This is the first part of a two part story
The alarm was set for 4am, an unfortunate regular occurrence of the job.
The night before, her boss asked her to be at work early because three students were killed in an accident. When she woke up to prepare for that day, she noticed her phone had a slew of missed calls and text messages. The one from her brother saying “Tiffany, tell me you’re okay,” was what made her realize that the tragedy she was waking up early for wasn’t the only one that happened over the course of the night.
Jumping up, she turned the television on and listened in horror, as she quickly threw on whatever clothes were nearby. Every local and national news channel was covering the story, and as she was gathering her belongings in an effort to run out the door, she caught snippets.
A mass shooting…Mandalay Bay hotel…Jason Aldean concert…50 plus dead, hundreds injured.
After responding to her postvention (death notification to staff members, as well as counseling activities for classmates and friends of the three students killed over the weekend), her destination and purpose for that day changed.
All eleven staff members of the department of school threat evaluation and crisis response (DOSTECR), were called in to be briefed on the events of the night. Job responsibilities were given out. Tiffany and one of her coworkers, Teresa, were to report to the Metro Police Station.
No, they’re not part of the Las Vegas Police or Fire Department. No, they are not City or State employees. No, they are not who you would think of when you hear the words “First Responders.”
They are more than that. They are both first and last responders, and everything in between. They are threat and crisis counselors, grief counselors and psychologists for the entire Clark County School District, the 5th largest school district in the country. Their specialized training makes them some of the most qualified persons to assist in such a tragedy. The City of Las Vegas recognizes this and that’s why they were called on the night of the shooting.
Yet even as a threat and crisis response counselor, Tiffany said, “there is no amount of training that can truly prepare you for the horror of human lives lost in such circumstances as the Vegas shooting.”
At the Metro, they were placed in the room where families were waiting to hear news of their loved ones. Some people, she said, sat in shock while others couldn’t stop crying. One person was so upset they were vomiting uncontrollably. And they came to them for help, asking questions, needing reassurance, a hug, or someone to get them water and food. They had basic human needs that get lost in the face of tragedy. Tiffany and Teresa did it and so much more.
Some of their colleagues were sent to area casinos to set up call centers, while others were sent to hospitals where the injured were taken. They did much of the same to help out, including driving people from place to place, as many of those in attendance that evening were from out of town.
They were there that day at their assigned posts and continued to help out wherever they were needed for a week. Food and water were brought in to them by others who were in charge of taking care of their teammates. They only went home when their boss told them to go home and sleep for eight hours so they could return a bit more refreshed and continue helping in every way that was required.
For Teresa and Tiffany, the room they were in dwindled down and those remaining knew the ultimate fate of their friend and/or loved one, yet they stayed there still holding on to hope and each other. Many times they were simply offering their hand to hold. The touch of another human being which says “I know you are about to hear the worst news of your life. I can’t stop that from happening, but I will not let you be alone when you hear it.”
The not-so-simple, yet so personal act of sitting with another through their living nightmare – those who work for the CCSD did just that and more.
They were called upon by the City of Las Vegas and they came together to take care of not just their own, but individuals from all across our country. They stayed, morning, afternoon and night for days. They saw and heard it all: horror, shock, tears, screaming, blood the worst thing of all: silence.
And though trained to handle these situations, it does not mean they are immune to the overwhelmingly range of emotions that comes with witnessing such tragedy. Actually, that is very far from reality. The job these individuals do and what they did after the shooting on October 1, is so intense that grief counselors and psychologists were brought in to provide them with emotional support. Many of them continue to suffer from nightmares, insomnia, physical distress and anxiety.
It’s been a little over a month since the Las Vegas shooting, yet it feels like it happened ages ago. Life for us, here in the heartland, and actually those in every other state except the one where the tragedy occurred, has seemed to move on. The news coverage of the cold-blooded killings has waned. New tragedies have since happened.
That’s why it’s important to talk about this now, after the story had lost its steam and has become just another heartbreaking statistic in our country. As we move on from one tragedy to another, we must always remember the people, the “helpers” as others call them. To me, they are the behind the scene angels who sweep in and do everything from the simple menial tasks to the hardest.
They will always be remembered by those they “helped,” as they should be. The detriment is that most of us aren’t even aware of them in the first place. They are out there. Just like the police, fire, first-responders and “helpers.” They are there from the beginning to the end.
Let us not forget, should we ever need them for ourselves.