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Social media connections help Franklin Regional community heal

Sunday, April 27, 2014, 11:24 p.m.
 

Hours after a stabbing spree injured 21 people in Franklin Regional Senior High School, students and the community turned to social media as much as they reached out to family and friends.

Their words and photos — sent to hundreds of friends and acquaintances and often made public — expressed shock, sadness, confusion, solidarity and comfort. Hashtags such as #FRStrong and #PrayForFranklin linked the messages of people in Murrysville with others from across the nation.

“Still in complete disbelief and shock. #FRStrong,” one student tweeted about eight hours after police say sophomore Alex Hribal, 16, slashed and stabbed 20 students and a security guard with two 8-inch kitchen knives before classes began on April 9.

“Physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted and it's only been a day since the horrible incident,” another student posted.

Using social media has become an integral part of recovering from traumatic events, but it's not always a substitute for traditional counseling, experts said.

“We certainly know that good social and emotional support is really, really a protective factor after any traumatic experience,” said Steven Berkowitz, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Penn Center for Youth and Family Trauma Response and Recovery in Philadelphia.

“For some (people), some of that more traditional (communication) has gone to the wayside because of the instant gratification of texting,” said Lis Tomlin, a licensed counselor in Mt. Lebanon. “This is the environment they may have been raised in, so it's the most comfortable.”

Carter Boger, whose brother, Jared, was stabbed during the rampage, tweeted updates on his condition.

“Jared was taken out of ICU yesterday & continues to improve. Please pray for him and the other victims. #FRStrong,” Carter posted on April 18.

Jared Boger, 17, had stab wounds that nearly reached his spine, damaging his liver and nicking his heart, doctors said. He underwent several surgeries in UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland in the days after the stabbing. He was released from the hospital two weeks after he was injured.

Student Nate Scimio posted a photo of himself in a hospital gown in Children's Hospital of UPMC, pointing to a bandaged wound on his right arm, with the caption “Chillin at Children's.”

The “selfie” went viral, with more than 18,000 people “liking” it on Instagram, a photo-sharing network.

“For people who are really worried about him, that could be quite reassuring,” said Tony Mannarino, director of the Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents in Allegheny General Hospital in the North Side.

“We're in a new age, and some kids get a lot of help by just processing all of their feelings on their personal blog page,” said Dr. Pearl Berman, a licensed clinical psychologist and psychology professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “Anything that helps them not feel alone, that's a good thing.”

Julia Drnjevich, 16, of Murrysville said she wanted to “look on the positive side” after the stabbings, so she made a three-minute video showing the banners hanging in school hallways, encouraging words decorating student lockers, and students petting therapy dogs and eating lunch in the cafeteria.

“I just hope that everyone knows how thankful we are for the support, because it really helped during this tough time,” Drnjevich said.

The video has received more than 5,300 views on YouTube.

Relying on social media after a traumatic event can have downsides, experts warn.

A teenager might not recognize when friends need professional help or that they are exhibiting signs of depression or anger that could lead them to hurt themselves or others, Mannarino said.

Beyond that, reliving the event on social media might not be helpful, Tomlin said.

“If you were going to therapy and reliving some traumatic events in the space of a professional being able to help you feel grounded in that moment — monitor you, help you come out of it ... that's not something you can do sitting at home or sitting at a family dinner with your phone out looking (at posts),” Tomlin said.

Seeing peers coping and recovering at different rates might make a person second-guess natural feelings, she said.

But if social media link students with similar feelings or experiences and help them coordinate going to see the school counselor together, for example, then the impact can be very helpful, Berman said.

“It's important that it go beyond just, ‘Yeah, I'm mad too,' ” Berman said.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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