A hospital support group is working to ease the pain for victims of a mass shooting incident.
Palmdale (Calif.) Regional Medical Center has been hosting free meetings for victims of the October shooting in Las Vegas. It includes local residents who had traveled to the country music festival in Las Vegas and were wounded in the Oct. 1 shootings, as well as people who witnessed the shootings but were not physically wounded.
Azadeh Afsahi Parsa, a marriage and family therapist who practices in nearby Lancaster, Calif., contacted the hospital soon after the mass shooting incident, in which 58 died and more than 500 were wounded. Parsa said she felt she needed to do something to help the victims, a few of whom previously were clients of hers. She found out the closest support group was 40 miles away.
"The hospital was happy to help me, so I didn't have to pay for a space," said Parsa, who is volunteering her services. "And they were happy because they don't have to pay me."
About 18 people turn out for the support group meetings, which had been held weekly and now are held every other week. "They're having a very hard time coping with what happened," Parsa said. "They have no answers and they think society has forgotten about them. That's the biggest obstacle to their recovery."
Three of the attendees are still receiving medical treatment for their injuries, including one man who is using a walker.
The meetings are emotionally intense, with people often breaking down in tears. Parsa sometimes finds herself crying as well. "Coming week after week and supporting each other has been the greatest recovery tool," she said. "They understand it in a way no one else would."
Group members have offered different answers to the tragedy they experienced. Some have expressed anger about political inaction on gun control. But most of the attendees, she said, are gun owners, and they generally have steered clear of political arguments.
Religious faith come up often in the group. "That's how most of them try to get through this, by praying," she said.
The repeated occurrence of incidents of mass shootings and multiple killings since the Las Vegas incident has made their recovery more difficult, however. Parsa initially told the group that the probability of another large mass shooting was low.
But the following week, a gunman opened fire in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing more than two dozen people and wounding 20 others. That was followed by multiple killings every week for the next several weeks, including the terrorist truck killings in New York City in early November.
"They were reliving it all over again," she said. "They don't go to movies, they stay away from concerts, and if they hear the sudden sound of a door opening, all of them jump up."
"The survivors became so attached to the group because it's a safe place where they could share their feelings with people who have had same experience," said Jody Pienta, Palmdale Medical Center's director of program development. "When we said we'd keep it going for four more weeks, they cried with happiness. They said it would help them get through the holidays."
Parsa who just started her private counseling practice in May and is about to receive her doctorate, said that despite the pain and trauma she sees in the group, she feels some optimism.
"What I have learned is it doesn't matter what your religion or political background is. As divided as our society can sometimes be, when there is trauma, people come together. That gives me new hope."