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Trauma Informed Oregon director offers advice on coping with traumatic events

COURTESY PHOTO: CLACKAMAS COUNTY SHERRIF'S OFFICE - The killing of Carl Hellinger at Heritage Specialty Foods in Wilsonville was the first fatal shooting in town in years.

City of Wilsonville Police Chief Rob Wurpes says his department prides itself on analyzing its own practices, dissecting data and making adjustments accordingly. And last year, after a shooting in Memorial Park, the department stepped up patrols and the City implemented measures to limit access to the park.

But when it comes to the recent killing of Portland resident Carl Hellinger allegedly perpetrated by Woodburn resident Camilo Santiago-Santiago at Heritage Specialty Foods in Wilsonville Nov. 15, he said there wasn't much insight to glean.

"What we have is a senseless act of violence, and there's not a lot to take away. But there are dangerous people out there, and we should be vigilant. Businesses should be vigilant, and in our personal lives we should be vigilant," he said.

Hellinger was a store manager and Santiago-Santiago a former worker who was fired. Wurpes recommended that business owners and managers should ensure their establishment is secure and has barriers so that intruders can't access workers.

However, he said it's unrealistic to expect all businesses to do this and that targeted killings are particularly challenging to prevent. Wurpes also noted that Clackamas County Sheriff's Office holds classes for businesses on how to handle workplace violence.

"Some businesses — like a grocery store — you don't make that secure," he said. "It's hard when there's a specific target in mind. When there's security measures, someone could wait for you to walk into the parking lot. This was an ambush and ambushes are hard to be ready for."

Wurpes also felt that the response of the various law enforcement agencies, like Clackamas County Sheriff's Office and Marion County Sheriff's Office, was effective. He said they also were lucky that the Clackamas County SWAT team was conducting an exercise in the area at the time when the police were

on their way to apprehend Santiago-Santiago in Woodburn.

Police apprehended Santiago-Santiago a little over an hour after they heard about the shooting.

"Our response was good; it was fast," Wurpes said. "The information flow was fast. We knew immediately that the suspect had fled, quickly identified who he was and what vehicle he was driving, and we were able to broadcast that to other agencies and someone in Marion County picked that up. We were able to bring this to a quick resolution."

Santiago-Santiago was booked into Clackamas County Jail and faces murder II and felon in posssession of a weapon charges. According to reporting from The Oregonian, the suspect was arraigned last week.

Dealing with trauma

There were about 20 people in the Heritage Specialty Foods building when the shooting occurred. According to Trauma Informed Oregon Director Mandy Davis, witnessing chance traumatic events like this can cause lingering side effects like anxiety and uncertainty.

"A shooting at a store, what's different about that versus family violence is the unknown — the randomness. People are dealing with 'I can go anywhere and this could happen. How do I redefine my life now knowing these things can happen?'" Davis said.

To cope with such a traumatic event, Davis recommends people continue to sleep and eat and rely more on loved ones for support and help making decisions. She also said both confiding in people who also were affected by the event and close confidants who are simply there to listen can be helpful.

"Your body is going to try to heal and your brain is trying to heal from all those things, and it usually does a pretty good job until we stop it (from healing)," Davis said.

"The biggest thing we know (can help) is having a support network, having someone you feel like you can talk to, or someone who is a part of that experience and also people who are distant from that experience."

She also said that people should be cognizant of the ways in which the event is impacting them, such as feeling triggered by associated sensations. And rather than being reclusive, Davis said people should try to go out and do normal things. She also said that people should try not to fixate on news reports and other reminders.

"Over time, you will think about (the traumatic event) less and normal things more," she said.

However, she said if people can't perform normal functions like sleeping and going to work and can't stop thinking about the memory weeks after the event, they should seek professional help.

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