Bay Area Mourns Conn. School Massacre

The tragedy is far away. But the grief and the coping are universal

By Monte Francis, Marianne Favro and Lisa Fernandez
|  Saturday, Dec 15, 2012  |  Updated 10:04 AM PDT
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The mass shooting in Newtown might have happened 3,000 miles away, but that does not mean it didn't have a big impact here in the Bay Area. Stephanie Chuang reports.

The mass shooting in Newtown might have happened 3,000 miles away, but that does not mean it didn't have a big impact here in the Bay Area. Stephanie Chuang reports.

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Bay Area Schools Review Policies in Wake of Shooting

Across the country and the Bay Area people are struggling to find answers following the mass shooting. And that included local school districts. Monte Francis has that part of the story.
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The tragedy is far away. But the grief and the coping are universal.

Students, teachers, parents - even the president of the United States, who wiped away a tear at an emotional news conference Friday - were grappling with the horrific mass shooting at  Sandy Brook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children and six adults dead. The shooter was also killed, and later, it was reported that one of his relatives was found dead in a Newtown home.

In the Bay Area, people shed tears for a situation that is now among the worst school massacres in U.S. history. Parishioners gathered for a noon mass Friday at Saint Joseph’s Cathedral in downtown San Jose, to pray.  On the altar, 27 candles were lit to represent each of the victims - even for the shooter. Later in the day, the casualty tally was updated to 28, but that news was not known at the time of the San Jose Mass.

The shooter, Adam Lanza, went to Sandy Hook Elementary Thursday and got into some sort of altercation with four staff members there, NBC News' Pete Williams reported. 

Before Mass began, people sat quietly in the pews, their heads bowed in prayer. Maximo Zamudio of San Jose said, “I believe that God can help us so we can stop all these massacres in the U.S.”

Another parishioner, who did not share her name, said, “For the families, they’re going to go through so much.  You never get over this, and you need a little help from God.”

While prayer may help, psychologists were also giving advice on how to speak to children about what happened, without scaring them.

And indeed the news is scary. Authorities say that Lanza opened fire at the school office during morning announcements, and then at his mother's kindergarten classroom. She was a teacher at the school. Most of the casualties were in her classroom.

Rebecca Rialon Berry
, a child psychiatrist at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford School of Medicine in Palo Alto, told NBC Bay Area that parents should speak to their kids in an "age-appropriate way."

For teens who are more "high level thinkers," she said, parents should expect to answer detailed, penetrating questions. But younger children will have inevitably have heard about the news, too. At one Oakland elementary school, for example, it seemed as if the entire campus was in tears. Limiting news exposure to the event is advised, she said.

Berry advised that parents should be consistent with answers and reassure their kids, no matter what age, that this was an extremely random and rare act. Most importantly, she said, that parents should tell their kids that they will do everything in theirr power to protect them and keep them safe.

In addition, younger children, especially, may not talk about their fears, Berry said, so parents should watch their play and look for signs of anxiety that are acted out with toys or imaginary friends. If the nightmares or anxiety persists, Berry said, then parents may want to seek professional help for their kids.

Dr. David Fassler, a clinical professor at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, also gave a few tips: Give children honest answers, validate their feelings, model good behavior and monitor your own conversations - your children are probably listening.

Many Bay Area school districts were dealing with both the emotional and physical well-being of the students on Friday. Troy Flint, a spokesman for Oakland Unified, reminded the public that the Oakland schools is one of a few districts to have a dedicated school police force, which regularly trains on such issues. He did add, however, that there are no "foolproof" measures to prevent tragedies like the one in Connecticut.

 

  NBC News, NBC New York and NBC Connecticut contributed to this report.

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