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Orlando Florida Mass Shooting June 12, 2016 Article Dr. Lawana R. Lofton, PsyD

 

In the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12, 2016, while watching television news, only because Saturday Night Live was a repeat episode, I began to see live news reports of scenes describing an active shooter event at a Orlando, Florida, Nightclub named Pulse.  The shooting at the scene was just unfolding at Pulse.  The video was vivid and unbelievable.  Apparently, a local resident had posted live video to the internet of what they were seeing from their vehicle parked across the street from the nightclub.

To be honest it took a while to fully comprehend what was unfolding and being reported.  It quickly evolved into a hostage situation in real time.

Several Orlando Police vehicles were on the scene, lights flashing, and the news broadcaster is reporting a shooter was inside the club Pulse holding hostages.

Shortly thereafter, news footage displayed images of club goers hand carrying the wounded away from the club.   Often five people are seen carrying one wounded person with improvised wound dressing, tourniquets, to slow bleeding.   In another video shown a group of people and police officers are helping wounded victims into the back of a pick-up truck to transport them to the nearby trauma-one emergency room.

 

As it turns out, this was the live unfolding of yet another mass shooting in which 49 mostly young people were murdered.  53 wounded.  I remained awake following the coverage in disbelief until I could no longer.  Later this day it was reported what occurred at Pulse, a LGBT Club, was a crime of terrorism and a hate crime.  Ture motive remains under investigation.

The shooter was armed with a 9MM hand gun and a semi-automatic AR15 assault rifle.  A type of rifle commonly used on the battle fields of war, but has become with more frequency now used for mass shootings, for leisure, but not sport hunting, in several American communities.    The shooter:  Omar Mateen was killed after a nearly 3- hour stand-off.

By Wednesday, many remained in hospital in critical condition from their wounds.  The outpour of solidary with the slain victims was enormous.  From Los Angeles, California, San Francisco, to Orlando, Florida, from Paris, France,  events in  United Kingdom, displayed their unity with Orlando with an outpouring of support in the form of candlelight vigils.  Large gatherings of support were also held in South Korea, Thailand, and many more countries.

All Government American installations near and aboard were ordered by the President of the United States Barack Obama to place flags at half-mast in remembrance for the lost.

 

“Not again” I said.  Why is this happening?  Why are those among us so distraught?  I thought of  other  events similar to this one that have occurred in America like the recent South Carolina Church mass shooting, San Bernardino mass shooting, the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, the Dark Night Rising Theatre mass shooting.   Then there was the Fort Hood Military Installation mass shooting, the Virginia Technical School mass shooting, and so many more others.   Not to mention the other terror attacks that occurred overseas in Paris, France, then airport bombing in Brussels, Belgium.

The “West” is under siege by a terrorist threat!  It’s no longer just the western European Nations experiencing increased terrorist attacks, but now a few Americans have adopted an ideology causing terror attacks in the US.  The possibility of terrorism occurring in the US by ISIS, or self-radicalized ISIS inspired attacks, has been an on-going debate for years.  It would be safe to say the risk has materialized if you consider Orlando and San Bernardino mass shooting events as local terrorism.

What occurred in the very early hours of Sunday, June 12, 2016, we all should take a moment to pause; reflect upon what this signals?  What far reaching implications this has on the families that lost their loved ones.  Random violence, terrorism, a hate crime.  How does one guard against such an event so random?  If you feel mostly fear something like this may happen again or you changed your daily routine directly because of it, than the predominate speculation of what occurred on this date is terrorism.  This event was also a hate crime because it targeted a LGBT protected class.  Under the law it is illegal to willfully harm another due to their sexual orientation just as it is for race, gender, religion, etc.

Terrorism always has a utility.  In its wake generates fear to others far beyond the ground zero.   To combat it, many must unite as if in a united front; a united community, together to confront it.

 

“Stop bombing my people”

 

Anderson Cooper of CNN interviews Richard Aiken and Joshua Lewis.

“Stop bombing my people”  Orlando mass shooting survivor Richard Aiken recalls hearing from the shooter.  He survived by remaining clam and quite in a bathroom stall of the club while others in the club were fatally shot.

Most of us get it.  Those who follow international and local foreign policy regarding what actions the United States Military and foreign coalition forces are taking internationally have consequences.

