Grant to Catholic agency helps survivors of 2020 explosion in downtown Nashville who still feel trauma

By Katie Peterson | OSV News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSV News) — If she had not received mental health pamphlets highlighting Catholic Charities of the Nashville Diocese counseling services in the days following the December 2020 bombing in downtown Nashville, survivor Noelle Rasmussen doesn’t know what her family would’ve done.

Now, even more survivors of the mass casualty event will be able to seek help with Catholic Charities thanks to its newest program called Nashville Heals.

At dawn on Christmas Day 2020, a motorhome parked on a downtown Nashville street exploded. The fiery blast destroyed a number of other vehicles parked nearby, shattered windows and heavily damaged several adjacent buildings. Dozens of businesses and residents were displaced.

Three people were taken to the hospital with injuries. The one fatality was the suspect in the bombing, identified later as Anthony Quinn Warner, 63, of Antioch, Tennessee. Acting alone, he detonated an improvised explosive device in the RV and died in the blast.

Catholic Charities received a grant from the Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program (AEAP) to launch Nashville Heals. The grant will allow the nonprofit to provide counseling services to survivors of the bombing as well as provide an educational platform to spread awareness about mental health struggles that can accompany trauma. The Department of Justice is funding the $607,331 grant.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Nashville, Tenn., recently received a grant from the Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program to launch Nashville Heals to provide counseling services and other resources to survivors of a bombing in downtown Nashville on Christmas Day 2020. The fiery blast destroyed several buildings and displaced dozens of businesses and residents, and many survivors still feel trauma from the event. (OSV News photo/Jenni Ohnstad/courtesy Luminea Creative)

The grant complements the original Victims of Crime Act funding Catholic Charities received as the lead agency to support bombing survivors.

“It’s a very specific federal grant intended to serve affected individuals over the long term,” Judy Orr, Catholic Charities executive director, said of the AEAP grant.

Services and counseling are needed well after such an explosion because survivors of trauma may not always realize that their physical symptoms are related to the emotional trauma they experienced, or the symptoms may take several months to even appear, Orr explained.

This was true for Rasmussen’s family, particularly her 4-year-old son, Benjamin.

“We initially thought these kids emerged unscathed, which was amazing,” Rasmussen said in a video produced by Jon Kent and featured on the Nashville Heals website. “Our 4-year-old saw the bomb explode just like us in the car and started thrashing side to side in his car seat saying, ‘Oh no, my house, my Christmas.’ So, we knew he understood and saw what was going on.”

Fast forward a few months, “we were now in a new town, in a new community, with new schools and new churches and new neighbors, and it became very overwhelming for him,” she continued. “As we would drive in the cul-de-sac to our new house, he would get out of the car and just run away. They were scary episodes of holding him tight until he could come back into himself. We couldn’t even reach him during the episodes.”

That’s when she called Catholic Charities asking for help.

Along with the counseling services, the grant also is funding a public relations campaign to help spread awareness about the after effects of being exposed to a crime, Orr told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.

The campaign includes postcards that have been sent out to the 1,800 individuals who are part of the survivor victim list as defined by the FBI as well as commercials spots that will be featured on several radio stations.

It also includes an educational presentation to further explain to various individuals and groups what trauma means, how people experience trauma, the physical and behavioral symptoms that can result from trauma, and more.

The Rev. Laurel Cassidy, resiliency coordinator for Catholic Charities’ Refugee and Immigration Services Department, will lead the presentations at churches, nonprofits, schools, and any other organization that may have been impacted by the Christmas Day bombing or any other tragedy.

She wants to help survivors understand that what they’re experiencing is normal.

“It’s the event that’s abnormal, not the reaction,” Rev. Cassidy said. “I want to normalize it as much as possible,” because seeking help for mental health, “that’s a sign of strength.”

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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