Following the shooting deaths of Martha Johnson, 64, and three of her grandchildren, Benjamin Schuster, 13, Julia Schuster, 10, and Luke Schuster, 6, in New Town Sunday, there still remain more questions than answers.
There has been some help in dealing with grief over the deaths, though.
Jacqueline Gray, PhD, the associate director of indigenous programs at the Center for Rural Health and the Department of Pathology at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences, has been on hand since Wednesday morning in New Town as a professional counselor community members can turn to. She will return to UND on Monday.
"I was invited to come," Gray, who is an Oklahoma native with Choctaw and Cherokee descent according to her UND biography, said. She has previously offered grief counseling at the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota after Jeffrey Weise's shooting spree there that took the lives of nine people in March of 2005. She was also a graduate student at Oklahoma State University at the time of the Oklahoma City Bombing and went with a team of other graduate students and professors to help people deal with that tragedy.
"There are things that are the same and things that are different," Gray said of the concerns people have brought to her during her stay in New Town compared with the concerns people had at previous tragedies.
"I think parents are concerned about their kids dealing with a classmate who has died, and also worried about dangers that might remain," she said. "I've seen some children, I've seen some parents, I've seen first responders... It doesn't just effect those who were on the scene;" it affects the whole community.
"It's the interconnectedness," she said of the similarities of dealing with both rural communities and tribal communities. "There are a lot of needs and not that many resources."
To deal with a tragedy of this size, she says that "everybody pitches in" to work together as a team. There are community counselors and religious figures all working together to bring a common message of relief from the grief.
Gray wants people in the community "to be aware of how they're feeling; they may be shorter tempered and may snap a little even though they don't mean to; it's just the stress they're under."
"We're talking about crisis, death, and how to deal" with grief and concerns, Gray said of her talks with visitors. For those who are unable to visit her during her stay in New Town, she says that "being able to share those things" by "finding someone to talk with" is an important way to let go and recover.
For any community member that would like to reach her she says that "Ken Hall's office has my information." Contact Kelly McGrady, of Tribe Council member Ken Hall's office, at (701) 421-8495.
Gray researches both health and mental health, as well as issues special to American Indians.