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Odessa Marks Two Years Since Deadly Mass Shooting

Two years after a shooter killed seven people in a rampage across the Odessa area, one mental health worker says “healing is happening,” though the community continues to struggle with the added trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Travis Bubenik

Tuesday marks two years since a deadly mass shooting that played out across the Odessa area left seven people dead and more than 20 others injured.

The tragedy, which came just weeks after another deadly mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart, impacted many people’s sense of Odessa as a generally safe place. It also prompted a new Texas law, passed earlier this year, that will create a statewide active shooter alert system.

The Family Resiliency Center of the Permian Basin was formed after the shooting as a long-term mental health resource for people affected by the tragedy. Marfa Public Radio spoke with Chandra Coleman, who leads the center, to talk about how the community is still collectively recovering.

Interview Highlights

On what victims’ families and others affected by the shooting are saying

“What I am hearing is that healing is happening,” Coleman said. “We are hearing and seeing evidence that healing is occuring, with families, but also just with the community at large.”

Still, she noted that the grieving process continues to be a “unique process” for each individual person impacted by the shooting.

On the added blow of the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in early 2020 just months after the Odessa mass shooting. Soon,, the pandemic’s ripple effects led to a total collapse of oil prices that decimated the Permian Basin economy.

Though the oil sector has rebounded since then, Coleman said those various struggles have amounted to what mental health experts call “cumulative trauma.”

“One traumatic event happens, and then it just kind of piles on, so that’s what we’re seeing,” she said. “It’s just kind of been, really, a rough couple of years for this area.”

Coleman said a challenge for her organization has been locating people’s “root trauma” out of all those struggles.

On the time it takes to heal

“Two years is just the beginning,” Coleman said.

Anniversaries or other reminders of a tragedy have the potential to make traumatic events feel almost “like it happened yesterday,” she said.

“The third anniversary, the fourth anniversary, and on and on, there will still be those who struggle as if it just happened,” she said. “So that’s a big part of our focus.”

On whether people feel lawmakers have done enough to prevent a similar tragedy

Coleman said discussion about state lawmakers’ actions in the wake of the shooting “hasn’t come up much” with the people she speaks to at the center.

When it comes to the Leilah Hernandez Act, the new active shooter alert system law named for a 15-year-old girl who was killed in the Odessa shooting, Coleman said people are “just kind of waiting” to see whether the alert system makes a difference.

“We haven’t had to use it yet, thankfully,” she said. “I think there’s a sense that that’s appreciated, but it’s one of those, I’m not going to know how I feel about it until I have to deal with it.”

On Tuesday’s memorial event

The Family Resiliency Center has organized a virtual memorial for Tuesday evening that victims’ families will attend in-person, according to Coleman. The event will be streamed live on the center’s Facebook page beginning at 6 p.m.

Coleman said the center’s hope for the memorial is to provide a “safe place” for grieving with a “focus on how far we’ve come.”

“We always want our center to be a place of hope and healing,” she said. “We were unified as a community after the shooting, and anything we can do to encourage that kind of unity is going to be something that I do.”

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.