Last Sept. 28, 14-year-old Jesse Osborne drove to Townville Elementary School in South Carolina and opened fire at students on the playground, witnesses said. He shot a teacher and two students, one of whom, 6-year-old Jacob Hall, died three days later. In each shooting’s wake, the children and adults who die and those who murder them become the focus of intense national attention. Often overlooked, though, are the students who survive the violence but are profoundly changed by it, the Washington Post reports. Beginning with Colorado’s Columbine High School 18 years ago, more than 135,000 students attending at least 164 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus, concluded a Post analysis of online archives, state enrollment figures and news stories. That doesn’t count dozens of suicides, accidents and after-school assaults that have also exposed children to gunfire.
“A meaningful number of those kids are going to have significant struggles,” said Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist who worked with families. “It’s stunning how one event can have this echo that will impact so many more individuals than people realized.” Every child reacts differently to violence at school, therapists have found. Some students suffer post-traumatic stress similar to combat veterans returning from war. Many grapple with recurring nightmares, are crippled by everyday noises, struggle to focus in classes and fear that the shooter will come after them again. Because of the lasting damage, Townville’s teachers, administrators, first responders, counselors, pastors, parents and children spoke to the Post about what the town of 4,000 has endured over the past eight months.