Yet another melancholy anniversary passed December 14 as Newtown, Conn., chose to remember in its own way the massacre of 20 schoolchildren and seven adults last year in Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The town’s first selectman (mayor), Pat Llodra, announced in October that there would be no official activity to mark the tragedy. Remembrance would be “quiet, personal, and respectful,” she said.
To do otherwise would only open old wounds, said Charles Herrick, M.D., chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Danbury Hospital (Psychiatric News, July 10).
“The experience last December was traumatizing for the whole town,” he told Psychiatric News. “The press, the gifts, the donations overwhelmed the town. They fear something like that will happen again, and that would not be appropriate.”
That the anniversary falls in the midst of the holiday season is no help either, he said.
Some area residents have sought to turn their grief into action under the aegis of Sandy Hook Promise. The organization advocates prevention of gun violence by promoting “mental wellness, connection to the community, and gun safety.”
“They want to educate people, to give them a better understanding of mental health issues, and when and where and how to seek help,” said Herrick.
Over the intervening year, mental health care for families, survivors, and other residents has largely been provided by private clinicians in the area, said Herrick. A Yale University team offered training in cognitive-behavioral therapy and trauma-informed care to those clinicians. Danbury Hospital has provided other support and education. The state chapter of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry granted funds for a mental health “navigator” in a local pediatrician’s office, a role that will be taken over by the local Office of Victim’s Services next summer.
In October and November, Sandy Hook Elementary School was demolished. The building, constructed in 1956, would have required an expensive renovation to bring it up to code, but some townspeople were not sorry to see it erased from the map, said Herrick.
On November 25, the state’s attorney released a 48-page summary of the Connecticut State Police investigation into the incident. The report noted that the gunman, Adam Lanza, was given a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome in 2005 and was treated by “mental health professionals.”
It went into detail on how Lanza spent his last months, and then on December 14, killed his mother, went to the school, and shot the children and educators.
The report did not suggest a motive. ■