San Antonio incident highlights lasting trauma of Uvalde shooting

On Tuesday, parents of students at Jefferson High School in San Antonio received some chilling news. There were unconfirmed reports of an active shooter on campus, reports that would later prove to be false. But for the hundreds of parents attending the school, the tensions and anxiety were high.

After a communication breakdown, altercations occurred between the parents and the police, leading to the arrest of several people. For licensed psychologist and trauma expert Jeff Temple, it’s no surprise that Uvalde is a priority in these situations. Temple is also director of the Center for Violence Prevention at the University of Texas Medical Branch and associate dean of research for the School of Nursing. He spoke with the Texas Standard about a trauma that sticks to our skin. Listen to the story in the player above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Texas Standard: There are a few videos being released on social media from that day, and you can see the concern on the parents’ faces. Not that it wouldn’t be when you get a notice of trouble at your child’s school, but from Uvalde and scrutiny of the police response, it seems like everything is running high – emotions, fear, anxiety. Do you have that same meaning?

Jeff Temple: Absolutely. I mean, even watching this video, I can sympathize with the parents. And, you know, the trauma, that collective trauma that we went through with Uvalde, is going to stay with us. One of the things we’ve been able to rely on is that the police have taken care of it, and I think they are and will. But Uvalde heightened our sense of skepticism and fear, and that only exacerbated our trauma.

It happened in San Antonio, just an hour and a half from Uvalde. Of course, these kinds of events have been reported across the country. But with Uvalde part of the national school safety conversation and so close to San Antonio, are the feelings particularly raw here, or is it something people across the country are reporting?

You know, I think we’re going to see that the closer we get to the trauma, the greater the effects that we’re going to see. We saw it with 9/11 – the closer you were to the epicenter, the greater the trauma. And we see it with school shootings – the closer you are to the trauma, the worse you are behaviorally and psychologically. Same with Harvey and the hurricanes; it’s just that the closer you get to the epicenter, the worse you are.

So how are parents and others supposed to deal with this kind of stress, especially if you’re in Texas where, as you pointed out, there seems to have been an erosion of trust in the forces of the order and official management of these problems by the incident authorities.

I don’t know if there is an easy answer here. I can give you the academic answer, but I think if I were a parent in the same situation, I’d probably be a lot like those parents in San Antonio. We are all scared, we are all traumatized. We know, I think, rationally that school is a safe place. And from a practical point of view, school is extremely safe and often the safest place for many of our children to be throughout the day. But we have this real fear. And in Texas, it seems to be increased. Sadly, we have some of the worst mass shootings in American history, so all of us Texans are closer to those traumatic situations. So we will continue to be traumatized and scared. And I think we’re going to see more of it, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

I also think that some people may not realize that what happened in Uvalde in May affects them. I wonder if there is anything you can say to parents, students, teachers right now. If what happened in Uvalde affects them emotionally, what could you say?

Well, I think that’s a very insightful thing to say in the sense that maybe we don’t know how bad we got it, because we have to face it and we have to protect ourselves. Sometimes the best way to protect ourselves is to distance ourselves and not think about that traumatic event, so we kind of block it out. And then when something like that happens, like with the people in San Antonio at Jefferson High School, when it’s close to home, it really clicks and it drives home. So it’s particularly scary. And I guess to answer your question, along with teachers, parents, and students, I would think about that and think about how Uvalde affected you and tell people about it. Talk to your partner and friends, and if it’s really starting to bother you, seek help from a psychologist or mental health professional.

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