Texas school shooting swells ranks of traumatised teachers

GRIM GUIDE

The United States has suffered so many school shootings that in 2019 a group of 29 school principals who had experienced gun violence inside their buildings formed a support network.

The Principal Recovery Network created a guide that provides practical steps for school leaders after a shooting. It suggests holding an off-site staff meeting as soon as possible, monitoring the mental health of students and staff, ensuring the school is completely repaired and repainted before re-opening and even advice on the benefits of therapy dogs.

One member of the network, Frank DeAngelis, said he has already reached out to the principal of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, the scene of Tuesday’s shooting.

DeAngelis was principal of Columbine High School on Apr 20, 1999, when two students shot and killed 12 fellow students and one teacher before taking their own lives.

At the time it was the deadliest school shooting in US history. Today it ranks fourth on that grim list, surpassed by the death tolls in Parkland, Uvalde and the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 26 children and school staff.

DeAngelis said he originally planned to leave his job after the shooting but was urged by his priest to help the school rebuild. He served as Columbine’s principal for another 15 years after the massacre.

He remains in therapy 23 years later and credits it with getting him through the darkest days early on.

“When I first went back, I struggled,” DeAngelis said. “Every time I heard a loud sound, I jumped. I visualised kids lying in a pool of blood.”

DeAngelis said his counselor urged him to try and instead remember happy moments with each of the slain students.

“I visualised them participating in a school play, or high-fiving me in the cafeteria, or smiling at me in the hallway,” he said. “I had to celebrate their lives and not mourn their deaths.”