Child psychologist weighs in on 'copycat' threats after Richneck shooting

Posted at 11:14 PM, Feb 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-20 23:14:12-05

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- Just two weeks after returning to school and some sense of normalcy, the Richneck Elementary School community was rattled with news of another threat.

In a letter to families on Monday, Karen Lynch, the school's extended learning supervisor, said a group of fifth graders was texting on Saturday when one of them said they would "pop some bullets" and tell someone to shoot up the class.

The messages were an unsettling revelation for students, teachers and parents after the January 6 shooting of first-grade teacher Abby Zwerner at the alleged hands of her own student.

A student shared the text with a parent who immediately notified school officials. The Newport News School district and the police department are both actively investigating the threat.

However, the incident is creating even more mental health concerns for a community that is already in distress.

Dr. Anjali Ferguson is a child psychologist who specializes in trauma-informed care. She said, copycat threats are common after a highly-publicized event.

"The reason for that is a bit unclear. It's individually driven but when it comes to children, sometimes their lack of understanding of these incidents and why they took place can cause some of these effects," Ferguson said.

Whether children are using humor, seeking attention or projecting their own fears, Ferguson said it's important for parents to talk openly with their children and monitor the information they're taking in, especially on social media.

"It's better that we as adults gatekeep and manage and monitor how they're receiving this information and processing these feelings rather than leaving them to their own devices to figure it out," Ferguson said.

Ferguson said it's a long road to recovery and while every threat should be taken seriously and investigated, she said holding space for healing is important.



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