The nation’s eyes were turned to Parkland, Florida recently after the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2018. Thirty-three people were shot and 17 of them died. As a Red Cross social worker with a background in trauma counseling and crisis intervention, I deployed to Florida for 5 days to work with the peers and families of those students so tragically killed.
During a disaster or a terrible event like this, workers like me help to meet people’s complex emotional needs. I provided support, psychoeducation (therapy that helps survivors understand what they’re experiencing) and connected other students and parents in the community to local resources and referrals to help in the long term.
Most of my time in Florida was spent on an outreach team. We visited people in hospitals, schools and homes through this outreach. I also provided support at two memorials held for the victims and at the Family Assistance Center that was set up at the Parkland Community Recreation Center.
Part of this outreach included a group of 5 golden retriever comfort dogs from the Naples location of PAWS. Pictured with me is Woody. These comfort dogs brought another level of relief, and I actually brought them on many of the home visits. They really help soothe the soul.
To call this event tough or sad doesn’t even begin to describe it. I was flooded with such a mix of emotions during this experience. All at once I felt sad, angry, proud and inspired. I am sad for the loss of life and all the families that may never feel complete again. The survivors will never be the same and still face a long road to recovery ahead of them, which can be difficult and complicated.
I’m also angry that something like this can happen in a place we consider safe — school. My husband is a teacher and this scares me to my core. I feel proud of the students and the change-makers that have now taken an impressive stand. We’ve seen their actions and heard their words on TV and I’m so impressed by their maturity and ability to speak up, even after being the very community affected most deeply by this tragedy. To see them work toward bringing change is inspiring. I’ve also seen unlikely friendships form and massive amounts of support come out of this ugliness. They’ve shown the world they are resilient and the Parkland community has grown stronger as they work together to process the impact of this despicable act.
Diana Loch is the Regional Recovery Manager for the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois.