News of Florida shooting hits some in Las Vegas hard

Updated February 15, 2018 - 7:00 pm

News reports of yet another mass killing, this time in Florida, have brought renewed sorrow and stress to Las Vegas.

Local psychologists say they’re ready to help survivors of the Oct. 1 mass shooting and other Las Vegas Valley residents who exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress triggered by the killing of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Wednesday.

Call volumes were increasing Thursday at the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center, said Clark County Assistant Manager Kevin Schiller.

“It’s definitely a trigger point, and it’s definitely causing an increase in a need for service,” Schiller said of Wednesday’s attack.

The reaction is normal, said Michelle Paul, director of The Practice, UNLV’s therapy clinic. She said she experienced sadness herself when she heard about the shooting in Florida as began remembering her work in the hours and days after the Strip shooting.

“I would expect everybody to be triggered at some level,” Paul said.

Symptoms sometimes delayed

Some local psychologists said they have not yet heard from additional patients in need of assistance, but that it’s likely just too soon after the latest tragedy. Many of those affected will feel a range of emotions, from sadness and anger, and symptoms, such as flashbacks and difficulty sleeping and eating, that will take time to manifest, Paul said.

Christine Caria, 50, said she has had repeated bouts of crying since she learned of the Florida shooting. She was helping a friend working at the Route 91 Harvest festival when the shooting broke out there. She has visited doctors and therapists since as she deals with physical ailments from being trampled, as well as emotional trauma.

“It’s weird. I didn’t cry for the first month, and now I can’t stop crying,” said Caria, now a victim advocate, who was at the grocery store buying chocolate-covered strawberries for Valentine’s Day when a news alert on her phone said schoolchildren in Florida had been shot. She said she ran to the store’s bathroom and vomited, then curled into the fetal position and rocked back-and-forth for hours, waiting to calm down.

On the other end of the spectrum, Michele Langlois, 44, who survived the Oct. 1 shooting unharmed with four friends, said the Florida attack brought back negative memories but so far hasn’t provoked any strong reactions.

“I haven’t had a lot of triggers,” she said Thursday. “It’s hard to hear those things and hard to read those things, but I don’t want to bury my head in the sand.”

If people feel their symptoms are impacting their ability to function, Paul recommends reaching out, even if it’s just talking to friends and family.

Survivors not only ones at risk

Anyone can be affected, from someone hurt during the Oct. 1 shooting to a person who was sitting safely at home.

To avoid being triggered, some experts recommend avoiding news reports while coping with stress.

“Sometimes people get so obsessed,” said Ramu Komanduri, chief of staff for the VA Southern Nevada Health Care System. “I’ve seen people spend hours on end watching YouTube videos.”

Other helpful coping strategies can include yoga, exercise and healthy eating, he said.

And if you’re not sure if what you’re feeling is normal, pick up the phone and call for help, said Monique Cox, a therapist who works parttime at the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center.

“We’re here. Don’t go this alone,” she said. “Just know that if things get so overwhelming, there’s a place you can go.”

Contact Jessie Bekker at jbekker@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4563. Follow @jessiebekks on Twitter.

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