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Forums would boost coping in Amherst, Mont Vernon in wake of home invasion

By Staff | Jan 12, 2010

AMHERST – Local resident and mom Wendy Kolopsky had no desire to read about the details of the Oct. 4 Mont Vernon home invasion and murder after court documents describing the crimes became public a week ago.

“I happened to hear just a little bit on the news, and that was enough to make me not want to hear or read any more of it,” Kolopsky said Monday night at the conclusion of the first of three trauma-recovery forums being presented in town over the next week.

The forums are hosted by the Community Recovery Group, a 16-member committee of local educators and residents formed in the wake of the Oct. 4 incident to help people in Amherst and Mont Vernon cope with the effects the crime, and most recently the release of court documents, are having on them and their children.

About 60 people gathered at Amherst Middle School for the roughly one-hour presentation, which was closed to the media because, SAU 39 Superintendent Mary Jennings said, reporters’ and photographers’ presence may be unsettling to some who wish to air personal concerns or ask difficult questions of the presenters.

Several media members present acquiesced, waiting in the school foyer and speaking with presenters and residents only after the forum ended.

“It’s very comforting to know that there are caring people surrounding us,” said Souhegan High School dean of students Peggy Silva. “It’s nice to be part of such a supportive community at a time like this.”

The forum was led by trauma and crisis recovery experts Jeff Weir and Dr. Kevin Becker, consultants with Concord-based Organizational Resilience International, who were hired by the School District to work with the Community Recovery Group.

“There were a lot of good questions,” Weir said after the forum. “Many had concerns about their children’s reactions, which is to be expected after something of this nature.”

Weir praised the district’s decision to form the Community Recovery Group, saying the forums as well as members’ extensive research of recovery information are likely to speed the healing process.

“When a traumatic event impacts a group of people like this has, the ability for people to come together and share their feelings can increase their resiliency in the end,” he said.

For resident Kathi Beane, who has a child at Amherst Middle School and two at Clark-Wilkins Elementary, said while she understands the need for the public to have access, at least through the media, of the court documents, her choice to read through them had its consequences.

“I didn’t sleep for three nights,” Beane said. “Still, I figured it’s important to know what happened … but (the documents) absolutely brought back a lot of memories.”

Weir pointed to one particular event that, although it wasn’t specifically designed to address the crime and people’s reactions, went a long way toward easing anxieties in the weeks after the incident: A daylong, pre-Halloween visit by members of the Souhegan High School Ethics Forum to the Mont Vernon Village School – where Jaimie Cates is a sixth-grader – to interact with the children and surprise them with scores of decorated pumpkins and goodies.

“One of the main things the schools picked up on right after the crime was that younger children had become afraid of the older kids,” Weir said, a reaction that stems from the fact that four older boys attacked a young girl. “The older kids coming over and re-connecting with the younger ones was a great thing for all of them.”

The next forum, scheduled for Thursday at the Clark-Wilkins Elementary School on Boston Post Road, is titled “How to Talk to Your Children About Loss” and is geared toward parents of elementary school students. The third, geared toward parents of adolescents, is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 19, at Amherst Middle School. Both start at 7 p.m.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 31, or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.

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