State officials are working on plans to provide long-term support for teachers and students who are coping with the state’s worst mass shooting.

Leaders of the departments of Education, Public Safety, Health and Human Services and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention discussed the state’s response to community trauma following the Oct. 25 shootings in Lewiston during a Tuesday morning meeting of the governor’s Children’s Cabinet, a multiagency group aimed at improving the lives of children.

The shootings shattered the sense of security in Maine communities that had seemed immune to the kind of random gun violence plaguing the nation. Education officials said teachers and school staff seem to be having a harder time than students coping with the shooting, but cautioned that students in Lewiston and other districts may be processing their experiences at a different rate.

DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said the cabinet decided to clear its original agenda and dedicate Tuesday’s meeting to discussing ways to support young people over the coming weeks, months and years.

Maine Shooting

Community members gather on Nov. 2 during a candlelight vigil in Auburn after the Lewiston shootings on Oct. 25. Matt York/Associated Press

“We do know that when this type of tragedy hits it not only has short-term implications of the harm that’s done, but there are potential medium- and long-term implications when it comes to mental health, resiliency and strength,” Lambrew said.

Lambrew said the administration has been working with communities that have been disproportionately affected by the shooting, including the Deaf community, which lost four members during the Oct. 25 shooting spree that killed 18 people and injured 13.


The administration is looking for ways to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing people have access to information in an emergency, she said. They are also working with recent immigrants to ensure they also have access to information in their own languages during emergencies.

The group discussed ongoing efforts by state, local and federal officials, as well as local schools and community service providers, to support affected communities and schools in the wake of Maine’s deadliest mass shooting.

Megan Welter, an associate director at the Maine Department of Education, said the shooting seems to be having an impact on teachers in districts outside of Lewiston, but not necessarily among students, who “in a lot of cases seem to be going right along.”

“That was really surprising for a lot of our teachers who were really shaken up, so there was this misalignment that required some discussion,” Welter said.

After the meeting, which took place virtually, DOE spokesman Marcus Mrowka said in an email to the Press Herald that teachers had expected students to want to talk about the tragedy and process their emotions, but that hasn’t been the case.

“The department recognizes that students were seriously impacted by the tragedy,” Mrowka said. “Trauma manifests itself in many different ways and the timeline for students processing trauma may not always align with that of adults.”


To help teachers and other school officials, Welter said, the DOE is working with partners to provide “psychological first aid” so they can process their own trauma from the shooting while remaining alert to signs that their students may be struggling.

The Maine Resiliency Center that has been established in Lewiston to connect people with services will remain in operation for 27 months. The center opened on Nov. 13 and is operated by the nonprofit Community Concepts with state and federal agencies.

The services offered at the center are expected to be driven by community needs, said Kristen McAuley, a senior program associate from the nonprofit John T. Gorman Foundation who is helping coordinate the state response to the shooting.

“Community Concepts in particular is doing a really serious job of listening to what those supports need to be and how they can best be built out, both in the Maine Resiliency Center as well as through community outreach efforts,” McAuley said.

McAuley said the state agencies are also collecting data to inform their services. She said the Office of Behavioral Health is monitoring data from the state’s 988 crisis line and non-crisis calls to identify trends. And the Maine CDC is monitoring data from emergency departments about the number of people presenting symptoms of anxiety, depression, suicide risk and post traumatic stress disorder.

Welter shared a slide from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration charting how emotions evolve in the first year or more of a disaster. Those emotions often peak shortly after the event, as stories of adrenaline-fueled acts of heroism and community cohesion are displayed. But that’s followed by a prolonged phase of “disillusionment,” with spikes caused by triggering events.


The disillusionment phase, according to the Children’s Hospitals Association, happens when communities and individuals realize the limits of disaster assistance, and optimism turns to discouragement as stress takes its toll.

“Negative reactions, such as physical exhaustion or substance use, begin to surface,” the association says. “The gap between need and assistance leads to feelings of abandonment. This phase can last months and even years. It is extended by trigger events, such as the anniversary of the disaster.”

Oftentimes, it can be a year or more for a community to fully work through its grief and move toward a new beginning, though there are inevitable setbacks, it says.

“This is going to be a long-term effort as we continue to respond to the events in Lewiston,” said Anna Hicks, a program manager for human services in the Governor’s Office of Policy and Innovation, which staffs the cabinet.

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