Columbine survivor Heather Egeland-Martin said it took more than a decade for her to fully address the trauma she experienced during the mass shooting at her Colorado high school on April 20, 1999.
She wasn’t hurt in the shooting but said the psychological trauma festered and influenced her actions for years before she learned to “advocate” for herself.
“The idea that survivors are not worthy of feeling [trauma] kept me from getting help,” Egeland-Martin said. “Survivor’s guilt is a thing. It follows you for a very long time.”
On Sunday, Egeland-Martin spoke on a panel at the Orlando Museum of Art for area mental-health providers and city leaders. The event, hosted by trauma and terrorism survivors nonprofit Tuesday’s Children, aimed to inform community leaders on treating and supporting Pulse shooting victims in the long term.
Initially created to help the children who lost parents in 9/11, Tuesday’s Children has developed “models of healing” for trauma survivors, executive director Terry Grace Sears said.
Sears said the organization takes those models “to share with other communities and impart to them the lessons we’ve learned.” She said that’s why the group came to Orlando Sunday after linking up with Pulse owner Barbara Poma last year.
Also on the panel were Jennifer Barahona, the executive director of the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation, and Kelly Green Grady of Tuesday’s Children.
After working with those affected by the Sandy Hook shooting, Barahona advised Orlando mental-health providers to start working on a sustainability plan for the future when grants and other funding for post-Pulse assistance go away.
Barahona said that in Newtown, she saw many people come forward for help about two years after the shooting that killed teachers, administrators and students at the Connecticut elementary school.
“It took a year to come out of the fog and for our outreach to start setting in,” Barahona said. “That was an issue because those grants were ending and the sustainability plan wasn’t in place.”
Barahona and Egeland-Martin said there is no timeline for when suffering ends, and both advised Orlando mental-health professionals to be ready to support Pulse survivors for many years to come.
“The truth is you are going to be recovering for the rest of your life,” Egeland-Martin said.
Grady, who lost her husband in 9/11, said creating a community of support helps. Tuesday’s Children gave her that, and now she works to assist other trauma victims through the organization.
“Tuesday’s Children became my soft place to land, and now its my vehicle to help other people who have been through this,” Grady said.
Grady and Egeland-Martin also encouraged attendees to prepare to support survivors deal with the fear that the Pulse shooting would be forgotten as more traumas — such as the Las Vegas mass shooting two weeks ago — grab headlines.
Poma said she will continue to work to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“One thing that has been really important to me is that I want to make sure that what happened here is never forgotten,” Poma said.