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Community Crisis Center Offers Colorado Springs A Place To Heal

Local victim advocates, behavioral healthcare providers, and nonprofit groups are offering short-term services, and looking to the longer recovery ahead.

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Surviving a shooting might leave a person emotionally numb or, on the other extreme, hyper-vigilant and fearful.

A wide range of reaction is normal, Colorado Springs emergency responders said on Sunday as mental healthcare providers, volunteers, and victim advocates came together in the wake of a standoff and shooting at Planned Parenthood.

The city's Community Crisis Recovery Center will be open through Thursday to provide a range of resources for residents, and officials are working on other plans for long-term recovery.

"Unfortunately the city of Colorado Springs is practiced in providing some of these services," Colorado Springs Police Department victim advocate Amanda Terrell-Orr said.

Terrell-Orr said the crisis center expects to see several dozen residents who were somehow connected with the shooting, which left three people dead while 300 others sheltered in surrounding businesses. But the center is prepared for more, and she encouraged residents to bring their questions or simply stop by to meet other people who had shared their experience.

"You don't have to feel like you're having a problem to come here for support," she said.

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In the wake of shootings, natural disasters, and other tragedies, Colorado has been in the forefront of new best practices for responding to community trauma. Similar short-term resource centers were available to people in Aurora, Colorado following the 2012 movie theater massacre. Since then, the state has pushed millions of dollars toward mental health resources, including a mental health crisis hotline, in an attempt to prevent future mass shootings as well as provide support for victims.

Still, it's a system that some advocates have said falls short. Gov. John Hickenlooper said Saturday during a visit to Colorado Springs that the state would reassess its mental health funding, and he later added to CNN there was work to be done to keep guns from unstable people.

"It's a start, and I think we're moving in the right direction," said Gerald Albrent, a disaster response coordinator with behavioral health provider AspenPointe.

At the Colorado Springs crisis center, Albrent said his primary focus was to help people understand their reactions to the shooting and to keep them from being too critical of themselves.

"They're not crazy," he said. "They're going through normal reactions, the sadness, the fear, maybe the anger."

His other focus was to suggest help, from talking with friends to seeing their primary care physician. The experience could also lead to significant symptoms for some people, he said, especially if Friday's events added to previous trauma. He hoped to educate people on what signs to watch out for that would suggest they need to see a mental health professional.

But he expected most people would just need a place to talk and the support of friends and family over the coming days.

"You'll incorporate that experience," he said. "It's a part of you, but it doesn't control you."

Sandy Miller arrived at the crisis center with her golden retriever, Lani, a registered therapy dog. The Colorado Springs resident became part of the national Hope Animal-Assisted Crisis Response group after seeing the devastation of the Waldo Canyon Fire.

Now, she and Lani never know what situation they'll walk into. But the smiles she sees from children and adults interacting with her dog have made the work worth it.

"We've gotten people who don't want to talk to anyone, but they sit down, talk to the dog, cry on the dog," she said. "They get up and say, 'I feel so much better.'"

Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Claudia Koerner at claudia.koerner@buzzfeed.com.

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