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Remembering the Freeman High School Shooting from a medical perspective

SPOKANE, Wash. - "I remember it vividly," said Sacred Heart's Children's Hospital Director Kim Jorgensen. "The nursing supervisor called my cell phone and said there had been a school shooting and we needed to setup a command center."

At first Jorgensen thought it was just another drill, they practice regularly for these events, just in case. It became all to clear on September 13, 2017, that it was not a drill.

She said the hospital began receiving the reports, several students had been shot, one had died, 14-year old Sam Strahan. 

With the limited details they had, the hospital staff jumped into action, clearing and prepping operating rooms, calling in extra staff, waiting for the first ambulance to roll in. 

"We had constant contact with the dispatch, we knew when they were a few minutes away, we knew when they were a minute away, we were there ready to receive them within seconds," she said. 

She said despite the emotion, despite the tension, the professionalism of the care-givers was incredible. 

Soon after the three living shooting victims arrived at the hospital, family members and concerned friends began showing up for support and some their own treatment. 

"The street was filled with cars coming from Freeman," she said.

In the hours and days following, members of every department at the hospital contributed to the care, a conference room was converted into an additional waiting room to accommodate the well-wishers.

"We wanted to provide that place of comfort and compassion," Jorgensen said.

The beginning of a rallying cry, a community grown stronger out of necessity, Freeman Strong.

In the coming days, that strength would be tested though, as students returned back to the halls where the horror had unfolded.

There too, they had support.

Multicare Rockwood Clinic sent a team of social workers to Freeman High School on the first day back for the rest of the students. 

"It was very emotional, very moving and very powerful to see how the community came together," said Sean Hendrickson, one of the social workers. 

He said the students came to him, many still in shock looking for help. 

"They wanted to know how to make things normal, how they should feel, I think they wanted to be heard," he said. 

He explained that many students described to him being unable to feel, something he says is not uncommon after traumatic experiences. Teachers too were struggling to overcome the shooting. 

"One teacher who had pulled students into her classroom when it was going on had a lot of questions as to how she should support her students, what she should say, how to handle things," he said. 

As the one year anniversary is remembered, he said it can be a challenging time once again for students, memories becoming fresh once again. 

"If your kiddo's didn't want to talk about it then, it is ok to talk about it now, the grieving process takes time," Hendrickson said. 

But don't force it, if the students still don't want to talk about it they don't have to. They may have also confided in another source, like a teacher or other trusted advisor, so he says parents don't push. 

"Allow them time and space to come to you and ask questions," he said. "Some kids may not want to talk about it, but let them know you are there if they need to."

He says traumatic experiences like Freeman can prompt symptoms like depression and anxiety, and recommends breathing exercises, staying socially involved and writing in a journal as means of therapy. 

He continues to see both students and teachers from Freeman, and says there is nothing wrong with seeking help. Mental health is an important aspect of your overall well-being and there shouldn't be any stigma attached to seeking assistance. 

"Encourage people to talk to people, and know that you aren't alone, you aren't going through this by yourself," he said.


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