The father of a student killed in last year’s mass shooting at a Florida school argued Wednesday that the political activism embraced by survivors and the media attention those efforts attracted came at the cost of a needed focus on mental health problems caused by the massacre.
Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, was among 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, implored communities affected by gun violence to invest more resources in mental health treatment and suicide prevention efforts.
“While the sense of political urgency from students was understandable and in some ways admirable, it came at the cost of a focus on the health and healing — for the families of the victims, students, teachers and the community at large,” Petty wrote in a USA Today op-ed published Wednesday.
“The politicization and media-frenzied response to the murders overwhelmed and eclipsed the real, personal needs of the survivors and their loved ones,” he wrote. “To be blunt, the cacophony of voices on gun control drowned out and suppressed a needed conversation on the mental health needs at the school and in the community. For that failure, our community is paying a heavy price.”
He noted that two Parkland shooting survivors ― 19-year-old Sydney Aiello and a student who has not been publicly identified ― recently died by suicide, as did Jeremy Richman, whose daughter died in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Petty said that “as shocking as it may sound,” such suicide victims have a similarity with mass shooters.
“For both groups, undiagnosed and untreated mental suffering appear to be contributing factors to their ultimate decision to kill themselves or others,” he wrote. “If our nation is serious about tackling gun deaths and the plague of school violence, we must be deliberate about solving the suicide epidemic. These battles cannot be separated.”
Last week, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School staged a walkout for improved mental health resources for shooting survivors.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.
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