For Parkland survivor, a long road to healing from trauma

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — More than a year after watching a gunman kill three classmates and injure five others in her Parkland classroom, Eden Hebron came home from lunch to find a strange white car parked in her driveway .

Since filming, surprise visitors have been rare. Eden had struggled to cope and her family tried to protect her. Now, nearly 20 months after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre where 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a therapist had arrived to send Eden to a mental health facility halfway across the country.

The intervention was her family’s most recent and drastic attempt to help their daughter. Eden, then 16, screamed and tried to reason with her parents. His life was in Parkland – his school, his friends. She learned that she would be leaving in a few hours; she would have little contact with anyone outside of the California establishment.

“I was panicking. I was more scared than anything,” she said. “I was like, ‘What’s going to happen?'”


Eden’s issues after Feb. 14, 2018, and her long journey to recovery are not unique — the students who survived the deadliest high school shooting in the United States have struggled with trauma for years. Even for students who have become vocal campaigners for changes in gun laws, mental health issues have surfaced, dealing blows not only for them as adults, but also for their families. Experts say that is what is expected of survivors of mass shootings, especially those who are children or young adults.

In Eden’s case, her parents hoped that moving to California would save her life. While her classmates – many of whom were in therapy themselves, some struggling but successful in their final years at Stoneman Douglas – continued to take exams, attend dances and find their way to the graduation, Eden headed about 2,600 miles.

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The days leading up to Eden’s surgery were filled with anguish. She wasn’t eating, she slept too much and she had taken to drinking. Eden’s parents feared that she would harm herself. They hid all the belts in the house and checked it hourly every night.

“We really had no way to help our daughter,” Nicole Cook said. “She collapsed.”

The police intended to commit Eden to a psychiatric hospital due to the risk she posed to herself. But Cook held them back, promising that she would receive treatment from Eden. In seven days, Cook had chosen the California center.

There, Eden’s phone, makeup and clothes were taken away. The center was really a big house, with a swimming pool and its own stove. Five or six other teenagers were usually there. For Eden, it felt like the four seasons of the treatment centers, but she felt hopeless and alone.

“I didn’t have my family. I haven’t had contact with anyone,” she said. “I had no idea what was going on, how long I would be there. And I just desperately wanted out.

At home, Eden’s family is worried. The facility was their last resort – they had looked for ways to help Eden heal, but nothing had worked.

Her mother wanted to develop resources for survivor families, once holding a meeting at their home to make plans. But she was discouraged, in part by the lack of funding – she said the money was going to agencies that were already registered.

“There was just nothing nimble about it. They couldn’t pay for therapy, they couldn’t pay for everything people really needed,” Cook said. “They didn’t know what to do with a traumatized community.”

Eden told the school she found the stigma for those visiting the resource center or a new welfare facility – even after the apparent suicides of two students. Still, Eden continued to cut to the chase; she went to Homecoming and parties. But she was becoming argumentative, suspicious and paranoid.

She turned to alcohol and bad relationships. She shut down but presented herself as a normal teenager. Her therapist even told her she didn’t need any additional sessions, Eden said.

“It was me trying to control myself, trying to manipulate myself, trying to take care of things that I didn’t have the power to take care of,” Eden said.

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In California, Eden was angry. She begged her parents to let her go.

“But as much as I wanted out, my parents wanted me to heal,” she said.

They flew in weekly to visit. In early 2020, Cook, an epidemiologist, became concerned about COVID-19. Anticipating a lockdown that would prevent visitation, the family moved to California. Eden had moved to a group home and her parents could see her more.

On Wednesdays, the family would drive to Malibu, eat along the beach, practice yoga or run. They saw Eden expressing herself more and enjoying her time with them.

When Eden turned 18 in February 2021, she left the group home and moved in with her parents. But the pandemic worried them, and they feared a relapse for their daughter.

“We were afraid of getting sick,” Cook said. “I felt she was going to make some bad decisions.”

The family therefore returned to Florida, but not to Parkland. Instead, they chose the suburb of Hollywood, about 30 miles away. Eden continued to see her therapist remotely and completed her studies online. She made plans for college – a future her parents could only dream of a few years earlier.

The intervention, Eden realized, had saved his life.

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Today, 19-year-old Eden is studying in New Jersey. She wants a degree in computer science or neuroscience.

“It’s free, in a way,” she said.

Navigating college life on her own, Eden is aware of the little things she needs to do to stay on track: she meditates, she writes, she sees a therapist.

Some peers continued to advocate for gun control and mental health resources. It’s hard for anyone to ignore the shooting or the headline drumbeat – jury selection for the shooter’s death trial is underway, with lengthy proceedings expected to follow.

Eden wishes she could do more for all the teenagers who witnessed shootings across the United States. She knows that not everyone has the resources she has. She feels helpless.

“Some people struggle,” she said. “People are really struggling. As much as I want to go help people and save people, I have to focus on me because I know what it can mean for me.

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