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Community grappling with trauma following high schooler's shooting death

Posted at 11:04 PM, Jan 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-12 10:30:46-05

CLEVELAND — As police search for the suspect who gunned down a Cleveland high school student, the community is grappling with the trauma of the shooting.

Cleveland Police say 18-year-old Pierre McCoy was shot and killed while waiting for the bus after dismissal at John Adams College and Career Academy. Several dozen of McCoy’s peers witnessed the act shortly after 3pm at the RTA bus stop steps away from the high school.

Wednesday, the school was closed and counselors were available to help students and staff process the event. A memorial with a small cross, balloons and a tiny stuffed bear occupied the space where McCoy was shot.

“Your kids are supposed to be safe at school, they are supposed to be safe coming and going to school. They are supposed to be kids,” said Jennifer Haugen, a mother of another John Adams student.

Haugen told News 5 her son, a friend of McCoy’s, would have been waiting with McCoy, had he not stayed behind after class to discuss schoolwork. She said he, like many others, is devastated by the shooting.

“God, I hope he will be okay. I know he will, but it affects him on deep levels because he’s still a kid,” she said.

Dr. Natalie Whitlow, the lead psychologist at Our Village, said different people are likely coping with the tragedy in different ways.

“The students may be dealing with trauma. And although the teacher may not directly experience trauma, they have what's called ‘vicarious trauma,’ which is secondary to the trauma that their students deal with,” she explained.

Dr. Whitlow said those who witnessed the shooting are likely experiencing PTSD. Even those who didn’t see the event firsthand could feel lasting effects of the trauma.

“It could really squash their desire to take risks because they're so afraid of possible danger that could come to them,” she said.

McCoy’s death was the second fatal shooting in Cleveland’s Ward 2 in just over a month. In early December, another 18-year-old was shot and killed outside of the Earle B. Turner Rec Center, a mile from John Adams.

The recurring violence could have deeper implications on the overall mental health of the community, Dr. Whitlow explained.

She said, “The human emotional care and compassion that they have about those things can be hardened because they see it so often that it becomes something that's commonplace.”

Parents like Haugen said the trauma is already taking a toll on her family.

“You are supposed to be able to let your kids play, you’re supposed to be able to let your kids out in the community and have friends, and be kids, but you can’t, you have to keep them locked up in the house like they are in jail because, God forbid, they wait on the bus, they don’t even come home,” Haugen said.

No suspects have been arrested in connection to McCoy’s death. Police said the suspect was a male wearing all black, including a ski mask. Up to a $5,000 reward is available for information in the shooting. Anonymous information can be provided to Crimestoppers by calling 216-25-CRIME.

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