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New Aurora resilience center dispenses lessons from Columbine

POSTED:   07/09/2013 12:01:00 AM MDT
UPDATED:   07/09/2013 01:18:11 AM MDT

By Katharina Buchholz, The Denver Post


Signs of post-traumatic stress disorder often don't surface until long after the initial trauma, and people may not be able to identify the source of their sadness and anxiety. But the new Aurora Strong Community Resilience Center hopes to reach people whose symptoms are spurred by the coming anniversary of the Aurora theater shooting.


The center opens Thursday in the former Hoffman Heights Library. It is modeled loosely on Columbine Connections Resource Center, which provided counseling starting shortly after the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School shooting.


Each person deals with PTSD differently, and so the center will offer a wide variety of therapy forms, including counseling and discussion groups, as well as stress management, art, music and yoga classes, center manager Grace Zolnosky said.


"The most important step is reaching out and finding the resources, the services, the skills that work for you as an individual," said Aurora 7/20 Recovery Committee spokeswoman Karen Morales. Aurora Mental Health will oversee counseling services at the center. Morales said the center will provide a sense of community for survivors. "The only point of connection was that they were in the theater. They come from all walks of life."


In the six weeks after a gunman killed 12 and wounded at least 58 others, calls to Aurora Mental Health for help increased 233 percent.


In the year after the Columbine shooting, about 1,200 people per quarter received mental health services in the schools and at Columbine Connections, with the largest number getting help during the first quarter of 2000, when 1,890 people received counseling by a school therapist and nearly 600 at the resource center said Jeanne Oliver, a spokewoman for Jefferson Center for Mental Health.


Jefferson Center for Mental Health was the lead agency for Columbine Connections.


PTSD can affect survivors and the entire community alike — especially for those who have had other traumatic experiences, Oliver said. Oliver said educating people to recognize warning signs early is important, but other violent events or anniversaries could cause symptoms to resurface.


Columbine survivor Zach Cartaya and two other Columbine classmates founded the nonprofit Phoenix 999 in the wake of the Aurora shooting and now are forming a support group for its survivors because, he says, a false sense of normalcy can be dangerous.


It's something Cartaya understands. Cartaya and 60 other students barricaded themselves in a choir-room office at Columbine High the morning of April 20, 1999. When they were rescued by a SWAT team hours later, Cartaya walked past the body of a friend he had given a ride to school that morning.


He didn't seek treatment until nine years later, when he found himself unable to sit through meetings in his company's compact conference room. He didn't immediately identify the traumatic experience in high school as the source of his anxiety, but it was, he said.


"When something like this happens, you want to be normal again," Cartaya said. "You don't want to be that person who is shaken by this."


The first anniversary of the Aurora shooting is July 20. Cartaya said he still feels conflict around the April 20 anniversary of Columbine.


"April is always a hard month for me, even after years," he said.


Katharina Buchholz: 303-954-1753,


Need help?


The Resilience Center is located at 1298 Peoria St., Aurora, in the garden level of the former Hoffman Heights library. For more information, please call 303-739-1580.


Webmaster note: If you do not live in the Denver Area,you can visit for help; the website is endorsed by Aurora Strong.

© 2013 by The National Resiliency Center, All rights reserved.

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