For Each Survivor of a Mass Shooting, a Different (Slow) Road to Recovery

At Esquire, Libby Copeland sits down with survivors of a mass shooting at a high school in Chardon, Ohio six years later, observing the various ways they live and cope with lasting trauma. All the people she speaks with — students, teachers, parents, school staff — continue to struggle with the memories and things like survivor guilt and PTSD, and no one can predict when or if they will ever fully recover. Some have made strides with the help of therapists, and treatment with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

For Jen Sprinzl — the principal’s secretary, who’d encountered the shooter in the hallway, mid-rampage — even more than therapy, it was her husband’s understanding that helped her recently get to a new place with her grief.

She said that, despite therapy, she continues to struggle. Recently, while standing in a restaurant buffet line, another diner started to choke; the commotion that ensued sent Jen’s whole body into a state of panic, her heart racing, her breath fast and shallow. Just the other day, a student pulled out what looked to be a pocket knife, and it terrified her, until he opened it up to reveal that it was just a comb. She said she knew that some of her colleagues thought she should be over this by now, six years later, but it wasn’t that easy.

Even so, things had improved over the last year. “I let him win for five years,” she said, referring to the shooter. Then one night, she’d had a kind of breakthrough. She and Joe went to dinner down the road, and she told him, “I’m sorry if I’ve been a burden. I can’t control this.”

“You’re not a burden,” he told her. He was there to help her, he said. However long it took.

And after that, she said, crying, “it was like I was free.” In that moment, Joe had taken a great weight from her. She realized she didn’t need to protect him from her pain; he could help her carry it.

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