HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) – More than a year after seeing a gunman kill three classmates and injure five others in his Parkland classroom, Eden Hebron returned home after lunch and found a strange white car parked in the park. its road.
Since the shooting, surprise visitors have been rare. Eden had struggled to cope with the consequences, and her family tried to protect her. Now, nearly 20 months after the Valentine’s Day massacre, in which 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a therapist had arrived to send Eden to a mental health center on the other side. of the country.
The intervention was her family’s last and most drastic attempt to help her daughter. Eden, then 16, shouted and tried to reason with his parents. His life was in Parkland: his school, his friends. He knew he would be gone in just a couple of hours; she would have little contact with the world outside of California facilities. He pulled out his cell phone to tell his friends as quickly as he could, and a few were able to stop and say goodbye with tears.
“I was freaked out. I was more scared than anything else,” he said. “I said, ‘What’s going to happen?’
Eden’s problems after Feb. 14, 2018, and his long recovery journey are not unique: Students who survived the deadliest high school shooting in the U.S. have suffered trauma for years. Even for students who became vocal activists because of changes in gun legislation, mental health issues have arisen, hitting not only them in their older years, but also their families. Experts say this is expected for survivors of mass shootings, especially those who are children or young adults.
In Eden’s case, her parents hoped that moving to California would save her life. While his classmates, many in therapy, some struggling but overcoming their last years at Stoneman Douglas, went on to take exams, attend dances, and find their way to graduation, Eden went to about 2,600. miles away.
The days before Eden’s intervention were full of anguish. He had not eaten, slept too much, and had gone on drinking. Sometimes it would break for no reason. His friends were worried. Her parents were even more alarmed: fearing that Eden might get hurt, they hid all the belts in the house and controlled her every hour of every night.
“We really had no way to help our daughter,” Nicole Cook said. “She was unleashed. She was 100% unleashed.”
Local police tried to admit Eden to a psychiatric hospital because of the risk. But Cook detained them and promised to take steps to receive Eden’s treatment. In seven days, Cook had narrowed down options at the California Residential Mental Health Center.
When the therapist arrived, Eden quickly realized in his tears that he had no choice but to cooperate: he was a minor. She packed her bags and her father took her to the airport. The two flew to Los Angeles.
Her phone and makeup were removed, and most of her closet was replaced by sweat. The center was really a big house, with its own pool and kitchen. There were usually five or six more teenagers, treated for anxiety, eating disorders, or other mental health issues. Eden thought the four stations of the treatment centers were lonely, but she felt desperate and alone.
“I did not have my family. I had no contact with anyone, “he said.” I had no idea what was going on, how long I would be there. And I just wanted to go out. “
At home, Eden’s family cared about her. The installation was his last resort: everyone had been looking for ways to help heal Eden, but nothing had worked.
Her mother wanted to develop resources for the families of the survivors, once she held a meeting at her home to make plans. But he was discouraged, in part, by the lack of funding: he said the money went to agencies that were already registered and had experience with disadvantaged youth.
“There was nothing agile about it. They couldn’t afford the therapy, they couldn’t afford anything that people really needed,” Cook said. “It simply came to our notice then. They didn’t know what to do with a traumatized community. “
Eden said he found stigma at the school for those visiting the resource center or a new welfare facility, even after the apparent suicides of two students. Teachers suspected the kids just wanted to skip class, he said.
Still, Eden kept going straight for a while, and went to Homecoming and parties. But she was becoming argumentative, suspicious, and paranoid. She often felt scared and sad. When she was alone, she cried.
He devoted himself to alcohol and bad relationships. She closed, but presented herself as a normal teenager, going through the motions. Her therapist even told her she didn’t need any more sessions, Eden said.
“That was me trying to control myself, trying to manipulate myself, trying to take care of things that I didn’t have the power to take care of,” Eden said.
In California, Eden was angry. During the first few days at the treatment center, he was forced to remain within walking distance of staff members at all times. She begged her parents to let her go.
“But as much as I wanted to get out, my parents wanted me to get better,” he said.
Eden had five minutes a day to call them. He continued school under the Florida home confinement program for students who were absent due to illness. Between therapy and treatment, he watched episodes of “The Office” with other teens, swam in the pool, and played in the playroom. She was sometimes caught using her computer to send emails, so she lost her coffee privileges.
Their parents went to visit them weekly. In early 2020, Cook, an epidemiologist, began worrying about COVID-19. Anticipating a nationwide confinement that would prevent visits, the family prepared to move to California. Eden had just moved into a group home, and her parents could see her more. They arranged to work remotely and left their home in Parkland.
“We saw Eden moving forward, even though it was a very slow and painful progress,” Cook said. “It was also nice to be away from Parkland.”
On Wednesdays, the family would drive to Malibu, eat on the beach, practice yoga, or go for a run. They saw Eden expressing himself more and enjoying his time with them.
When Eden turned 18 in February 2021, he left the group home and moved in with his parents. But the pandemic was worrying them and they feared a relapse for their daughter, who was coming out a lot even though the vaccines were not yet widely available to young people.
“We’re afraid of getting sick,” Cook said. “I felt like I was going to make bad decisions.”
So the family moved to Florida, but not to Parkland. Instead, they chose a house by the ocean in the suburbs of Hollywood, about 30 miles away. Eden continued to see her therapist in California remotely and finished school online. He began making plans for college – a future his parents could only dream of a couple of years earlier.
Eden realized that the intervention had saved his life.
Today, 19-year-old Eden is studying in New Jersey with her aunt and uncle. He wants a degree in computer science or neuroscience.
“In a way, I feel free to know that I have confidence in my parents and that I have many options for what to do,” he said.
Eden’s mother said that the guilt of having sent her daughter to receive treatment, of not being able to help her alone, at home, was not relieved recently. And Eden admits that he still has some resentment over his parents’ decision.
Cook knows they are lucky compared to those who lost children in the shooting, but the family is still healing.
“Of course, we are lucky and grateful,” he said. “But being grateful doesn’t take away the pain.”
As Eden navigates her own college life, she is aware of the little things she has to do every day to stay on track: meditate, sing, and write, and avoid spending too much time in bed. She takes notes on things that make her feel proud. He is in constant communication with his parents. He has a therapist and a life coach.
The 2018 shooting will never leave her: she understands that there is no magic pill for a trauma like her.
“I think it will never be fixed. I think these images are not going away,” he said. “It’s just a matter of self-regulation and choosing the right things for me.”
Some of his comrades have maintained their defense of gun control and mental health resources. They are also moving into adulthood and the next few chapters of their lives. It is difficult for anyone to ignore the firing of the headlines: the selection of the jury for the trial of the gunman on death row is underway, and they are expected to follow a lengthy procedure.
Eden would like to be able to do more for her peers and for all the teens who have witnessed the shootings in the United States. She knows that not everyone has the resources she has, and that often makes her feel powerless.
“Some people are struggling,” he said. “People are going through a very difficult time. As much as I want to go and help people and save people, I have to focus on myself because I know how I can get out.”