The mental health effects of a school shooting can linger in a community for months or even years, experts said, and West Liberty-Salem school leaders say they’re working with other districts to make sure their students have the counselors and support they may need.
The district plans to maintain additional counselors for as long as necessary, Superintendent Kraig Hissong said.
“Right now we are truly committed to make sure everybody receives the assistance they need, both students and staff,” he said.
West Liberty-Salem High School was the scene of a school shooting Jan. 20. Deputies have alleged 17-year-old Ely Serna brought a shotgun hidden in a backpack into the school and shot 16-year-old Logan Cole twice in his chest and side.
Cole was transported to a Columbus hospital and has a pellet in his heart. He has since been removed from the ICU but still may require surgery.
A second student, Adam Schultz, was also struck by a pellet, but he received minor injuries and was not transported to the hospital.
The school re-opened last Tuesday and had counselors from other districts around and beyond Champaign County to help students cope.
Scott Poland, a psychologist at NOVA Southeastern University, has responded to 15 school shootings to guide schools to make sure their students are treated for the traumatic events. He said in his experience, he has found school shootings have lasting mental health effects on students.
“The school needs to realize they are in this for a long haul,” Poland said. “We need to budget our resources for weeks or months.”
He also said he has found that some schools don’t anticipate how long a student will need help.
His research has found that about 20 percent of students who witness a school shooting — especially those who are closest to victims or who were within range of the gunfire — will suffer long-term effects like depression, sleep disorders and behavioral issues.
“If your kid was in that school and if they were close to the victim, don’t hesitant, get them professional counseling in the community,” Poland said.
Madison Local Schools Public Information Officer AJ Huff said the district also found that effects from a school shooting can linger. Madison Junior/Senior High School in Butler County was the scene of a school shooting last February where four students were shot.
She said the school found that as time progressed, students and staff members who at first seemed fine after the shooting started to need counseling.
“Some people weren’t experiencing the need for counseling right in the beginning, but as time went on, the stress of school started again and all of those things,” she said.
West Liberty-Salem should expect some of their students to have similar needs, Poland said.
Madison applied for and won a $56,000 grant that allowed the district to keep counselors in the school. When the second wave of students started to need the extra help, Huff said the district was glad they had the resources available.
Applying for a similar grant is likely for West Liberty-Salem, Hissong said.
“That’s definitely a path we are headed down,” he said. “I don’t know what we will receive but I am hopeful because it will help us assist students.”
The Springfield News-Sun has been provided in-depth coverage of the West Liberty-Salem school shooting since news of it first broke on Jan. 20, including stories digging into security upgrades and how it affected everyone from students to dispatchers.