
On Sunday, Robinson succumbed to a gunshot wound to his neck while at the festival with Eardley.
Las Vegas City Attorney Brad Jerbic, who hired Robinson, remembered him as an outgoing yet efficient employee, and an even better person.
“Everything went up a notch with Cameron,” Jerbic said. “He made everything better here.”
Robinson’s death was a “horrible nightmare” for his oldest sister, Meghan Ervin, who called him the best uncle, brother, son and companion. “He was so happy and had an amazing man in his life,” Ervin wrote on Facebook.
Quintin Robbins, 20
Was on a date with girlfriend Ally Plumlee when he was fatally shot.
Despite his young age, Robbins, described by those close to him as “generous” and “caring,” had already begun making his mark in the Henderson community.
A graduate of Basic High School, active participant in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and one-time student at UNLV, Robbins refereed basketball games and kept score at the Henderson Multigenerational Center to make a living. He also served as an assistant basketball coach for Basic’s freshman team, just two years removed from playing for the school’s varsity team himself.
“He was the most kind-hearted person I know,” said Robbins’ cousin Bryce Jordan, while waiting to donate blood Monday in Henderson. “He loved people.”
Basic’s basketball coach Leonard Taylor wrote on Facebook: “He was such an incredible soul, wise beyond his years.”
Erick Silva, 21
Was stationed at the front of the stage as part of the concert’s security detail when bullets started showering down. Instead of fleeing, Silva served as one of the event’s very first responders, helping victims find their footing and hop a stage-side barricade for cover, said Gina Argento, area director for Las Vegas-based Contemporary Services Corp. security.
Argento, whose company had 200 staffers at the event, said Silva was “like a son” to her. He often worked up to 20 hours at a time to staff major events like Electric Daisy Carnival, Life is Beautiful and CES. “He was notorious for locating people with fake wristbands, and he was our top guy for logistics,” Argento said. “He took pride in counting how many fence-jumpers he could get each night trying to sneak into events.”
Neysa Tonks, 46
Was a 10-year resident of the valley, where the single mom raised her sons, Kaden, 24, Braxton, 17, and Greysen, 14.
Brother Cody Davis of Sandy, Utah, said Tonks was an “adventurer” who liked to hike, ski, go to the beach and attend concerts. Always “the life of the party,” Tonks died while enjoying a hobby, Davis said.
On Facebook, Tonks’ friend Mokun Mohan called her “the most amazing person.”
“She had a great smile and the most positive outlook to life!” Mohan wrote.
Tonks worked for IT firm Technologent, which released a statement calling her a “great mother, colleague and friend,” who brought joy and laughter to the office environment. And the company set up a GoFundMe in her name that raised $125,000 in its first day. –Chris Kudialis