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Child trauma common in mass shooters

As of Sept. 1, there have been more mass shootings in the United States than days in the year. After every publicized incident, we are all left wondering what we can do. We hear the same calls each time – “thoughts and prayers,” “only a good guy with a gun,” background checks, eliminate large capacity magazines, more mental health treatment, etc. All may have merit, but we believe we are not addressing the root of the problem. How did all these men – the vast majority of mass shooters are men — conclude they should murder people?

A recent study by The Violence Project reported on the life histories of mass shooters in the United States. The authors examined shooting incidents at schools, workplaces and places of worship since 1999 and interviewed perpetrators, their families, survivors and first responders. Through this exhaustive research, they found that the mass shooters had several things in common. One of these commonalities is brutal bullying, early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age.

Of course, most boys who experience childhood trauma don’t become mass murders. And what about girls? They may also experience childhood trauma and violence but only rarely commit violent acts. Are there gender differences in the reaction to trauma?

According to the National Survey on Children’s Health, more than 15.6 million children in the U.S. have had at least two traumatic experiences, with the highest rates occurring in the South and Southwest. Yes, it’s occurring right here, and we are doing something about it.

The N.M. Legislature last session allocated money for the development and ongoing support of an institute to provide to organizations and communities the tools and skills needed to solve challenges that have been considered unsolvable until now, including adverse childhood experiences, childhood trauma, substance misuse and untreated mental health challenges. The institute is named the Anna, Age Eight Institute after the book of the same name by Katherine Ortega Courtney and Dominic Cappello. The institute, working in collaboration with educators and researchers at Northern New Mexico College, Eastern New Mexico College and New Mexico State University, can now provide the foundation for much that needs to be done as a community to address the issue of childhood trauma.

Along with several other counties in New Mexico, with resources and guidance from the institute, we are proud to say Las Cruces has already begun to address this issue through the Resilience Leaders program spearheaded by City Councilor Kasandra Gandara. As clinical psychologists, we have joined a group of experts, service providers and concerned citizens currently meeting in Las Cruces whose goal is to address the issue of childhood trauma in Doña Ana County. We intend to reduce the experiences of childhood trauma that we now know has such far-reaching impact on our children and our community.

There is a stunning link between childhood trauma and social, emotional and physical problems that people can develop as adults. This includes depression, drug dependence, violence, becoming a victim of violence, and suicide as well as significant physical illness that shortens the life span. And now we also know that one of the consequences of childhood trauma affecting all of society is the potential this trauma has to plant the seeds that lead to mass shootings.

One step is the “100% Community Summit on Trauma-Free and Thriving Childhoods” Dec. 3 in Las Cruces. The lieutenant governor will open the summit, which will include countywide survey data regarding access to services that reduce or eliminate adverse childhood experiences, thereby reducing the incidence of trauma in our children. For information and registration, go to https://www.annaageeight.org.

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