Lane Bryant survivor still terrified
By KIM JANSSEN, Staff Writer May 3, 2008
Updated: January 27, 2011 3:39PM
Just three months later, life has returned to normal - for the rest of us.
The public signs that it ever took place are receding, as the national media moves on, the small, remaining display of cut flowers left outside begins to rot, and a solemn poster in the empty, shuttered store's window serves as one of the last outward reminders of one of the United States' worst unsolved mass murders.
Privately, of course, the wounds still are still fresh for the families and friends of the five victims gunned down during a botched robbery Feb. 2 at Lane Bryant in the Brookside Marketplace mall in Tinley Park.
And out of sight, a determined team of 30 detectives quietly continues to hunt the killer, chasing down tips that continue to come in from across the country.
But according to two counselors who between them have helped thousands of crime victims throughout the years, nobody continues to be more severely affected than the sixth, surviving victim.
The 33-year-old store assistant, who miraculously cheated death - escaping with only a minor neck wound while the five other victims were shot execution-style in the back of the head by the fleeing killer - has not spoken publically about her ordeal since police released a brief statement on her behalf four days after the murders.
Asking for privacy to grieve "the horrific crime that ripped our worlds apart," she then described the other victims as "five of the bravest women I have ever met."
That message was repeated this week by police, who say that as the only witness, she remains understandably terrified and does not want to speak out.
Though she no longer is under around-the-clock police protective custody, police say, they remain in close contact with her and her family while she comes to terms with the atrocity.
Dealing with survivor's guilt likely will be her largest problem, according to Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist who has helped crime survivors and who has acted as a court consultant in several mass shooting cases nationwide.
"She'll want to know, 'Why me?' " Welner said, cautioning that he has not examined the sixth victim himself.
"There are several things common in people who have come away from traumatic multiple shootings or hostage situations," he added, "As long as the killer is at large, they will be haunted.
"There is always the fear that the killer has already decided to kill witnesses - will he now come to finish the job?
"And the survivors want to know why they lived while others died: There is a tremendous soul searching."
According to Dr. John Greven, a counselor with the Cook County state's attorney's office, the guilt survivors commonly suffer is profound.
"It causes them to question everything, including their faith in God," he said.
"If they can live or die for no good reason, suddenly nothing makes sense; there is no order to anything.
"When it is an apparently random case like this, and there is the extreme trauma of the incident itself, it is even worse: Nine times out of 10 there are no answers."
Shock soon could give way to post-traumatic stress disorder, with the survivor suffering flashbacks and attributing superhuman qualities to her assailant, he said.
Group therapy, where survivors support each other, is one of the best treatments, he said.
Though recent budget cuts have slashed the number of survivors' groups from eight to four in Cook County, Greven said the continuing gang-related slaughters of young men in the city means there are hundreds of parents suffering the extreme guilt of seeing their children die before them.
"The bonds they form in therapy with people often of completely different backgrounds are incredible," he said.
"I have one mother who's been coming for eight years, and she's always the first to hug a new member."
Other people, friends and families of survivors, often want to help, but they don't know how or, with the best of intentions, will say the wrong things, Greven said.
"It's contagious - people want to curl up into a ball, and they don't want to talk about it, because if they do, they'd have to face the fact that it could happen to them," he said.
"If friends do say something, they will often draw comparisons with losses they have suffered in their own families, but a violent crime affects people in different ways, because you don't get the chance to prepare for it emotionally.
"Sometimes it takes someone who has been through the same thing to break through and really connect."
Nonetheless, family and friends will play a key role in helping the surviving witness recover, Welner said, adding that it is essential that she return to her normal routine as soon as possible.
"Anything that re-integrates her into the world and emphasizes normalcy is a good thing," he said, "A trauma like this turns everything upside down; it changes the way the victim sees everything, the way they feel about safety.
"Getting back to a normal routine is best for the survivor's mental health."
Both Welner and Greven agree, unsurprisingly, that the best fix of all would be the capture of the killer.
"It's difficult to get closure until that happens," Greven said. "It only makes it harder."
Even then, unless the killer pleaded guilty, the survivor would still face one terrible final ordeal: testifying against him in a courtroom.
But Welner said, "If anyone out there knows anything that could help lead to the capture of the man responsible, it would be the greatest possible service to the health of the survivor and her family."
Kim Janssen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on (708) 633-5998.