How to Cope When Tragedy Strikes Your Hometown

How to deal when violence hits too close to home

Six years ago, our provinces’ version of a metropolitan, Moncton, New Brunswick, dealt with a terrible tragedy: A young man in army fatigues shot three Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers to death and proceeded to hold the city hostage by hiding in the woods. Eventually, he surrendered himself, but the damage had been done.

Fast forward two years and our small, picturesque city of Fredericton, New Brunswick experienced the worst shooting to ever hit our small province. A man shot and killed two city of Fredericton police officers and two civilians outside of an apartment building. Our small city was devastated.

The city of Moncton was there for us like a big brother, supporting us and knowing the pain and fear we all felt.

Yesterday, the worst mass shooting in Canadian history happened in our sister province of Nova Scotia. A man donned a police officer uniform and used his refurbished police car to commit murder. The death toll is not yet confirmed by the RCMP because the shooter had traveled around rural areas, killing and maiming people, but reports say there were at least 17 people who were murdered.

My husband is from Nova Scotia, and I can understand why he and his family are struggling to comprehend what happened and why.

The Facebook posts of anger, confusion, and sadness are all too familiar.

I think all of Canada wants to give the province of Nova Scotia a hug at this point. We know the feeling of tragedy hitting close to home all too well.

No matter where you live, you have probably experienced some form of tragedy in your city, town, or village. These acts perplex us, scare us, and make some of us angry.

Our bubble of safety was compromised and by one of our own. It took a while for our small city to get back to normal, but it was a new normal. I noticed that we were nicer to each other out in public but the air was somber. We were collectively bonded by pain.

So how do we make sense of it all? What can we do to stop the spread of false information and come to terms with tragedy when we have never dealt with it before? How do we support the families who have lost loved ones?

When tragedy strikes...

I’ll never forget the morning of the shooting in my home city. It was August 10th, 2018 and I was busy looking after our baby while my husband rested in bed. My friend messaged me and told me that she heard gunshots and that she thought something bad had happened. Her fiance was away for work and she had a baby the same age as me.

I didn’t have Facebook at the time, so I reactivated my account to see what was going on. There had been a shooting at an apartment building with reports of at least one officer down. The shooter had not yet been apprehended.

Thankfully, my friend lived rather far away from the crime scene but the sound of rapid gunfire carried through our small city.

I woke my husband up and he got our guns ready in another locked room, just in case. We watched the news incessantly, waiting for any new details to emerge.

Looking back, I should’ve left my Facebook account deactivated. The rumors that were posted were not accurate, and the constant flow of information literally blew my mind. It did nothing but make me more upset.

What should I have done instead?

  • If you get word that tragedy has struck, avoid social media, if that’s not possible, take the information you read on there with a grain of salt and wait for the police press conference to get the real information.
  • Wait for police confirmation before you react. One time, there was a report of a man chasing people with an axe in our city on social media. People panicked, but there was no axe and no chasing. He was walking down the street with an object that was not dangerous at all! Social media is the electronic version of the “telephone” game from our childhood: Words get twisted and the story is never completely factual.
  • While it’s good to protect yourself, the guns made me feel uneasy. The best thing to do if you suspect there is an active shooter in your area is to follow the police instructions and stay inside your home.
  • Check on your loved ones, especially if they work or live in the area that the incident is taking place. Avoid repeating rumors, just send a simple text with the information confirmed by police and ask them if they are ok.
  • Try not to obsess. This is not an easy thing to do. I was glued to the news during our hometown tragedy. I wish I had relaxed with a coffee or taken a bubble bath instead.
  • Avoid posting anything on social media if you have witnessed the incident or are close by. In the case of the Moncton RCMP shooting, people were posting where the RCMP was as they moved. Unfortunately, the shooter was very tech-savvy and had been on social media the entire duration of the manhunt. It greatly compromised the RCMP’s safety.

These are some things I wish I had done differently. There’s not a “right way” to react when something of this magnitude happens. The fear that someone you love and know was involved is all-consuming. At this point, self-care is paramount.

Protect yourself and your family, don’t believe everything you read and relax until you know the true facts of what has happened.

After the incident: Helping the families involved

Once the shooter was captured, and the police confirmed the identities of the deceased, it seemed like everyone knew at least one of the people involved. If you live in a small city, town, or village and a tragedy strikes: You will probably know the victims or even the perpetrator.

I didn’t know any of the victims personally. I was lucky to not have lost anyone close to me, but from all of the beautiful tributes to the victims, I was unlucky not to have known them.

