During the Community Forum: Recovery and Resilience at Western Connecticut State University Wednesday evening, the Principal of Columbine High School, Frank DeAngelis, said, "You are not in this alone."
DeAngelis began teaching at Columbine in 1979, and he was in the high school during the 1999 shooting. He told the audience he feels awful knowing his best friend was shot and killed during the shooting but he survived. He said once he escaped, he was talking to students on telephones who were still inside the building. As he listened, he could hear shots in the background. One of his students told him, "I have to go Mr. D. The shooters are coming."
DeAngelis said the freshman class in 1999 are now adults and many of them are still dealing with problems from the Columbine High School shootings. They have drinking and drug problems, failing marriages and they need advocates to get them the help they need today, 14 years later. "It's never easy and you're never alone," DeAngelis said. "Fourteen years later I need those coping skills."
The United Way of Western Connecticut and Western Connecticut State University organized the panel to help people heal after the shootings on Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The school shootings devastated students, teachers, families, first responders and thousands of people in the region and across the country.
Chaplain Greg Young was a member of the panel who worked in Wisconsin during the shootings at the Sikh temple in August 2012. Young is a counselor and trainer for the FBI in Wisconsin, and a debriefer for the Germantown, WI, Police Department.
"As Frank said so well, it isn't a sprint," said Young, who encouraged people to tell people what happened to them in Sandy Hook, whether as family members, as teachers, administrators, first responders or community members. "The more times you tell your story, the more power and control you gain over the story."
Mary Fetchet lost her son Brad in the World Trade Towers, and she is a founding director of VOICES of September 11. She told the audience that in the days after 9/11 she dropped everything except the 9/11 work. She regrets her lack of balance. She had had two other sons, and she has since apologized to her children and said she needed to find balance between her family, personal needs and the 911 work. She didn't say it was easy.
"My life changed dramatically and profoundly after 911," Fetchet said. She said during those early years when Congress was working on improving United States intelligence systems to avoid another 911, she learned more about the nation's intelligence community than most Congress members knew.
Fetchet said it is now the job of the Sandy Hill community to advocate for changes in laws to help prevent another Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. She said that work might involve school safety, gun control, mental health issues or other issues.
"You will play an advocacy role," Fetchet said.
The final speaker was Jamie M. Howard, Ph.D., and director of the Stress and Resilience Program at the Child Mind Institute. Howard specializes in helping children recover from traumatic stress and anxiety.
Howard said most importantly if a child or an adult needs help getting on with their life, get help. She said recovery takes time, but people make progress. When they're not making progress, they need help.
This community forum was co-sponsored by the United Way of Western Connecticut and Western Connecticut State University.