SANTA FE, Texas (FOX 26) - Families are still in full recovery mode in Santa Fe, Texas, following the school shooting two months ago that killed ten and injured numerous others.
One mother's compelling story about how her daughter survived the brutal attack touched people around the world, when a post about the longest day of her life went viral. Now that mom and her daughter have an important message to share.
Isabelle Laymace was one of the students who took shelter in a closet of her art class at Santa Fe High School. It was a shelter from gunfire, a shelter that would end up saving her life.
"Everything going through my mind was - I'm not going to make it out or I will make it out. It was hard staying quiet and calm while you could hear him walking around and gunfire constantly," says Isabelle.
Isabelle's mom, Deedra Van Ness, had just gotten back home from taking her to school, when her phone rang.
"She was whispering and she said, mom they're shooting up the school. She was hiding in the closet and said, I love you! I started hearing gunshots in the background. She says I have to go get off the phone, the other kids don't have a phone and want to call their moms too," says Deedra. Then the phone line went dead. All Deedra could do was gather her family, race to the school, and hope and pray her daughter would survive the unthinkable situation. She did, but too many of the people she knew and loved did not. Isabelle continues to re-live those chilling moments every day. "My hardest thing: I can't sleep most of the time and when I can't sleep, I get flashbacks and remember the day, and it just all rushes back through my head," explains Isabelle.
"All I can do is tell her I am here. The flashbacks are something that are out of our control, that's one of the things that counseling will give her some extra tools to help redirect her mind of that time and we have sought out pretty much anything we could think of," states Deedra.
She goes on to tell us that a weighted blanket, music, and chatting with friends help comfort Isabelle when she feels terror at night.
She wants others to know that she is healing through the power of counseling.
"Being able to talk about everything and let it out helps me - because I'm used to keeping everything in, so it feels good to be able to talk to someone about everything," says Isabelle.
Her counselor is also encouraging healing through art, to help bring her feelings out and "into life" on paper.
"They told me to start writing and drawing, because that is things I like to do, so she told me to write at least once a week and draw if I could," says Isabelle.
She wants others to know that counseling is a normal process.
"It's something that is not scary, it is helpful. It's not a quick fix, it's not something that is going to let you walk in, get the answers, and they'll make it all better, but what it will do is give tools, so that you can deal with anxiety and sleeplessness," says Deedra.
This loving mother and daughter want others to benefit from those tools they've learned about through counseling. They both encourage anyone going through something traumatic, to seek help.
Deedra has always written in a journal and at the end of the longest day of her life, May 18, 2018, she shared that entry on Facebook. "As you can imagine, that was a very overwhelming day, so that was basically my data purge at the end of the day - getting this out - my record for me to go back and read again because it's in those types of situations, you're feeling so much that you don't really remember it," says Deedra. That fateful day, Deedra wrote, "She's sleeping peacefully. She knows that I am sitting here watching over her, and I hope that's enough for her to find peace in her slumber."
Now, Isabelle continues to seek peace through love and understanding from her family, friends, and a counselor who closely listens to her every fear. It's important for any other victims, and their families, of the shooting to know that a powerful team of counselors is still available for free at the Santa Fe Resiliency Center.
"Chances of kids telling you all of the horror they went through and upset you about that are very small. They're going to want to talk to their friends or coaches, having someone objective - someone who didn't go through it and don't have to worry about their feelings is a big relief - some people bring in kids and tell them - they're not going to talk! I don't think we can get them to talk and they never stopped talking when they get in there - they need to talk about it," explains Sharon Bayus with Innovative Alternatives, who is part of Santa Fe Resiliency.
Talking about it, writing about it, even drawing about how she feels, has been helping Isabelle.
Now that she's heading down the road to recovery, her parents plan to undergo counseling, to work through their feelings about the mass shooting that has been so painful for their daughter.
"We're hoping that by making the families aware of different types of therapy - lots of different types out there now, maybe it opens more options, gives them something to think about. maybe by hearing that Isabelle surrounding herself with friends actually wasn't a good thing and they'll recognized that in their own children and at the end of the day, we want to make sure these kids at risk are getting the help and attention they need," says Deedra.
"When things like this happen, we struggle with questions of why, why me, why not someone else, then you hear people who escaped the tragedy and people say God protected you, why not me, why not my child? Those are struggles people go through and they have to struggle with it," says Sharon.
Sharon says there are warning signs that parents should look for if their child is struggling after a traumatic event.
"The primary symptoms people will see are anxiety, the body gets tired and then may go into depression, and not really feel like doing anything, you may not want to get out of bed, you may think - what' s the point, and have some lethargy where you just aren't motivated to do much, they feel what we call hypervigilant, loud noise makes you jump," says Sharon.
She does go on to say that you can work through these symptoms, especially when communities pull together. "They are Santa Fe strong! They're supporting one another, being sensitive to one another, praying for one another, and those things do help!"
As for Isabelle, she will return to Santa Fe High School for her sophomore year, even though she admits she's anxious about it. Many of her friends have decided to convert to home schooling, while others have moved from the community, because of the shooting.
"I have encouraged her to go back! I think that it is healthy, I think that not going back would leave a fear out that could affect her recovery, so I think it's healthy for her to make these steps," says Deedra.
One thing's for sure: their community is absolutely #SantaFeStrong.
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