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A long road to recovery from trauma for Parkland survivors | health & Fitness

By ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON – The Associated Press

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — More than a year after witnessing a gunman kill three fellow students and injure five others in her Parkland classroom, Eden Hebron came home from lunch to find a strange white car parked in her driveway.

Surprise visitors have been rare since filming began. Eden struggled to cope and her family tried to protect her. Now, almost 20 months after the Valentine’s Day massacre that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a therapist had arrived to send Eden to a psychiatric facility across the country.

The intervention was her family’s last and most drastic attempt to help their daughter. Eden, then 16, screamed and tried to reason with her parents. Her life was in Parkland – her school, her friends. She was told that she would be leaving in a few hours; She has had little contact with anyone outside of the California facility.

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“I freaked out. I was more scared than anything,” she said. “I was like, ‘What’s going to happen?'”

Eden’s struggles after February 14, 2018 and her long road to recovery are not unique — students who survived the deadliest high school shooting in America have struggled with trauma for years. Even among the high school students who have become vocal activists for gun law changes, mental health issues have surfaced — which deal severe blows not only to them in their coming-of-age years, but also to their families. Experts say this is to be expected for mass shooting survivors, particularly children or young adults.

In Eden’s case, her parents hoped that moving to California would save her life. While her classmates – many in therapy themselves, some struggling but surviving their final years at Stoneman Douglas – took exams, attended dances and found their way to graduation, Eden set out on a journey of some 2,600 miles.

The days leading up to Eden’s intervention were filled with fear. She wasn’t eating, she was sleeping too much and she had turned to drinking. Eden’s parents feared she might harm herself. They hid all the belts in the house and checked them hourly every night.

“We really had no way of helping our daughter,” Nicole Cook said. “She was unraveled.”

The police intended to commit Eden to a psychiatric hospital because of the risk she posed to herself. But Cook held her back, promising that she would let Eden treat her. Within seven days, Cook had selected the California center.

There, Eden’s phone, makeup, and clothes were taken away. The center was really a big house with a pool and its own chef. There were usually five or six other teenagers there. To Eden, it felt like the four seasons of the treatment centers, but she felt desperate and alone.

“I didn’t have my family. I haven’t been in contact with anyone,” she said. “I had no idea what was going on, how long I would stay there. And I really wanted to get out.”

At home, Eden’s family worried. The facility was their last resort – they’d been looking for ways to help Eden heal, but nothing had worked.

Her mother wanted to develop resources for families of survivors and once held a meeting at her home to make plans. But she was discouraged, partly because of a lack of funding – she said the money would go to agencies that were already registered.

“There was just nothing frivolous about it. They couldn’t pay for therapy, they couldn’t pay for what people really needed,” Cook said. “They didn’t know what to do with a traumatized community.”

Eden said at the school she found stigma for those who attended the resource center or a new wellness facility – even after the apparent suicides of two students. Despite this, Eden continued to receive an ace straight; She went to homecoming and parties. But she became argumentative, suspicious and paranoid.

She turned to alcohol and bad relationships. She closed herself off but presented as a normal teenager. Her therapist even told her she didn’t need any more sessions, Eden said.

“It was my attempt to control myself, manipulate myself, care about things that I didn’t have the power to care about,” Eden said.

In California, Eden was angry. She asked her parents to let her go.

“But as much as I wanted out, my parents wanted me to be better,” she said.

They flew in weekly to visit. In early 2020, Cook, an epidemiologist, began to worry about COVID-19. Anticipating a lockdown that would prevent visits, the family relocated to California. Eden had moved to a group home and her parents would be able to see her more often.

On Wednesdays, the family drove to Malibu, ate on the beach, did yoga, or ran. They saw Eden expressing himself more and enjoying her time with them.

When Eden turned 18 in February 2021, she left the group home and moved in with her parents. But the pandemic worried them, and they feared a relapse for their daughter.

“We were afraid of getting sick,” Cook said. “I felt like she was going to make bad decisions.”

So the family moved back to Florida, but not to Parkland. They instead chose the Hollywood suburb, about 30 miles away. Eden continued to see her therapist remotely and finished school online. She made plans for college, a future her parents could only dream of just a few years earlier.

The intervention, Eden realized, saved her life.

Eden, 19, is now studying in New Jersey. She wants a degree in computer science or neuroscience.

“It feels kind of free,” she said.

Navigating college life alone, Eden is aware of the little things she needs to do to stay on track: meditate, write, see a therapist.

Some colleagues continue to advocate for gun control and mental health resources. It’s hard to ignore the gunshots or the drumbeat of the headlines — jury selection for the shooter’s death penalty trial is underway, and lengthy trials are expected to follow.

Eden wishes she could do more for all the teenagers who witnessed shootings in America. She knows not everyone has the resources she had. She feels powerless.

“Some people have problems,” she said. “People are having a really hard time. As much as I want to go and help people and save people, I have to focus on myself because I know what it can be for me.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

A long road to recovery from trauma for Parkland survivors | health & Fitness

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