RICHMOND, Va. -- Scott Anonick was 13 years old when his stepfather shot and killed his mother, 36-year-old Donna Harper, before turning the gun on himself. Anonick was inside their home at the time of the murder-suicide.
“A week before it happened, my mom came to me and said, ‘I think he’s going to kill me.’ As a kid, you don’t take that seriously. Like no, that would never happen,” Anonick says.
The tragedy left Anonick shattered. He says he not only lost the most important person in his life, but he also didn’t understand his stepfather’s actions as he had always been a loving family man up until a few months before the shootings.
“In the moment, you really don’t know what to do,” Anonick says. “You think how am I ever going to get over this? The truth is, you never do, but you learn to live through this.”
In the months that followed his mother’s death, Anonick began attending the Comfort Zone Camp, a Richmond-based bereavement camp for children who are grieving the loss of a parent or sibling. It was there that Anonick began the long healing process and eventually became a big buddy himself, helping other children through loss and grief.
“One of the first things that I wanted to do was to give back in terms of the Comfort Zone, “Anonick says. “Being a big buddy and trying to help kids through something that I went through.”
Anonick went on to graduate from St. Christopher’s School and James Madison University. Today, he continues his volunteer work because he says there are many people, including children, who are struggling with depression, anxiety and loss.
Camp founder Lynne Hughes says she’s seen an increase in mental and behavioral health issues, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve definitely seen, over the last years, an increase of kids coming to camp who’ve had family members die by suicide, violence and also drug overdoses,” Hughes says.
Even for children and adults who aren’t personally impacted by tragic events, Hughes says there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world today. She says tragedies in Virginia and across the country have been a culmination of “Life Grief.” Hughes says transparency is key to helping people who are struggling.
“I think one of the biggest things is we have to have conversations with our kids, and we have to have conversations with our kids at a young age,” Hughes says. “One, not only do we talk about whatever angst or whatever they are seeing on the news and helping them feel safe again, but also preparing them that sometimes life can be really unfair, but what’s a forever moment and what’s not a forever moment?”
For Anonick, healing has been a long road, filled with ups and downs. He says that he often draws strength from his experiences, knowing that he is capable of overcoming tragic situations
“First and foremost, just know that your life is not over,” Anonick says. “It’s extremely important to find someone who is willing to listen, whether it’s a family member, friend, or whoever.”
Anonick says finding healthy coping skills and giving back to others was his saving grace. For others, he says counseling or psychiatric help may be needed to help heal from loss.
“Going through something like this and not giving up is the most important thing,” Anonick says. “You know, I’ve had very low points and I’ve had very high points and just knowing that life goes on and you will live through it.”
Now 30, Anonick says he’s developed a deeper empathy and compassion for others and has found happiness in his life. He says there are gifts through adversity and hope from grief.
This segment is sponsored by WHOA Behavioral Health.