JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Tragic events national events such as the Connecticut school shooting or the Aurora theater shooting might be hitting closer to home than many people realize. That's according to one mental health expert who said recent regional incidents might not be purely coincidental.
On Thursday, two movie goers at the Epic Theater in St. Augustine noticed what they thought to be a firearm in the back of a man's pants. After calling police, St. John's County Sheriff's deputies evacuated the theater and questioned the suspect only to find the man was concealing a sandwich.
Just two days earlier, on Christmas Day, an off-duty Clay County sheriff's deputy confronted a teenager entering the AMC-24 movie theater in Orange Park through the exit and found he was concealing a 9mm handgun in his waistband.
These local events might be more than just a coincidence.
"We get more phone calls," said Corporal Catherine Payne with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office. "Especially about people with firearms and weapons and we respond to those calls quite often after these type of tragic events."
Clinical counselor, Dr. Michele Fleming, says even though they didn't happen here, recent events like what happened in Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado and can still be traumatic.
"The level of trauma that people feel compared to older times when you heard about something or you read it in a newspaper," said Fleming. "It's not the same because people are hearing about it as it happens, they're seeing all the interactions, they're seeing the people's faces, they're seeing it in the midst of trauma, and then they're experiencing it as trauma."
Fleming said if people don't process the experience correctly, they can end up carrying that stress around and it can start to influence behavior.
"You end up with a belief that says, 'I'm not safe anywhere I am.' And how are people going to react to that? They're going to be hyper vigilant. They're going to be self-protecting. In that hyper vigilance, they're going to be checking everything and being aware of everything," she says.
Payne said there are ways to make sure you're not the one raising red flags for others.
"Please don't act suspicious, don't look suspicious and definitely don't try to conceal anything in your clothing, especially when entering a public building."
Another tip, Payne said, is to make sure your children don't play with toy guns in public. She said it's also good for them to know to "drop it" if asked by a police officer.
Fleming said people can't avoid tragedy, but they can work on processing it correctly. She said it's important to be able to talk about it with others and work through it.
To find mental health professionals in your area:
Duval County: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/county/FL/Duval.html
Clay County: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/county/FL/Clay.html
St. Johns County: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/county/FL/Saint+Johns.html
First Coast News