We would be naïve to ignore this.  Thousands are being killed in the Middle East; some justified by drone strikes and many not.  Thousands being killed by coordinated fighter jet bombings.  This is no justification however for what occurred at the Pulse Nightclub.  There are even reports Doctors Without Borders program have sent up the white flag in protest they are being bombed attempting to provide critical trauma care in war zones!

American President Barack Obama has in my opinion relentlessly attempted to make the coalition war on terror strikes a “collective effort” with Middle Eastern nations to escape this perception that the war on terror was a “West vs. East” fight.  And, this is the best strategy in my opinion.  {We} the west alone are not fighting ISIS, it is a collective effort of all those globally who are negatively impacted by ISIS terroristic violence.  This makes a difference.

Here we are.  Where we are now is we must come to some acceptance of our new reality and what we must do now going forward.

Time to pause, to reflect, on the disbelief, the anger, the grief and bereavement, and most importantly the space to allow families to bury their loved ones with respect and dignity.   Families will need support and compassionate comfort from all communities that share their pain.

When headlines are spectacular they are and behind them are real breathing survivors.  Families shattered as well as all impacted by the news of such a horrific event.

 

Based on another first account interview with a Orlando shooting survivor Norman Casiano published, it would appear the shooter indiscriminately shot people at random.  It is reported the shooter laughed as he shot at his moving target.  In a bathroom stall, where many were attempting to hide, at one point the shooter reached his arm over top the stall door and pointed his 9MM downward, then fired.

 

According to Norman Casiano, the shooter’s laugh is “imprinted in my head.”   During his hospital stay while he recovered “it’s the one thing I hear when I close my eyes.”

Like “a laugh of satisfaction”

His interview resonated with me and the pain he must have felt in the moment having undergone the terror, surgery, and now to hear of traumatic memories of what he has to recount is heartbreaking.

I wish I could tell him “that’s normal.”  What you are reminisceting about or having a traumatic memory about is normal.   In a severe trauma, it’s normal to have a severe reaction.  Exposure to tragic events typically have severe emotional responses.

I’d tell him …..you survived and whatever you did in the moment to survive trust that  you made the right decisions in the moment of panic.  Applaud your natural survival instincts.

 

You’re alive!

To all the survivors there is no greater joy than knowing you mustered all you had in the moment to make quick decisions to fight for your life.

I wish I could tell the survivors my hope for all is with time the intensity of those emotional memories become less intrusive.

The memory of what happened “to you”   in a random event will forever be a part of you going forward.   There is no escaping this.  It happened and was not “normal.”  Mass shootings are not normal events.  What is important now is how you process it; seek help if needed, lean on your existing support system, even add to your support systems.  Find resilience in the fact you survived.

Participate in services and support available even if you feel you are resilient and can handle a great deal of stressful stimuli.  Doing so will help gain perspective “quicker”  of what happened and improve odds of countering any long term negative effects of being exposed to extreme trauma.

Life or death dilemmas have a way to bring everything into perspective.

***

 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating Psychological Anxiety Disorder triggered by exposure to a traumatic experience.  It is more concretely, a traumatic memory which has the potential to “get stuck” or fixed, in our emotional hard wiring of memories the more it is rehearsed, and regrettably many individuals have difficulty moving past the memory of the event.   Experts have concluded if individuals immediately start talking about traumatic events, it actually increases the likelihood for traumatic events to become disturbingly hard wired or “stuck” in their emotional memory.

 

3 Key Points:

After exposure to a traumatic event, three things are important to be aware of:

  1. It is normal to have an emotional reaction when exposed to a traumatic event which can manifest in the form of Sleep Disturbances, Disturbing Nightmares, Increased Anxiety, and Sadness.
  1. According to Dr. Michael First, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, it is very normal for people to have a bad reaction after trauma. Individuals should not get too upset if they are having bad dreams and cannot get “the event”  out of their head or have trouble functioning in the days after.   That is not a warning sign for PTSD; that is normal.   In a severe trauma, it’s normal to have a severe reaction.
  1. Recent traumatic events can trigger [ past ] traumatic memories.  For anyone who is already suffering from a Mental Health condition, such as Depression, further exposure to a traumatic event, such as a mass shooting, could exacerbate it.