After something like this happens, we question everything. We are never prepared to deal with such tragic circumstances and there never seems to be the right words to say during a time like this.

The family needs support right now and even if you don’t know them, you can still make a difference in their lives during this difficult time.

If you feel helpless: help.

  1. Donate: Donate to a confirmed “Gofundme” account to assist the victim’s family or charity in the victim’s name. If there isn't a Gofundme account, message the appropriate people in the family (point of contact) to start one.
  2. Create: The drawing of the officers above was very comforting to us in our time of grieving. I remember seeing it and crying. Art is a great way to express feelings during a tragedy, and it can help the person consuming it in their grieving process.

You don’t need to be crafty or artistic to make a difference:

  • Make a gift basket for the family: If the victim had young children, you can make a basket of treats and toys for them. You can create a lovely basket with bath products or even a fruit basket for the adults.
  • Knit or crochet comfort items for the family.
  • If you have drawing talent, you could draw a portrait of their loved one, or a beautiful landscape picture for the family.
  • Write a heartfelt message on a card and purchase a gift card to a local spa or salon for a friend or family member of the victim.
  • Bring an item, drawing, or letter to a memorial site in remembrance of the victims.

3. Share: If you knew the victims, share pleasant (appropriate) memories of them to a memorial social media page. The family may not read them for a bit, but it will be comforting to them if they do.

4. Reach out: This is an incredibly overwhelming time for the family, they’re probably being flooded with messages and phone calls of condolence. I suggest waiting a few days to contact the, or alternatively, reach out to a mutual friend who is close with the family. Express your condolences and ask if they need meals prepared, childcare, or any errands completed.

After the incident: How to cope

During this time, you may be having a hard time dealing with what has happened in your city, town, or village. This is normal. I cried a lot in the days following the shooting. We were all sad, fearful, and angry.

What should we be doing to help ourselves after tragedy strikes?

  • Talk about your feelings with your family and friends.
  • Allow yourself to cry and express your grief. There is no right way to react to a tragedy, so be easy on yourself and the people around you.
  • Avoid consuming drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. This will only make you feel worse.
  • Practice lots of self-care.
  • Stay away from social media and reading too many news articles. The most accurate information comes from police or press conferences.
  • Avoid becoming engaged in debates about gun control or mental health.
  • Use art to express yourself: Draw, write, paint, knit or crochet.
  • Try making a garden or planting some potted plants. Gardening is very therapeutic and seeing something come to life will be a positive contrast to what has happened in your city.
  • If you notice you are having consuming or intrusive thoughts about the tragedy or are fearful to be out in public after the event, seek counseling. A therapist can help you sort through the complex emotions you are feeling and teach you healthy coping skills.

Remember, healthy living yields healthy results.

Will things ever return to normal after a tragedy?

Once our city experienced the shooting, it was never quite the same. The appreciation for law enforcement and the risks they take is evident. The protocol for responding to police calls has been changed and the security in our courthouse was tightened.

This incident shattered our mindset of “that kind of stuff doesn’t happen here”. However, with the bad, comes the good: We are united more now, than ever.

The people we lost that day: Donnie Robichaud, Bobbi-Lee Wright, Constable Sara Burns, and Constable Robb Costello, are never far from our minds. The shooter? I don’t remember his name like I did the victims. This is the way it should be.

We now do a yearly tribute to our city’s strength called “Hands and hearts across Fredericton”. Thousands of our residents, link hands across the walking bridge in our city. It is pretty amazing.

Today, we think of our sister province and send them love. Today, every Canadian is thinking about the time that their city, town, or village experienced a tragedy and its aftermath.

We remember the sadness, anger, and confusion we all experienced during this time.

Nova Scotia needs to grieve but after this tragedy, I am sure there will be many stories of heartfelt ways their province came together.

Nova Scotia is a beautiful, resilient, province full of amazing people.

They will get through this.

#NovaScotiaStrong

Please note: At the time of publishing, the names of all of the victims of the Nova Scotia mass shooting are not known. This is why they are not mentioned in this piece.

A special thanks to one of my favorite writers, Stephen Dalton for helping with the editing of this article.

Amy Cottreau is a freelance writer who hails from a small city in Atlantic Canada. She enjoys interacting with fellow writers, dreaming of ideas for her next article, and researching a myriad of topics.

If you enjoyed this story, please visit my website “Raining on Darkness” where I discuss hoaxes, true crime cases, and unresolved mysteries!

Wife, mother, and researcher of a myriad of subjects. I love to write about anything and everything! Writer for The Startup, Better Marketing, & The Ascent👊

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