Psychologist, survivors describe ‘Anniversary Symptoms’ two years after Oregon District shooting

DAYTON — The days around August 4 will forever be a difficult time of the year for many in the Miami Valley, especially for those directly impacted by the 2019 Oregon District mass shooting.

>>Oregon District Shooting: 2 years later

Reminders of the tragic events of that day can trigger what psychologists call Anniversary Symptoms that essentially cause a person’s brain to replay the emotions experienced around the time of the traumatic event.

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To better understand what people who might experience Anniversary Symptoms could go through, News Center 7′s Cheryl McHenry talked with an area psychologist, a police officer, and a survivor of the mass shooting, all of which said they experience these symptoms.

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Centerville psychologist Dr. Kathy Platoni is a retired Army Colonel and saw fellow soldiers killed in the mass shooting at Fort Hood in 2009. Platoni said Anniversary Symptoms are completely normal and are an adaptive response in the brain to traumatic events that are unlikely to be forgotten.

>>Oregon District Mass Shooting: Coping with emotional trauma

“Any reminders, even in time, day, location, conversation, can be very debilitating when these memories begin to arise and all the emotions that go hand-in-hand with those memories come to the surface. It’s like our brains are programmed to be on instant replay,” Platoni said.

“Being a survivor of the Fort Hood massacre, I know how that can play out again and again.”

>>The victims of the Oregon District Shooting

Platoni continues to counsel police officers, firefighters, and medics who responded to the mass shooting, and even some who didn’t.

Dion Green survived the mass shooting two years ago. He was enjoying a night out with his family when the shots rang out. Moments later, he was cradling his dying father, Derrick Fudge, in his arms. Green recalls the last moments he shared with his dad before he passed.

“Holding him, y’know, telling him to get up, letting him know I loved him, letting him know that these are the last words you’re gonna be able to hear from your son,” he said.

In the two years since the shooting Green has taken steps to help himself and other survivors recover including creating the Fudge Foundation in his father’s name that supports those recovering from trauma by offering support and access to resources. But Green said he still can’t escape the emotions of that day.

“I have the problems every once in awhile. I’m doing good. But they really have heightened all the way back up again. I’m not sleeping, y’know I’m thinking, I’m replaying it even more, y’know like what if he didn’t come up here with me?”

Those feelings of ‘what if’ also echo among police officers, including those who were not on duty during the mass shooting two years ago. Officer Jared Dobney was with Dayton police when he was assigned to help provide comfort and security to victims’ family at the Dayton Convention Center the day after the shooting.

“I think for a lot of us who weren’t on duty that night, there’s the question of ‘What could I have done?’” he said.

While working with the families of victims, Dobney started to realize officers there also were in need of help and began taking an informal role of helping his fellow officers. Dobney recalled talking to an officer who was freshly off of field training when they were called into the Oregon District that night.

“I talked to a guy who had--it was his fourth day of riding alone and he responded to a mass shooting,” he said.

Dobney said he went with other officers to peer support meetings where officers who responded that night shared stories of jumping into action to care for victims, applying tourniquets, and rushing the injured to the hospital.

“It was a lot of heartbreak. A lot of the emotions that they were showing was that sadness, that fear that they hadn’t been able to save people’s lives and also the heartbreak of seeing so many people grievously injured or killed right in front of them, so it was a lot for them to process from an emotional level.”

Platoni said its that emotional trauma that makes it important for anyone traumatized by the events of Aug. 4, 2019 to talk about it.

“Have a gathering, talk to your family, talk to your friends, express what it is that you’re experiencing. There’s no need to hold on to that and stuff it under the surface. Talk about it,” Platoni said.

Wednesday night, community members will have the opportunity to gather and talk. Green’s Fudge Foundation has organized tonight’s memorial in the Oregon District to remember those who died and support those still hurting.

“It’s to create a safe place, but it’s also for the community, for friends, to empower, to lean on each other’s shoulder, to cry, to love one another, to meet your community fellows, and just be here and uplift because this can happen to any of us,” Green said.