Healing together: How Fredericton copes in aftermath of shootings

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Healing together: How Fredericton copes in aftermath of shootings

People in New Brunswick's small capital city have been grieving since a gunman opened fire and killed four people on the north side last week.

"This is a small community," said Tracy Houlding, a clinical supervisor at Family Enrichment and Counseling Service in Fredericton.

"What touches one person touches many."

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Killed in the shootings were Const. Robb Costello, 45, Const. Sara Burns, 43, Donnie Robichaud, 42, and Bobbie Lee Wright, 32. 

Matthew Vincent Raymond, 48, is charged with four counts of murder.

Often, an essentially peaceful city like Fredericton, with a population of only about 58,000 people, has a particular struggle after a tragedy of this nature because there are only "six degrees of separation," Houlding said.

"If you don't know the victims directly, you know someone who does," she said.

But how people respond to the shootings or grieve for the victims can take many forms, she said.

People connected to the victims will grieve differently.

"Their grief is very personal and very raw," she said.

Other people may find themselves suddenly thinking about previous losses in their lives and the "unresolved grief" they might still have.

Still others, perhaps more distant from the event itself, may feel a sense of "how could this possibly happen in my community? This isn't the way the world is supposed to work."

Grief is unique

Houlding said grief varies based on a person's personal makeup, characteristics, coping, and relationship with the deceased.

And it's different when people are lost in a violent incident such as happened on Brookside Drive.

"People's grief tends to be more intense and more prolonged," she said. "There's also the traumatic aspect of it."

She said some people, particularly first responders, may have to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Many of them would've feared for their own safety," Houlding said. "That alone can create a trauma."

For many people, there is a need to be part of something, which helps in the grieving process.

In Fredericton, people have paid tribute on social media, brought flowers to the police station, taken part in prayer vigils or, as happened Monday night, joined hands in the Hands & Hearts Across the City event, held at the Bill Thorpe Walking Bridge.

How residents react

Meanwhile, a smaller group of people must go through experiences directly related to the crime, Houlding​ said.

People in the apartments near the shooting last week, who may have heard the gunfire or seen the carnage, were forced out of their homes for a few days while police investigated the shootings.

The wide range of reactions among these people could include anxiety, uncertainty and a tendency to question themselves and "the order of the universe."

"They make life sort of feel like, 'What's the point?'" she said.

While some rely on counselling others could rely on family and friends.

Houlding said that if someone knows a person impacted by such an event, it's important to offer practical help, such as food, childcare and help answering emails or phone calls.

It's also important to avoid hurrying them through their grief and to commit to the duration of it, she said.

"A lot of this public help will fade away relatively quickly but the grief of the families will last a lot longer," she said. "It's valuable to have support down the road."