Traumas such as the shooting at Sandy Hook and two past school attacks in York County bring complex emotions that can take victims years to address, and continued incidents will often complicate how individuals deal with their ongoing recovery, experts said.

Two psychologists said recently that an event such as the Connecticut shooting, which left 20 children and six adults dead, can stir old feelings of fear and anxiety in those who previously experienced similar trauma, including victims in a pair of attacks in the Red Lion Area School District.

Such a response is particularly strong in children and young adults, experts said.

"Kids who have gone through something are going to worry about it more," said Elaine Ducharme, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Glastonbury, Conn. "We only make it worse when we don't talk about it."

The issue arose locally earlier this month, after one high school student in Red Lion complained that there was no unified moment of silence held for Sandy Hook victims. That student said she wanted the moment as a way to help heal.

She said the shooting took her and some friends back to two tragic attacks from a decade ago.

In February 2001, a man with a machete injured 14 people, including 11 kindergartners, at North Hopewell-Winterstown Elementary School. Then in 2003, a student shot and killed the principal and then himself at Red Lion Area Junior High School.

Daniel L. Davis, a psychologist with Netcare Forensic Psychiatry of Columbus, Ohio, said it's normal, even healthy, for young people who've been close to a tragedy to have a rush of feeling in the wake of something similar.

"Recurring emotional reactions are common," he said. "Triggers (like the Newtown shooting) may result in a fear that the stress will be repeated."

The most important thing is to talk about it, he said.

"Research has certainly shown some people are more resilient than others," he said. "But it's good to sit down and talk with someone, rather than just internalize."

To help Red Lion students, families and staff, Red Lion Supt. Scott Deisley said, the district provides a wide range of support mechanisms. Following Sandy Hook, those included: condolences on the district website; messages via phone and online to families listing support services; instruction for administrators on how to help concerned students; and a moment of silence at a basketball game.

"Through these (past) tragedies, we have learned many lessons," he said via email.

Deisley said the district is constantly reassessing safety, and always working for a supportive environment.

"Our daily goal is to reassure our staff, students, and families that their school is still a safe place to go," he said.

It wasn't clear last week how many local school districts observed the national moment of silence on Dec. 21 suggested by President Barack Obama.

But reactions to school attacks vary.

For example, since the school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, principal Frank DeAngelis has made a series of public appearances, speaking out on both the events that left 12 students and one teacher dead, and the struggle forward. DeAngelis also spoke at an event in Denver, a few days after the Sandy Hook shooting.

Red Lion has publicly acknowledged its tragedies through an annual run named for the slain principal and a memorial on the school district campus. In 2011, two people who experienced the shooting approached the York Daily Record/ Sunday News and said they believed the community should talk more about the events. Staffers talked to people in the community and found that some wanted to tell their stories while others didn't. That effort became "Finding their way out," a story about how several people worked through the lasting trauma of the shooting.

Kim Preske, a substitute teacher the day of the shooting, said in that story she believes the community needs to talk more.

This week, Preske said her son, a senior at Red Lion's high school, was disappointed about the lack of a school-wide moment of silence.

In the wake of Sandy Hook, for the first time her son is asking some of those same hard questions, Preske said, and he's wondering what he would do if it happened again. She's dealing with that at home, but more resources should be available in school, she said.

"They really missed a teachable moment," she said early last week. "Not every kid might want to talk, but they could be given the opportunity."

Preske could not be reached for comment on the superintendent's list of support services.

After the 2003 shooting, Red Lion brought in dozens of trauma experts to help those who'd been exposed, and the school closed for several days. Yet as classes resumed and most began to reassemble their lives, some said their voices were lost as the days slipped away.

"I've always wanted to sit down and say, 'Hey this isn't my story, you're not saying my story,'" Preske said in "Finding their way out."

That report brought community comment, some saying the stories need to be told, some urging the newspaper to leave the past alone.

"I am a parent of a child who was there that day, and I have to tell you that my initial reaction to this ... was why in the world did you have to do this?" a woman wrote in an online chat discussing the story.

"I dont think the intent was to re-victimize anyone," another woman said in the same chat, "and a story like this needs to be talked about so people know it is ok to seek help."

"Talk about self-serving at the expense of others," a Spring Garden Township man wrote in a letter to the editor. "This was nothing more than a hit piece to get the emotions flowing."

In another letter, a woman who said she was a teacher at Red Lion chafed at the story, then offered information "from a true insider" nearly a decade after the attack.

"Would you like to know that I was in lockdown with six boys and was terrified enough to think my big 'teacher' scissors would be enough to protect us?" she asked.

"Would you like to know that at the time of the shooting, I was 9 months pregnant with my son and not one of his birthdays has passed without me thinking about that day? ...

"Would you like to know that my colleagues and I do indeed talk to each other about this because, really, we are the only ones that understand?"

Davis, the Ohio-based psychologist, said there is no correct or "normal" response to such trauma. It depends on proximity, personality and background.

Different people can process such stresses quickly, slowly, immediately or sometimes not until years later, he said.

What's important is honest communication.

"There are many variables here," he said. "But with help, most people get through these things and recover very well."

Ducharme, who specializes in the treatment of trauma, cautioned that responses to children's questions must be "age-appropriate."

Parents can try to insulate the youngest children, Ducharme said, telling them, if asked, things such as "the bad person is gone," and "you're safe." By the time children are 6 to 10 years old, though, parents should take the initiative and broach the subject, she said.

"If you don't say anything and they hear it somewhere else, often they think: it's so bad that Mommy and Daddy can't talk about it," she said.

Ducharme said high schools should promote open discussion, focusing on the ethical and moral implications of what happened, in addition to students' feelings. Parents should be updated and programs should be optional, she said, but it's vital that students are given the opportunity.

"At least get them all the right information," she said.

'A lot of people get scared ... put their guard up'

Kenzie Schmitt, the Red Lion senior unhappy about the moment of silence, reflected in an email on why events like the Sandy Hook shooting have such an emotional ripple effect.

"Talking to some others myself I've come to realize that a lot of people get scared when situations like what happened in Connecticut occur. They get scared, they put their guard up, and kind of go into 'protection' mode.

"Sometimes I think that's why the world is becoming so chaotic today. I hear people talk about 'back then,' and how you could trust everybody and keep your car unlocked without anybody worrying about stealing anything. But then as soon as something bad happens, we put our guard up. It's a never-ending cycle. Guard down, something bad happens; guard up, the whole world is at war.

"I don't know what the switch was that made it the way it is today, but I feel that if we all just talk about the situation (not pointing fingers, no hate talk, just simply talk about it), instead of brushing it under the rug, maybe we can eventually all have trust like 'back then.'

"That's my take on it. But I'm also 18 years old."

@timstonesifer; 771-2032

Also of interest

Finding their way out: Red Lion school shooting still haunts some

Red Lion locals struggle with Newtown fallout

Red Lion students wanted moment of silence for Newtown

Ryan Petzar: Sandy Hook resurrects the horror of the school shooting in Red Lion

Unthinkable in Newtown: York County can - and must - connect with grieving Connecticut community

School violence in Red Lion: When bad things happen to good towns

Read complete coverage of the Conn. shooting here.