“On April 20, 1999, two students went into Columbine Highschool and shot a number of students.”

Responding to the chaotic aftermath as a member of the Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Team that day was Joannie DeBrito, a licensed clinical social worker and marriage and family therapist. DeBrito was stationed at a nearby elementary school to assist students rescued from the high school. Once there, the teens answered questions about the shooting and were reunited with their parents.

“A large number of kids were clearly shaken,” DeBrito recalls, “but they appeared to be in a normal state of shock that resolved, for the most part, once they saw their family members. But one young woman was hysterical. We were curious about her reaction, because it was so different from the others.”

Since the shooting, the teen had been having trouble sleeping, was having nightmares, and spent most of her time in her room so she could avoid anything that might be a threat to her safety. DeBrito and the other experienced mental health professional recognized these behaviors as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).