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First responders: Crime scenes involving children can have serious impacts on their mental health

Police investigating Virginia Beach homicide
Posted at 3:00 PM, Sep 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-15 20:52:25-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - First responders appear hardened to handle whatever traumatic situation is thrown their way, but when it comes to children being victims of crimes, they tell News 3 it can have a deeper impact.

An infant was shot near the intersection of Avenger Drive and Lynnhaven Parkway in Virginia Beach on Monday night, in what police said was a drive-by shooting. The infant was the latest child involved in a shooting in the last two weeks throughout Hampton Roads.

“You get those feelings of sometimes sorrow and also sometimes feeling of guilt,” Richard James, a crime analyst and former Norfolk Police Officer, explained, “that you could have done something prevent that child from getting injured."

James has answered these kinds of calls during his career. He said even the most hardened of first responders like military veterans feel the impact.

"You could be the strongest of a person, all macho,” James explained. “But still we're all human beings, we all have care and concern for the most vulnerable people.”

In addition to law enforcement, it is also the nurses and medical workers who feel that impact when a child victim enters the emergency room.

"The immediate need is to take care of the child and their family and take care of all their medical needs,” Bonnie Price, the administrative director for community health advocacy for Bon Secours, said.

Price added that once the nurse or medical worker has provided the care the child, they can have a moment to think about the trauma.

“The trauma can impact them very differently,” Price said. "Not to say that they don't feel it while it's happening, they have to keep going."

While it may be hard to cope, both James and Price say there are resources and ways to help.

"All police departments have counseling services not only for officers but for the officer's family. It's free of charge and it's also private,” James said. “It’s something I had to take advantage when I was a young officer and there's no shame in it."

"Maybe they need to take a break before the go to the next patient and say, ' that really was emotional, that really did impact and how can I continue my shift or can I continue my shift,’” Price said.

For James, he said he hopes communities come together to prevent any more child victims.

"Children have the right to live in peaceful communities and live happy, safe lives,” James said.