Martin Rafferty Calls for Creation of Task Force to Create School Shooting Survivor Database

It’s been one year since the shooting in Parkland, Florida and seven years since the shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, but the suffering continues and the death count increases.

This past week two students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who survived the shooting, died by suicide within days of each other. A father of one of the children who died at Sandy Hook Elementary school died by suicide in the same week. Add three to the death count. An unknown number of survivors are still suffering. The tragedy is not over.

For weeks after a mass shooting, details of the shooting fill our newspapers, cable television news programs and social media feeds. As we descend into an inevitable debate over gun control, we are rendered immobile in America (unlike New Zealand), unable to move forward due to lack of agreement.

It’s gun control. It’s a mental health issue. Teachers should have guns. No one should have guns. Ban assault rifles. Improve background checks. The debate continues until the media moves on to the next issue, discouraged by lack of action.

One month ago at this year’s Research and Policy Conference on Child, Adolescent and Young Adult Behavioral Health, I led a keynote conversation with a survivor from the shooting at Virginia Tech and one of the few researchers studying mass shootings. Our discussion did not mirror the national debate.

The conversation wasn’t about banning guns. It was a State of the Union address on the state of research of mass survivors. Here’s a spoiler: the amount research matches our lack of action – there is very little of it out there.

During the address, I pleaded with the audience to “Lay down the gun debate. Surrender the political nightmares at the door. Those conversations aren’t going to lead to the relief that is desperately needed, not in time to help survivors.”

I meant that then. But now, after this last week of losing so many mass shooting survivors to suicide, it’s taken on a new urgency.

The survivors, families, and communities of these massacres are in crisis. For as many mass shootings as we’ve had, there has been very little research conducted to find the best practices for supporting survivors of mass shootings. Of the 80 mass shootings in the United States since 2000, only three of these shootings have been studied, according to Sarah Lowe, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Montclair State University and the researcher I shared the stage with at the keynote. Only three shootings.

In total, these 80 shootings have claimed 1713 casualties with 650 people dying. The numbers don’t tell the full story. These numbers don’t include those who have been traumatized – survivors who feared for their life but managed to run, hide or dodge, families scarred with grief or community members whose sense of safety and trust has been turned upside down. With the lack of research, how can we begin to help survivors and their communities if we don’t know what will work? If we aren’t asking that question, we aren’t paying enough attention to the issue in the first place. Survivors are not getting the support they need to heal.

We are redefining what taking action on mass shootings looks like. We need to take massive action to support survivors. It’s our duty.

What Does Massive Action Look Like?

Youth ERA is joining with Children’s Mental Health Network to create a task force on exploring the path forward for the creation of a school shooting survivor database. This effort replicates a successful model used by first responders from 9/11 and could serve as an essential backbone to further research on supporting survivors. Here are three questions you might be asking:

Why a Task Force?

There are too many councils, too many boards. We need to take massive action, and we want to attract the kind of people who might be too busy to commit to a long term commitment.

How Do I Sign Up?

Send an e-mail to TaskForce@youthera.org and let us know how you connect with this issue and if you have interest in hearing more about the task force or if you want to keep track of the massive change we are about to unleash on the world of research.

What/When/Where?

Members of the Task Force will be involved in the initial scheduling of meetings. Meetings will take place via video conferencing call.

This is what massive action on mass shootings looks like. As researchers and helpers, we need to set a new standard in the research of assisting survivors. We are starting at the very beginning. There is no protocol. There are no evidence-based practices. The deaths of three survivors in one week is unacceptable. It is unacceptable because it is preventable. We as a country have the power to change. We as a country can help survivors and communities heal from their trauma, but only if we take massive action and take a stand.

Join us and demand #Research4Survivors.

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About the Author

Martin Rafferty

At age 12, Martin Rafferty discovered he was homeless after finding a note from his mother. “This isn’t your home anymore.” At 22, Martin started a non-profit to help Oregon youth navigate and improve services for needs such as mental health, crisis counseling, education, and foster care. Now 28, Martin is taking the model nationwide, and has launched The Youth ERA to train national programs in effective ways to reach and serve young people. The organization is particularly recognized both nationally and across the globe as a leading expert in effective youth-driven response to instances of school violence. Staff are trained to utilize a trauma-informed and stigma-aware approach to provide relief for students recovering from school-based trauma.

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