How to Cope

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 9, 2008

It is a headline that is all too common in American newspapers these days: school violence.

This week, what once seemed far away became uncomfortably close to home. Situations like these leaves many parents in a difficult position of explaining such a tragedy to their children.


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Perhaps the most common question expressed as people reflect on the Portsmouth school violence incident is why. Why did Michael Layne stab two women — one his wife of 34 years — before he took his own life?

And secondly, what led him to do the unthinkable and attack his wife in front of the 5th grade students at Notre Dame Elementary?

Some look for spiritual answers.

“First of all, we don’t know why it happens, God doesn’t intend for evil things to happen, but evil things happen,” explained the Rev. Robert Thomas, rector at Christ Episcopal Church. “But the one thing we can say, the best thing we can say, is that nothing in this world can happen to us that would place us outside of God’s gracious care.”

Dealing with fears

Michael Haney, clinical coordinator with Behavioral Health Services at Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital in Russell, Ky., said it is understandable that both children and adults find the incident in Portsmouth unsettling.

Haney said parents should be willing to talk to children about what happened without being pushy.

“Let them know you’re open and available to talk, if they want to talk,” he said. “Encourage them to talk if they want to, but don’t push.”

Haney said those who are directly impacted by the event might experience an emotional or even physical reaction to such an event, such as depression, anxiety or even nausea. They should seek professional help if their symptoms continue for more than a couple of weeks.

Haney said the Portsmouth incident raised a companion issue that should be addressed: domestic violence.

“Obviously somebody was having marital problems, the husband was dealing with the fact the wife was going to divorce and some people do not deal with issues well and resort to violence,” Haney said.

Haney likened the problem of domestic violence to an iceberg.

“What you see floating on the water isn’t close to what’s beneath the surface,” he said.

Valerie Fletcher-Johnson, director of the Lawrence County Domestic Violence Task Force, agreed.

“We do need to make the public aware, to let people know domestic violence is very much going on. Some people may think because it doesn’t directly affect them, it doesn’t happen at all and that’s not true,” Fletcher-Johnson said. “We are constantly getting phone calls from people asking about getting a protection order, asking for help.”

Fletcher-Johnson said that those who are in need of domestic violence assistance should know there is help for them.