What to watch for after  24-Hours, 2 Weeks on, and 4 Weeks on, following exposure to trauma

Not everyone exposed to a traumatic event develops Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).   It is estimated a small proportion of the witnesses may go onto develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  An individual’s likelihood of developing PTSD is mainly due to their own predisposition to the disorder.   The risk may be greater if the person has a family, or personal history of Mood and Anxiety Disorders.

 

The factors that seem to best predict adjustment include family history of mental illness, social support available, and manner in which individuals are able to process stressful stimuli.

 

Psychological Debriefing is intended to prevent psychological symptoms (e.g., PTSD) following a trauma and is typically a group intervention lasting up to a few hours that occur after a traumatic event.   Although helpful, Psychological Debriefing has NOT been proven in the research to prevent PTSD, and has been proven in some cases, to make recovery more difficult for some.

 

It is equally important to note, those who receive prompt counseling in the form of Psychological Debriefing or Grief Counseling can be extremely supportive with most. All forms of Therapy and Support can only help in the days  and months to come because these type of services help to normalize what a person is feeling, helps a person put events in perspective quicker so they do not have to ruminate on negative thoughts, and experiencing empathy and compassion from others can be curative in itself.

 

Just be mindful first, most people actually recover well from traumatic events without professional assistance.  Secondly, just because an individual participates in preventive therapeutic services is no guarantee to completely avoid developing Psychological Symptoms in the weeks and months to follow.  So third, it is best to seek support and participate in services and support available even if you feel you are resilient and can handle a great deal of stressful stimuli.  Everyone responds differently and there is no tool or test to measure how a person will react 2-months following exposure to extreme trauma.

 

Do seek professional assistance should symptoms of Acute Stress persist beyond 2-Days to 4-Weeks.  Do continue to self-monitor and alert others concerning Anxiety levels, Acute Stress Symptoms including re-experiencing the trauma (e.g., nightmares), sensitivity to triggers which prompt reliving traumatic memories, increased arousal (e.g., insomnia).

***

 

 

Taking Action

A Corrective Action Plan

In my line of work usually when policies and procedures go off course or fail to meet important standards,  a Corrective Action Plan is discussed, corrective recommendations made, and then implemented to correct the problem.

It begins with a question regarding what went wrong.  For Orlando, I would phase my questions as follows:

Should mass shootings that occur in America be classified as a public health and safety concern?  Most would say yes because they occur at random and place all Americans at risk of death.

Should mass shooting stop?  Most would say yes because they occur at random and place all Americans at risk of death.

 

Common Sense Right?

 

By Wednesday, June 15, 2016, 11:21 AM EST,  Senator Christopher Murphy (D-CT), where the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting took place, is reported to have made a decision that very morning that he would stage a filibuster on the Senate Floor to address gun violence.  He did, and it lasted from 11:21 AM EST to 2:14 AM EST into the wee hours of the next day with 40 fellow Senators joining him to give questions on gun violence.  Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) stood with Murphy for the duration in support.

Why?

To prove a point that what had quickly become a national debate so widely reported as the largest mass shooting in American history should not be treated as “business as usual.”  On the schedule for the senate to discuss that day was a 2017 Commence, Justice & Science Budget agenda.  With 49 Americans killed just hours ago in Orlando, and it had been 4-years of his senate not taking any action to address the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting how could it not be acknowledged.

This day of all days was not going to be “business as usual” Murphy explained about his filibuster in subsequent interviews.

 

The opposite of love is not hate, it  is indifference so eloquently Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) explained in his many questions directed to Murphy.

40 Senators ask questions ref:

Should those on the no-fly terrorism list be able to purchase assault weapons?

Should we close the loop-holds that allow Americans to purchase weapons without a background check?

If on the no-fly list, or investigated by the FBI a person can purchase any gun over the internet, at gun shows, and in person-to-person sales without question or a background check.  Does this make American citizens safe?

 

Filibuster gave some figures:

90% of Americans in the public agree common sense background checks is good prevention.

71% of gun owners agree background checks would be acceptable.

 

Humanity.  We, as individuals make up one whole globally.  One humanity.  Multi-Cultural and diverse.   I believe it is time we be more compassionate with one another.

 

::::   Until Next Time:  à Donf   ::::

Dr Lawana R Lofton, PsyDDr. Lawana R. Lofton, PsyD –    Psychologist with one simple goal of making concepts of psychology accessible.

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