The recent suicides of two people connected to the mass shooting at Parkland High School last year, and another how lost his daughter in Columbine, show that the trauma of violence is long-lasting.

Nikolas Cruz ended 17 lives within mere minutes when he opened fire with an AR-15 rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last February, but the reach of his actions continues to devastate so many more.

News that two survivors of the massacre committed suicide within the past two weeks reminds us all that mass shootings are more than a day-long event and that the tragedy can impact communities long after the gunfire has quieted.

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It is not clear why one of the survivors, who police have not identified, decided it was no longer worth continuing his life. The suicide of 19-year-old Sydney Aiello, on the other hand, could have very well been a tragic aftereffect of the wholesale killing. Ms. Aiello’s parents told a local television station their daughter had suffered from survivor’s guilt ever since her close friend Meadow Pollack died that day. She reportedly once posted to social media a suicide-related message that said "asking for help is not a weakness."

Parkland shooting survivor, Sydney Aiello, 19, killed herself Sunday because of "survivor's guilt," her parents say.
Parkland shooting survivor, Sydney Aiello, 19, killed herself Sunday because of "survivor's guilt," her parents say. (Gofundme.com / TNS)

Collateral tragedy also seems to have followed the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Jeremy Richman, whose 6-year-old daughter Avielle was killed in the slaughter, was found dead Monday in an apparent suicide. Representatives from a foundation he started in the name of his daughter — one of 20 first-grade students and six school personnel killed — alluded to the emotional struggle Richman had suffered since his daughter’s death.

"Jeremy's mission will be carried on by the many who love him, including many who share the heartache and trauma that he has suffered since December 14, 2012,” the representatives said.

Richman told an NPR reporter in 2017 that he still intensely missed his daughter. “It was like a ghost limb syndrome, you know, where you keep thinking ‘Where’s Avielle? Do we need to pick her up?’” he said. “And every day you’d have this [realization] that I don’t have a child, and I don’t have to parent. That was just brutal.”

Jeremy Richman, right, during a press conference on Jan. 14, 2013 beside his wife Jennifer Hensel, center, holding a photo of their daughter Avielle, who was killed in the Dec. 14, 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Jeremy Richman was found dead early Monday.
Jeremy Richman, right, during a press conference on Jan. 14, 2013 beside his wife Jennifer Hensel, center, holding a photo of their daughter Avielle, who was killed in the Dec. 14, 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Jeremy Richman was found dead early Monday. (Richard Messina / TNS)

And these aren’t the only mass shootings that are followed by more tragedy. Some connected to the Columbine shootings in 1999 also eventually took their lives.

Amid the debates about gun control and mental health that often follow mass shootings, these are the stories that often go untold. While many survivors are resilient, some of the parents, friends and siblings of the victims may find it hard to cope with a life without their loved ones. Young people closest to the tragedy may suffer the most. The incident may replay itself every night in their dreams. Or they may constantly work to block out feelings of paranoia that something bad could happen again.

In the worst cases, survivors may suffer from post traumatic stress disorder or long-term mental health issues because of their experience. An estimated 28 percent of people who witness a mass shooting will develop PTSD, according to The National Center for PTSD.

Advocates, opponents testify on bill that would regulate long guns in Maryland

Rachael Pacella doesn’t know if proposed legislation requiring rifles and shotguns to be regulated like handguns would prevent another mass shooting, like the one she survived in June in Annapolis. But, Pacella told state legislators, if stricter laws stop even one more death, that would be enough.

It is the same kind of emotional response we see in residents who live in Baltimore’s toughest neighborhoods, where hundreds of people grapple with untreated trauma. The kids who act out may actually be dealing with the stress of living amid death and despair. Moms who can’t seem to get up to get their kids to school in the morning may actually be dealing with depression. Substance users are are often masking other problems in their lives.

There are ways to help people cope with the emotional turmoil they may suffer after a violent incident. Those who have strong support systems, such as a caring family and access to grief and trauma counseling, fare better than those who don’t.

But what if we didn’t have to turn to mental health treatment at all? Because ultimately, as the recent suicides prove, it doesn’t work for everyone. Wouldn’t the better alternative be to end mass shootings altogether? There are plenty of countries where gun violence is not so insidious. Before he took his life, Richman had been researching the link between the brain and violence, something the foundation in his daughter’s name will continue.

Our lawmakers could of course do this with more aggressive gun control laws. The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday held a rare gun control hearing on so-called red flag laws, which would allow relatives to petition courts to temporarily remove guns from people who might harm themselves or others. Maryland has a red flag law, but most states do not.

It was an unusual hearing for Republican-controlled Senate. Even more surprising, Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has given some hint that he could support such a law. We hope that he doesn’t bow down to the gun lobby and that, perhaps, the recent suicides can help convince him it is the right thing to do.

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