When senseless tragedy strikes as it did in Friday's rampage shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, it is easy to feel helpless and hopeless and withdraw from a world that seems so easily prone to violence.

But it is absolutely the wrong thing to do, according to mental health experts such as Long Beach psychologist David Sequeira.

"It's a natural tendency to go into your shell," Sequeira said. "You can't do that. You have to talk about it."

Even in California, a continent away from Friday's massacre, the feelings of helplessness were almost palpable among parents of children in local schools. On a chilly, cloudy Friday, as schools let out for the week, several parents reacted with horror to the news and admitted there was little they could do for their own children's safety.

At Lowell Elementary School in Long Beach's Belmont Shore neighborhood, parents who had gathered for the school play "The Wizard of Oz" said the shooting was a topic of discussion that led to debates about gun control, mental health and the world we live in.

But no one had answers about how to prevent tragedy from visiting them.

"Who has the answer?" asked Sam Plambeck as he and his wife, Claudia, waited near a side entrance to the school where their kindergarten-age daughter, Tempest, dressed in a tutu covered with a winter jacket, would play a member of the Lullaby League in the play.

"Statistically, school is the safest place to be," Sam Plambeck said.

"Something like this is beyond your control," his wife added.


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From day to day, however, most parents seem to stay hypervigilant when it comes to their children.

Myra Lewis, who has a 6-year-old daughter at Purche Avenue Elementary School in Gardena, said she is too worried about kidnappings and shootings to ever let her daughter walk to or from school by herself.

"She's my only one, so I have to take double care of her," Lewis said.

Kristen Seamons of Redondo Beach said that news of Friday morning's school shooting made her momentarily consider home-schooling her two children, who are 8 and 6 years old and attend at Alta Vista Elementary School.

"I thought about home-schooling, but the thought just crossed my mind. I don't think I would do it," Seamons said.

At Bryant Elementary School in East Long Beach, Phillip Varnett said he keeps a close eye on his children as well, but he realizes there is little else he can do.

"I walk her up to the door every day and make sure she goes in," he said of Opal, his 10-year-old daughter who's in fourth grade at the school. "After that it's in God's hands."

San Pedro resident Natalie Schroeder said the shooting shocked her.

"When I saw it, I immediately started crying and I thought about my daughter," she said of her fifth-grader. "It's so horrifying. It's shocked me into being numb about it."

Schroeder, an associate professor of English as a Second Language at Long Beach City College, said she never lets her daughter walk along the street or play outside alone.

"I'm more concerned with her being abducted," she said. "I don't consider myself an overprotective parent. I think it's just normal precautions in this day and age."

Sequeira said such feelings are not unusual. And he said those who constantly watch scenes from the news can even develop a form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

It also is natural for children to fear for their own safety as they hear about the events.

In those cases, Sequeira says open communication is the key.

"Parents should ask kids to share their feelings," Sequeira said.

This is usually best done by having the parents take the lead and share their thoughts, he said.

Parents said they would remain vigilant, but most, like Sam Plambeck, said they wouldn't let the events in Connecticut alter their lives.

Sam Plambeck said he was aware of the dangers children face, growing up as he did in Long Beach when gang violence was peaking.

He said he and his wife keep a close watch on their daughter "always."

Varnett said his daughter has lobbied him to let her go to school alone.

"She says, `I'm old enough and all my friends do it,"' Varnett said. "I tell her I don't care what her friends do, this is California."

For some, the shooting in Connecticut was a stark reminder of the need for tightening gun-control laws.

Melissa Bailey, a Manhattan Beach mother of two sons ages 8 and 11, said the incident may prompt her to contribute to groups like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

"If we can band together as citizens and try to improve the laws," she said, "we might make progress."

Some turned to religion in the face of the tragic news from across the country.

San Pedro resident Sandy DeJesus, a mother of three girls, said her faith helps her cope with the dangerous world her three daughters live in.

In addition to faith, it's just "hoping your loved ones are going to come home each day," she said. "The scary part is you never would have thought it would happen at an elementary school."


Staff writers Kristin S. Agostoni, Muhammed El-Hasan and Nick Green contributed to this article.
Greg.mellen@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1291, twitter:@gregmellen