Safe Space: St. Louis Therapist Offers Recovery and Prevention After Fatal School Shooting

Candice Cox is a licensed social worker and trauma professional who works with children and adults.

Marcell Straub/Unsplash

A therapist offered ways for families to care for themselves after what Education Week counted as the 40th school shooting in 2022 left three people dead and several others injured at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in  South St. Louis on Monday.

“My heart hurts. I immediately started having somatic reactions.”

This was not a student or staff member who survived the shooting. This was a clinician who watched news of the shooting break around 9 a.m. Central Time Monday. Candice Cox is a licensed social worker and trauma professional who works with children and adults. When she saw news reports of students sprinting from the school with their hands up, she felt the impact in her body.

“My chest got tight and stomach felt queasy.”

Cox then gathered her team from Keep Healing and Overcoming Struggles, Inc. KHAOS clinicians made plans to head to various Boys and Girls Clubs in the area. As the organization’s CEO, she planned to help young people process their grief of what happened and their fear of the future. She also offered ways families can help prevent their child from committing violence.

“Parents need to look for changes in behavior, heightened aggression, detachment from normal activities.”

She also recommended parents pay close attention to technology search history and real-life friend groups. She said prevention can be as simple as listening to a child’s concerns, even if it is not easy.

“Our children often have a lot to say, but we as adults shut them down because they don’t communicate as we feel they should.”

For survivors of the shooting, Cox said parents will likely see more than tears in their kids.

“Somatic issues: body aches, loss of appetite, digestive issues, headaches, et cetera.”

She said creating a safe space will be key to help children progress from survival to recovery.

“Provide a safe space for them to communicate, set up therapy if needed, extra hugs and kisses won’t hurt, reassuring them they are safe within their homes, not forcing them to go back to school too soon, and paying attention to changes in behavior and acknowledging them as they come.”

Education Week is a non-profit news organization reporting on information affecting professionals in the K-12 setting. It launched a school-shooting tracker in 2018. Monday’s shooting in St. Louis was the 40th of 2022. There was still more than two months left in the year. Yet, that number already passed the 2021 total of 34. Managing Editor Lesli A. Maxwell stressed the criteria that informed the tracker. These shootings involved injury or death.

“I emphasize the last part because we do not count incidents where a gun may be fired, but no one is hurt or killed. We also do not include any incidents of suicide that may happen by firearm in a school setting.”

In June 2022, The EdWeek Research Center surveyed 875 teachers, principals, and school-district administrators. This was between June 8 and 14 and just weeks after a mass shooting a Robb Elementary at Uvalde, Texas. Seventy-three percent of respondents wanted to see the minimum age for assault-style long guns raised to 21. Investigators in St. Louis say Monday’s suspect was 19 years old.

Seventy-two percent said they wanted school safety laws to send more funding for mental health resources. While St. Louis Metropolitan Police and the FBI continue to piece together why Monday’s shooting happened, community-based resources like KHAOS are not waiting for a green light. Cox offered another suggestion to help survivors.

“Try to create as much normalcy as possible, but be aware that these babies are creating a new normal.”

Cox invites families to reach out for help anytime.

Candice Cox, MSW, LCSW, CATP, CCTP 

CEO of KHAOS, Inc. 

(314) 399-9269

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones also tweeted a list to several mental-health resources for the community.


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