Therapists share coping strategies for Aztec school shooting
Friday marks passage of one year since tragic incident
FARMINGTON — Mental health professionals are sharing coping strategies as Aztec Municipal School District employees are taking steps to help survivors and those affected by the Aztec High School shooting as the one-year marker of the traumatic event approaches.
Friday will mark the passage of one year since the shooting, during which 17-year-old students Francisco "Paco" Fernandez and Casey Marquez were killed before the shooter shot and killed himself as law enforcement officials responded to the scene.
Psychologists and area therapists urged anyone affected by the incident to find someone they trust to speak to about their feelings.
Joel Dvoskin, a psychologist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, said the most important thing to remember is everyone processes trauma differently and could experience grief months or years later. He specializes in such topics as speaking to young people about tragedy and recognizing danger signs before a shooting.
Dvoskin said students should reach out and speak to a parent, a member of their place of worship or faith, or a counselor/therapist about how they are coping with their feelings.
"Everyone is different. Respecting those differences is really important," Dvoskin said.
Local therapists spoke to The Daily Times on Nov. 28 about their response to the shooting and coping strategies for community members.
Rick Quevedo, CEO of Desert View Family Counseling, said his office saw an increase in clients following the shooting and leading to the start of the school year this fall.
"We saw any number of people from students to parents and even some of the staff members," said McKenzie Dunlap, a therapist at Cottonwood Clinical Services. "We were able to help them with a lot of their difficulties."
Coping strategies to help people through traumatic anniversaries
- Find healthy ways to cope with your distress.
- Use your support system
- Recognize and acknowledge feelings you may experience
- Engage in an activity that honors lost loved ones
Courtesy: American Psychological Association
Quevedo suggested people avoid things that could trigger an emotional reaction, including avoiding social media and reading news stories about similar incidents that have occurred nationwide.
"I think it's important to validate the kids' feelings because there is not right or wrong way to feel," said Ja' Nece Avery, truancy court coordinator at Desert View Family Counseling.
The therapists spoke about how it's OK for secondary victims, who may not have been involved in the shooting, to feel affected by it.
"I've had a lot of people who feel guilty for being affected because they weren't in the school when it happened or in the classrooms where it happened," McKenzie said. "I think it's just validating, that no matter what your distance to it was, it affects the whole community."
Aztec High School staff members have been engaging with students since early September on how they plan to handle the school day on Friday, according to Principal Warman Hall.
The day is set to start in the auxiliary gym as students eat breakfast, work on group art projects and talk with first responders who responded to the scene.
"We didn't want to make it a somber anniversary," Hall said. "The kids were really keen on doing something that is focused on life and coming together to support one another."
Following the morning event, students will have a full class schedule for the rest of the day with shortened class periods.
The staff plans to be very accommodating of students if they feel the need to be checked out from school, and parents can join students in the auxiliary gym in the morning, Hall said.
Safe space lounges will be set up all over campus if students start to feel overwhelmed during the day. Therapists/counselors will on hand to speak to students, and therapy dogs will be stationed to help comfort students or staff members.
Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.