Camp offers help for Sparks Middle School shooting survivors

RENO — Students who survived a deadly shooting at their Northern Nevada school in October are attending a Lake Tahoe camp designed to help them through the healing process.

The weekend retreat for Sparks Middle School students features motivational talks by survivors of deadly shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., and Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Ark.

The event, sponsored by the Presbyterian Church at its Zephyr Point Conference Center at Zephyr Cove, also includes tubing and gondola rides at the nearby Heavenly ski resort.

Seventh-grader Jose Reyes killed math teacher Michael Landsberry and wounded two students with a semi-automatic handgun outside the Nevada school on Oct. 21 before taking his own life.

Pastor Howard Dotson of the Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church in Sparks said the purpose of the camp is to help as many as 100 students heal through recreation and motivation.

Organizers heard from many mothers whose children were traumatized by the shooting, he said, and registration was offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Students were offered free overnight accommodations, meals and transportation with the help of donations and a $12,000 grant from a Presbyterian program.

“We want to make sure kids who were most traumatized get the benefits,” Dotson said. “Moms were really relieved to know this event is happening and that it will help their children.”

Christine Bell, 31, is among three survivors of past school shootings participating at the camp. She was a junior at Columbine High when a shooting there left 13 people dead in 1999. Two other participants survived the Jonesboro school shooting that killed five people in 1998.

Bell said she benefited from similar camps sponsored by the Presbyterian Church at its Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center near Little Rock, Ark.

“I think there’s a really specific catharsis in talking to someone who knows what you’ve been through,” she said. “I hope my experience and what I have to offer can help in any small way.”

Bell said she underwent a lengthy healing process after the shooting and did not seek professional help until long after she should have. She eventually came to grips with the shooting and went on to graduate from a liberal arts college in her current hometown of Seattle.

Students at the Tahoe camp will come away with a couple of important messages, she said.

“One is knowing there’s a community of survivors out there ready to support them and they’re not alone in the healing process. There are a lot of other people who have gone through school shootings, unfortunately,” Bell said.

“The other is just to maybe give them a sense there’s a future ahead of them where this event (shooting) isn’t a big event in their life and they’re going forward with happiness to a future of possibilities.”


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