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Mother of slain River Falls girls to speak at trauma workshop

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Former forensic psychologist Jill Ann Anderson (left) and St. Croix County Chief Medical Examiner Patty Schachtner (right) will lead a workshop on trauma exposure training for helping professionals Aug. 19 in Roseville, Minn. Jessica Peterson (center), whose three daughters were murdered in River Falls in 2012, will speak at the event. (photo by Michael Brun)2 / 2

As Jessica Peterson raced home to River Falls in July 2012, fearful her ex-husband had just killed their three young daughters, her first interaction with emergency personnel was a call to a 911 operator.

“She stayed on the phone with me as I drove from my job to the police station at that point,” Peterson said. “And it went from there to police officers that had to handle me.”

Authorities discovered the bodies of the girls — 11-year-old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie and 5-year-old Cecilia — in their bedrooms. Peterson said she later learned some of the officers who worked the case have since left law enforcement because of it.

Exposure to trauma by helping professionals, those people whose job it is to provide assistance in times of distress, will be the focus of a training workshop Aug. 19 near the Twin Cities. Peterson is scheduled to speak about her experience and what helped her and the River Falls community through the tragedy.

“What they did for me was amazing, especially the victim advocates,” Peterson said of the support she and her family received during “probably the most awful thing you can experience.”

The event will be led by Jill Ann Anderson, a former forensic psychologist and coach, and Patty Schachtner, St. Croix County chief medical examiner and co-founder of the St. Croix County Suicide Prevention Task Force.

“Trauma exposure training is help for the helping profession,” often the last group to ask for — and accept — help, Anderson said. The daylong session will cover identifying and understanding trauma, and providing a care model for trauma exposure response.

The training is based on the work of Laura van Dernoot Lipsky and Connie Burk, authors of “Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others,” and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a noted researcher in the area of post-traumatic stress.

Anderson said the curriculum is suitable for a wide range of professionals, including first responders, teachers, health care workers and veterans.

Trauma exposure

The highest suicide rates by occupation for women occurred in protective services such as law enforcement officers and firefighters, according to 2012 statistics across 17 states analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Research has suggested that higher suicide rates among police are related to stressors including exposure to traumatic, violent, and lethal situations; work overload; shift work; and access to lethal means,” according to the report.

Schachtner, who worked as an EMT and in an area school district before going to the medical examiner’s office, said it is not realistic for people who encounter trauma to think the exposure does not affect them.

“When we see pain as professionals, our biggest fear is that we may see the same thing at our home,” she said. “Whether it’s the death of a child, the death of a parent, a homicide, a suicide or even a natural death, it brings us to our reality of what’s at home.”

Trauma Exposure Training will be held 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19, at Midland Hills Country Club, Roseville, Minn. Admission is $99 in advance through Aug. 15, and $149 for regular admission.

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Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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