PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — In the hours after Saturday’s shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, a hub was set up for family of the victims; a place for them to seek help as they waited for more information and news of their loved ones.
The Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh has now transformed into the Victims’ Assistance Center, providing a listening ear and comforting words to get family and friends through this difficult time.
“Take some action. Find ways to heal yourself ’cause you don’t want to get stuck in that place. It’s important to experience it but then move to a new normal,” Dr. Marlene Boas said.
Dr. Boas is a counselor but also a mental health lead with the Red Cross. She was brought in with a team to assist at the JCC and says that people may experience emotional and physical responses to traumatic events.
“What we want people to understand is that many of those reactions are normal reactions to a terrible event,” Boas said.
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While family of the victims are deeply connected to what happened, Dr. Boas says its normal for others to feel a strong reaction.
“We feel those connections to our fellow brothers and sisters. It shakes our world, it shakes our community, it shakes everything,” she said.
In the coming days and weeks she recommends talking to friends and family or writing down thoughts, adding, “We have to reach down into the depths of our souls and find our resiliency. You feel the emotions. You experience them. Talk about them. Get a lot of support. Connect with people.”
She recommends contacting resolve Crisis Center at (888) 796-8226 or SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
KDKA-TV’s cameras were the first ones allowed inside the JCC, where security was incredibly tight. One couple came to the center for emotional support.
“You got the feeling it wouldn’t happen here. It may happen in some other city, but you think it wouldn’t happen here. But it did and that’s what’s hard to comprehend,” one man said.
“I knew being here and being with other people who are also going through the same feelings that I am,” a woman receiving grief counseling said.
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Among the mourners at the scene of the Tree of Life Synagogue are the United Hatzalah of Israel. They call themselves the Uber of EMS.
“They provide emergency psychological stabilization and support at very extreme, extremely traumatic incidents like terror attacks,” Friends of Hatzalah of Israel director Miriam Ballian said.
Based in Israel, Friends of Hatzalah of Israel began only three years ago and has grown to 500 medics and psychological first aid responders worldwide that can respond to a crisis like Saturday’s shooting immediately.
“In Israel, we are very used to these types of things happening, unfortunately, so therefore our guard is up, whereas here people were not kind of on guard in that way and they never really expected something like this would happen,” Ballian said.
Trauma informed care specialists say immediate stabilization after a trauma can help prevent PTSD later on. A “Pittsburgh Warm Line” hotline has been established with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape. It can be reached at 1-866-363-7273.