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Fireworks can trigger trauma for shooting victims and their families

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Posted at 5:00 AM, Jul 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-02 06:39:10-04

CLEVELAND — As the Fourth of July holiday weekend gets underway, some celebrations are kicking off tonight with fireworks shows set to light up the sky around Northeast Ohio. But for some people, such as veterans or victims of gun violence, the tradition can be traumatizing.

Each year, we remind you those loud and sudden noises from either fireworks or even celebratory gunfire can be a terrifying link to the past for the men and women who served our country.

But many forget this can also be very upsetting for victims of gun violence.

In 1994, Judy Martin of Cleveland lost her 27-year-old son, Christopher Lee Martin, to gun violence during a robbery.

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Judy Martin holds a picture of her son.

“Somebody wanted the rims on the car they were sitting in, so he got in the car and shot my son and pushed him out of the car and ran over him,” Martin said.

Now today, she still feels the pain of her loss with the sudden sounds of fireworks and celebratory gunfire around Northeast Ohio.

"You wonder, what's happened to all the bullets fired into the air? They come down, and they come down somewhere,” she said.

Martin started a support group for survivors and victims of tragedy, and says many of her members experience the same post-traumatic stress. Especially with the recent rise in gun violence.

RELATED: 37 shootings reported in Cleveland just the last week alone

"One of the first people I met after I started survivors was a mother who lost her daughter because a bullet came out of the sky and went through her head,” Martin said.

Doctor Heather Flores of VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System in Cleveland says PTSD is not uncommon for gun violence victims, and as many as one-in-five veterans suffer from it.

“And so those loud noises can oftentimes trigger things like unwanted memories, anxiety, irritability, distressing emotions, sometimes nightmares,” Flores said.

She recommends using a series of coping strategies:

  • Plan ahead by getting earplugs or headphones.
  • Spend the night somewhere else with friends or family.
  • Try a mental exercise called "grounding."

“So that might be something like really focusing on the room that you're in and describing objects that you can see in the room as a reminder of kind of where you're physically located. It's kind of reminding yourself that you're here in the present moment, maybe not back in a time and place where the traumatic event really happened,” Flores said.

And for those who wish to help someone who may be struggling.

“Sometimes having someone who's just willing to check in and kind of just say, like, 'I'm here' is incredibly valuable,” Flores said.

If you plan to shoot off fireworks—doctors, veterans and gun violence survivors ask you to please consider those who live around you who may be experiencing PTSD issues, and give them a fair warning.

How to get help

Here are some resources that can help you or someone you know.

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