The unthinkable has happened again, another shooting into a crowd.
This one took place in the baggage claim area at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport by a man with no clear motive. He killed five and injured eight, then laid spread eagle on the floor and waited for law enforcement to take him into custody. While he knows why he did this, his injured victims and everyone else on the scene does not, and are left with lingering questions and disturbing feelings about the event.
It’s not unusual for victims of a crime to feel isolated and disconnected from the people around them. But what many don’t realize is, there are invisible casualties of heinous events: those that were in the area and witnessed some or all of the event, but were not directly impacted by the tragedy. These victims can suffer serious negative reactions that begin immediately, or appear over time.
My own experience with such an event, the feelings, emotions and how the tragedy impacted my entire life, is chronicled in the book Invisible Casualties.
A traumatic incident can trigger recent and not so recent memories in which the victim felt scared and/or helpless. How individuals react and process this type of horror greatly depends on past experiences they had involving violence and/or loss. Some will be impacted very little, while others will grieve deeply even though they were not directly impacted (i.e. in the baggage claim area).
For example, while the shootings took place in the luggage claim, a worker in the car rental area could have heard the screams of the victims which in turn triggers his memories of an incident in which he was screaming in terror or pain.
While it’s easy to focus our attention on the people in baggage claim, I encourage everyone to expand their viewpoint and consider the ripple effect of such an event.
For instance, both passengers and airport employees were screaming and running out of the airport. Arriving airplanes went into immediate lockdown and did not allow passengers to leave the airplanes until they were given the okay by on-site officials.
It didn’t matter where you were in the airport, feelings of terror were an equal opportunity event. Everyone felt it and everyone reacted to it, even when they were unsure of what was happening.
The after effect of this event will probably linger in the psych of a lot of people who were in the airport that day. To those of you affected, know it’s normal to “not feel normal” after this type of event. It’s also okay to set boundaries with people who want to know what happened that day, including family and members of the media.
Our society has been conditioned to believe they have a right to know every detail about a headline making event with very little thought given to whether or not the questions they ask make the other person uncomfortable.
Keep that in mind the next time someone starts to ask you questions. Its human nature to be curious, but you get to decide if you want to participate in the conversation.
For family, friends and co-workers who know someone who was in the airport that day, the best advice I can give you is to give them time and space. If they want to talk about the event, let them approach you first. However, if they start to become upset when talking about the tragedy or you notice a change in their behavior, acknowledge the conversation is making them uneasy and nicely let them out of the conversation.
They will thank you for it later.