The boy had witnessed Tuesday’s shooting at Roswell’s Berrendo Middle School, and on Wednesday he discussed the tragedy and his nightmare with therapist Balazs Batyka.
Batyka, who runs his private practice out of Epoch Behavioral Health Care in Roswell, said by noon Wednesday he had spoken to five students who witnessed the shooting and expected to counsel more in the coming days.
Other families sought counseling at Turquoise Health and Wellness in Roswell, where the school district had referred families. And although no classes were held at Berrendo on Wednesday, at least half a dozen students arrived, shaken, alongside their parents to receive counseling services the school is offering.
Just a day removed from the tragedy, the students were understandably saddened and confused, Batyka said.
“At the moment, the facts are really overwhelming the kids,” he said, adding students are struggling to understand why the shooter – identified as 12-year-old Mason Campbell – had lashed out.
Talking to children about their trauma is hard, and requires finesse and patience, said therapists familiar with school shootings.
“The most important thing is to ask a child how much they have been impacted,” Batyka said.
Jesse Chavez, a behavioral health care coordinator, spent much of the day Wednesday sitting in a Blue Cross Blue Shield van in the Roswell mall parking lot with a “free grief counseling sign out front.” He said he spoke to around 10 kids and their parents about what was going through their minds.
“They are traumatized. What I’m seeing is you have these adolescents who don’t really have much life experience,” he said. “It’s hard for them to believe this happened at all.”
Mary Thornton, with the Jefferson Center for Mental Health in Colorado, said parents should pay attention to their child’s mood and look for a time when the child seems ready to talk about what he or she saw.
Thornton worked with students after the Dec. 13 school shooting at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo. In that incident, a student shot a classmate and then turned the gun on himself.
After a school shooting, Thornton said, students may want to spend more time with friends, or they may want to be very close to their parents.
In some cases, a child might “regress” and cling to parents, she said. That’s OK for a while, Thornton said, but if the behavior lasts more than a couple of weeks, parents should seek counseling for the child.
“You really want to get your child back to normal as soon as possible,” Thornton said.
Colorado has been the site of several school shootings and students from that state have offered to send a group to Roswell to help Berrendo Middle School deal with its incident, Roswell Superintendent Tom Burris said during a news conference.
Gov. Susana Martinez said she and Public Education Department chief Hanna Skandera on Wednesday met with Berrendo teachers, as well as an expert in dealing with such tragedies.
Albuquerque Public Schools will have counselors available if a student asks for one. APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said that, after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut in 2012, many parents told the district they wanted to be the ones to talk about the tragedy with their children.
Journal staff writer Patrick Lohmann contributed to this report.