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Children traumatized in aftermath of NIU shooting
By Robert McCoppin | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/23/2008 12:00 AM

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The shootings at Northern Illinois University last winter targeted college students, but it turns out children were among the victims.

Although it didn't have precise numbers, the lead agency that's handling mental health counseling in DeKalb says it saw a nearly 100 percent increase in psychiatric hospitalizations of children following the Feb. 14 shooting.

Some veterans being treated for post traumatic stress disorder also were particularly affected by the shootings. And of the 4,000 people the Ben Gordon Center treats, President and CEO Michael Flora said, almost every one was somehow affected by the tragedy.

Many of the people the center treated were already patients undergoing treatment for various mental health problems, whose conditions got worse in reaction to the shootings.

The numbers show the ripple effect of the shooting, in which a former student with three guns opened fire from the podium of a geology lecture. Five people plus the gunman died, and 18 were wounded.

As students return to class for the new school year Monday, it may be a stressful time for some of them.

In response, the Gordon Center and the Illinois Division of Mental Health will hold a series of free public seminars next week, "Preparing for the Worst: What communities need to know in the event of a community tragedy."

The sessions will address the response timeline of mental health providers, agency disaster plans, community, student and faculty needs, preparing for the anniversary, and bringing the community together.

Harvey Barker, director of the mental health agency that responded to the shooting that left 33 people dead at Virginia Tech in 2007, will be on hand to talk about similarities between the two incidents.

At NIU, the majority of treatment stemming from the shootings was for depression, Flora said. Of the several hundred people who came in for treatment, Flora said, many also needed help for anxiety, bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.

One positive outcome was the outpouring of support from the community for the students. More than 300 counselors volunteered their services, Grade school children made ribbons and banners, volunteers bagged thousands of cookies, and social service agencies offered wellness classes.

Now, six months and a new school year removed from the tragedy, more people are coming to come to terms with what happened.

"I think the majority of individuals are in the process of recovery," Flora said, "People are relying on their own resiliency to help them move forward."

The seminars will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday at The Mildred Berry Center, 8616 Northern Ave., Rockford on Monday; Tuesday at The Kishwaukee Community College BID Center room A 247 in Malta; and Wednesday at the Chicago Read Mental Health Center, 4200 N. Oak Park Ave., Chicago, Wednesday.

For more information, call the Gordon Center at (815) 756-4875, or email Barbara Stagner at bgbcs@bengordoncenter.org.