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Lori Falce: PTSD, kids and the schools where tragedy happens

Tribune-Review - 5/26/2023

May 26—Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that arises for people who have been through events that are a tragic shock to the system.

Just like an old injury to a bone can flare up when a wrong move or the right weather tweaks the spot and makes the pain real again, a chain of events can do the same for someone with PTSD, dropping someone back in the same terrible moment.

Soldiers are the most associated with the condition. Soldiers see and do things that etch themselves deep into their psyche. Those incidents are accompanied by sense memories like the smoke of a fire, the blast of a bomb, the crackle of gunfire and the blood of a friend — or a foe. It is a disease of survival.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates six out of 100 adults will suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives, but it's seven out of every 100 veterans. It's a larger number of a smaller sample size.

So what about kids? The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder shows that up to 15% of girls and 6% of boys suffer from PTSD. It isn't only battle that can cause the condition. When we think of PTSD and kids, we often think of neglect or abuse.

But kids are going to school every day in what can be a killing ground.

On Wednesday, Derrick Harris, 15, was shot outside Oliver Citywide Academy in Pittsburgh's Marshall-Shadeland neighborhood. The suspect is Jamier Perry, 15, another student.

It is not the first time Oliver has had a dead student taken away from just outside its doors. In January 2022, Marquis Campbell, 15, was gunned down as he sat in a van after school. The suspects there — brothers Eugene, 18, and Brandon Watson, 17 — were just charged last month.

"No child should ever have to fear going to school," Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey said in a statement.

No. They shouldn't. But how do we ask kids to keep walking into places where they know they may not be safe? Harris died on the anniversary of the Uvalde shooting in which a gunman murdered 19 students and two teachers. The massacre was so horrific that police had to ask for DNA samples to identify victims.

And yet our answer is not to find better ways to keep children safe. Instead we come up with better lessons in running and hiding and, if necessary, fighting for their lives.

We have made our children soldiers and drafted them into a war. Because of our failures to find solutions, we continue to send our kids into buildings we have trained them to realize are unsafe.

More than four years after the October 2018 shooting, no one returns to services at the Tree of Life synagogue because of the horror visited on the three congregations who worshipped there when 11 people were murdered. But what about the kids at Oliver Citywide?

It isn't the fault of the buildings, of course. And no school district can be expected to raze a structure and build new every time a tragedy happens.

But we have to realize that until we find a way to work together to address the issue of gun violence, our schools stand the risk of becoming monuments to childhood PTSD.

Lori Falce is a Tribune-Review community engagement editor. You can contact Lori at


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