As family members and friends of the victims at the Pulse nightclub shooting who might have been hoping for a guilty verdict in the trial of the shooter's widow now face the reality that a jury delivered the opposite verdict, a Clearwater psychologist we spoke to said the ruling and any unresolved anger about it could lead to serious long-term effects.
- Depression, other mental health issues a risk
- Developing empathy can help, though it's certainly difficult
- Orlando United Assistance Center ready to help - dial 211
Psychologist Dr. Steve O'Brien said families are understandably still grieving, but said they shouldn't let their anger fester.
"I'm not saying that they shouldn't express their outrage," O'Brien said. "They've got to be careful to balance that outrage with, 'Now, what am I going to do to make my life meaningful?'"
O’Brien went on to say replaying the tragedy over and over could lead to depression and long-term mental health issues. He suggested turning anger into activism, as many of the Pulse friends and families have done to ignite positive change.
He also encouraged empathy while acknowledging it might be tough.
"It's understandably very distasteful sounding to develop empathy for someone who may have been involved in something horrific," O'Brien explained. "But the more that we can try and understand where someone was emotionally, that sometimes provides more solace than simply staying outraged."
Among those still grieving and today expressing disappointment with the verdict in the Salman trial is Christine Leinonen, whose son, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, was killed in the shooting. Christine said she won’t ever be able to find forgiveness or empathy, but said she will turn her grief into something good by continuing to honor her son’s legacy.
"I was definitely disappointed," Christine said. "It's regrettable that she was found not guilty. It's regrettable for my son and justice and it's regrettable for society."
After the Pulse tragedy, the Orlando United Assistance Center was created as a place of support and healing. The group released a joint statement with the United Way stating they stand with those hurting and encourage anyone who needs emotional support to contact their crisis specialists.
To reach out to those crisis specialists, dial 211 or text your zip code to 898-211. You can also call 407-500-HOPE to connect with advocates at OUAC.