The shooting deaths of a father and his young son in broad daylight in Edmonton last week could have traumatic effects on children and the community, a psychotherapist warns.
The fatal Nov. 9 shooting of 41-year-old Harpreet Uppal, known to police for his drug and gang connections, and 11-year-old Gavin is still sending shockwaves through Edmonton.
Police have said Gavin was deliberately killed. A second boy – a friend of Gavin’s – was also in the car at the time of the shooting and was not physically harmed.
Psychotherapist Blessing Igiogbe called the killings “shocking” and “triggering.”
She says those directly involved could be faced with long-lasting traumatic effects – especially because a child was targeted. She believes it highlights the need for parents to talk to their teens and pre-teens about such events.
“Trauma is a really big thing, right?” Igiogbe told CityNews. “And this is something that could possibly be with them for a very long time. So it’s important that parents are targeting traumatic events as well as they can, and to be able to offer those supports to the teens or to the community as time goes on.
“To understand your child when you’re having those conversations with them is really important. Understand what is appropriate, how you can really speak to them.”
Igiogbe, who is also a clinical manager at CASA Mental Health, says parents should monitor their children’s emotions – and any changes in those emotions – to determine if a conversation is needed. Support can then come in the form of offering a safe place for children to have those conversations, she says.
“As parents we assume a lot but it’s important that we ask our kids what’s going on, how they feel, and being able to have those dialogues with them,” she said.
“I understand that they might say they don’t know or they’re not aware of what is going on most of the time, but giving them time to also be able to feel those emotions and giving them time to also understand what those emotions are is very important.”
Igiogbe believes support can come from a school setting as well.
Edmonton Public Schools says it is ensuring students and staff at Gavin’s school and Grade 6 class have support – counsellors trained to address tragic and difficult circumstances – when classes resume Wednesday after the fall break.
“The days ahead will be difficult, and I know the community will come together to support each other as we come to terms with the tragic loss of this young student,” Board Chair Julie Kusiek said in a statement.
‘The trauma that happens is never going to leave’
Criminologist and former EPS inspector Dan Jones believes it was the first Canadian instance of what he describes as a “child targeted in a gang killing” that will have repercussions on many people.
“I look at the family of the victims – I spent a lot of time with the Victims of Homicide Society in Edmonton and worked with families of homicide victims for very extensive periods of time – and the trauma that happens is never going to leave,” said Jones. “This is something that’s going to be with them forever.”
Jones says law-enforcement officials and emergency medical personnel will also be affected, urging them to seek help.
“I feel so much for the first responders, for the police and the paramedics who responded to this,” Jones said. “To see a shooting of an 11-year-old is going to stick with them too. It’s going to have a ripple effect of trauma throughout the first responders and vicariously through the community, and people need to have wellness plans and take care of themselves.
“These things will have impacts on people.”
Igiogbe agrees the larger Edmonton community is at risk of trauma even if not directly involved. She says people should identify their emotions – fear, anger or otherwise – and validate them.
“Make sure that the community is very much aware that safety is number one,” she said. “That we as a community need to make sure our kids are safe, need to make sure our communities are safe. How do we do that as parents, how do we do that as caregivers? And be able to brainstorm those ideas together as one.”