Acute Stress Disorder Likely for Gym Shooting Survivors

Survivors likely to suffer anxiety and flashbacks following Tuesday's shooting.

ByABC News
August 5, 2009, 11:42 AM

Aug. 5, 2009 — -- The psychological impact on the women who survived Tuesday's shooting at a Pittsburgh health club will likely be exacerbated because the incident occurred in a location considered to be a safe haven and an unlikely backdrop of a brutal killing spree.

"Traumatic events, especially when they're so utterly sudden and unpredictable and in a safe place like a health club, are that much harder to cope with," said Dr. Paul Ragan, an associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

"LA Fitness is certainly a place that we all associate with some level of safety and comfort and security."

The suspected shooter, George Sodini, 48, entered the Bridgeville, Pa., LA Fitness club just after 8 p.m. Tuesday where he proceeded to turn off the lights before he began shooting into a dance class.

Sodini is believed to have killed three women and injured several others, some critically, before turning the gun on himself.

"The situation is made worse because it's not like these people were out on a street in a high–risk neighborhood or somewhere at war," said Nadine Kaslow, a professor of psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

"You go to a gym for self care, to get some relief and to get a break from the stress of life," Kaslow said. "People think of it as a safe place."

The women who witnessed the shooting first-hand, as well as the gym patrons who were bystanders to the incident, will likely suffer from acute stress disorder, a common response to a traumatic event that often morphs into post-traumatic stress disorder in later months, experts say.

"Acute stress disorder is something that's similar to post traumatic stress disorder but it emerges much more quickly," Vanderbilt's Ragan said.