BLOOMINGTON — The time for Central Illinoisans to listen to each other is now.
With police saying that a Bloomington man killed his two young sons, set fire to their home and then killed himself as his wife frantically searched in vain for her family, McLean County mental health professionals said Thursday that people need to know its OK to seek help from others.
"This is a traumatic event for the whole community," said Meghan Moser, crisis program manager for the Center for Human Services, McLean County's mental health agency.
"Everybody in the community is going to be affected by this," agreed Chris Cashen, a licensed clinical professional counselor with OSF HealthCare Behavioral Health.
The tragedy not only impacts family members, friends and co-workers of Eric and Pamela Ringenberg, but may cause anxiety for people affected by suicide, homicide or other trauma.
PATH (Providing Access To Help), which operates a Twin City-based 24/7 crisis information and referral hotline at 211, is getting calls related to Pantagraph articles about the tragedy, said Executive Director Karen Zangerle.
"We need to lean on each other to share our pain because this is hard on all of us," said Colleen O'Connor, prevention specialist with Project Oz and a board member of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Livingston/McLean.
While some people kill family members for revenge against someone else for a perceived slight or injury, "I would caution people not to rush to judgement in this matter," said Cashen, adding, "I encourage everyone in our community to not express conjecture on Facebook or other social media."
O'Connor also advised judicious use of social media. "Wait for all the facts to come out before assuming that what you read is true," she said. Instead, spend time engaging in self care, such as exercise, creative pursuits and meditation or prayer.
Sometimes, bad things occur without warning, Cashen noted.
But warning signs that a person may be contemplating suicide include talking or writing about it, looking for means of dying by suicide, expressing hopelessness or feeling trapped, substance abuse, a change in mood especially agitation, saying goodbye and becoming isolated from family and friends.
Warning signs of someone contemplating homicide can include suicide warning signs, or someone threatening harm, including against someone that he or she is attempting to control, mental health professionals said.
While psychosis, such as hearing things no one else can hear, also can be a warning sign, most people with mental illness are not violent, O'Connor said.
"Very few aggressive people become homicidal," Cashen cautioned. "Homicide itself is difficult to predict."
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these warning signs, talk with the person, listen to them, call 911 or PATH (211) or the Center for Human Services (309-827-5351), which may call the CHS crisis team and refer to longer-term counseling through agencies, some of which provide services without charge or on a sliding scale.
Some employers also have Employee Assistance Programs that can refer people to counseling.
For young children grappling with the news, O'Connor advised telling them, "Just like people can get sick in their body, they can get sick in their minds. Sometimes, when people get sick in their minds, they are in a great deal of pain and can see no other choice but to leave the world. Even though they may feel that way, there are always options, like talking to friends and family. Just like with the flu, we can get better if we take our medicine, talk with someone and take care of ourselves."
For teenagers and adults trying to make sense of the tragedy, Cashen recommends listening to them and keeping in touch, but said he has no problem admitting that he has no idea how a tragedy like this can happen.
"But I would tell them, 'We need to be kind to each other and love one another — even more now than before.'"
Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech
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