Nearly eight years after the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, important new research was published in the Child Youth Services Review sheds light on the victim families’ experiences after the mass shootings. The article, entitled “Primary victims of the Sandy Hook Murders: ‘I usually cry when I say 26,’” was funded by the Charlotte Helen Bacon Foundation as part of their Grief and Bereavement Research Initiative and conducted by Dr. Joanne Cacciatore at Arizona State University.
Data collection took place during 2017 with 15 individuals whose child or parent were murdered. Joel and JoAnn Bacon, parents of Charlotte, six years old and one of twenty Sandy Hook child victims said that, “We have been waiting a long time to have our voices heard unedited and undiluted. We are grateful for all the families who participated, trusted in the process, and shared their experiences.”
The key findings in the research include:
- The Sandy Hook shootings caused emotional, relational, and physiological responses in victims.
- Often, the primary victims’ well-being was compromised in favor of community, corporate, and government stakeholders.
- Training is needed, along with fiscal accountability, to address primary victim needs after mass shootings.
- Primary victims’ perception of social support was both positive and negative.
- Helpful to the families were interactions that obtained consent, promoted safety, and were sensitive to their needs.
- Community and systems responses lacked sensitivity, deference, and competence. Their unpreparedness in these responses revictimized primary victims.
- Participants coped by taking action, remembering their loved ones, and helping others.
The Charlotte Helen Bacon Foundation supports a number of initiatives involving the things Charlotte loved. The Foundation launched the Charlotte Helen Bacon Grief and Bereavement Research Initiative in 2017. The Bacon family’s experiences after losing Charlotte was genesis for the new initiative: “We felt so much is misunderstood about grief and trauma in the aftermath of mass shootings… We felt the most helpful and legitimate way to explore these unique aspects would be through research.”
Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work and Principal Investigator noted, “What this study illuminates is that there are many things communities can do right. And also, there is much room for improvement, especially for primary victims after mass shooting.” The Charlotte Helen Bacon Foundation hopes that the study can help victim families of mass shootings in the future, provide understanding for those who have experienced it, and inform communities and policy makers.
Notes Dr. Cacciatore, “Policy makers should, perhaps, re-evaluate current protocol and preplan for future disasters, which sadly may be inevitable, through educating public officials, community members, and direct service providers on immediate and long term crisis care for the most vulnerable.”
The study was published in the Child and Youth Services Review. To read the findings of the open access research click link here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0190740920304886?via%3Dihub