After Thousand Oaks Shooting, Almost 200 Turn to Victims’ Center for Aid

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Almost 200 people who lost family members, were injured or witnessed the Thousand Oaks mass shooting turned to a victims’ assistance center over the past week.

The multi-agency center at Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks’ office in Thousand Oaks opened the day after the Nov. 7 shooting and is scheduled to close Friday. A victims’ advocate from the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office is scheduled to remain on site to assist people after the center closes.

Officials in the DA’s Office tied the high turnout to media coverage, communication by law enforcement officers and word-of-mouth. An estimated 140 to 200 people were in the Borderline Bar & Grill at the time of the shooting in which gunman Ian David Long killed 12 people and himself.

Rachael Watkins, who supervises the crime victims assistance program in the District Attorney’s Office, said the psychological trauma from an event like this is long-lasting.

“Everyone who has walked through this door has been traumatized,” she said.

Some are not able to sleep, are hiding in their houses and afraid to go outside, she said.

“They’re not able to function as they used to,” she said.

The center follows a federal model called the Family Assistance Center. The concept was developed based on the experiences of families affected by aviation disasters and terrorist attacks. It has been replicated for the responses to mass shootings around the country, Jump said.

Victims visited staff members in offices at the center and could close the doors for privacy, Jump said.

They could apply for financial assistance both big and small, officials said. Funding from the California Victim Compensation Board will help pay for funeral and burial expenses, medical bills and home security devices among other costs.

The Ventura County Community Foundation had funding available for expenses that could not be covered in any other way, such as a lost or damaged cellphone, Jump said. Information on work training programs and potential job placement was also available, he said.

Mental health professionals from the Ventura County Behavioral Health Department and the Interface agency provided counseling to those who wanted it.

“Sometimes people need to be assured that what they’re going through is perfectly normal,” psychologist John Schipper said.

He advised people to be kind to themselves and go back to doing the things they enjoy. Sleep and nutritious meals are important along with exercise, he said.

“Whatever you’re doing is likely your way of taking care of yourself,” said the chief of the adult division at the Ventura County Behavioral Health Department.

Schipper said he’s heard people say that as long as they don’t talk about the experience, it seems like “a dream.” But it’s healthier to talk about it than to keep it inside and ruminate over it, he said.

Victims received cards with the names of victim advocates to call after the center closes, Jump said. The advocates also will call and check to see how they’re doing over the next year or longer, Watkins said.

Forums for survivors are planned, Watkins said.

“We know we’re in this for the long, long haul,” Jump said.

For additional information, contact the Crime Victims Assistance Program at 805-654-3622.

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