Cincinnati Local Response 2014

Cincinnati Local Response-
Starting with a Sticker Box Full of Toys

Over the last year, we have established a team of child life specialists in the Cincinnati area as a part of the Red Cross Mental Health volunteer team.  We will be called for any local incidents (flooding, house fires, shootings, etc.) where there are kids that need help from individuals who specialize in children and trauma.

Tuesday night we were called for our first assignment….

           Nightmare at Dream Street Super 8 motel

                                 Patrick Brennan, Cincinnati10:12 a.m. EST December 3, 2014

KY FLORENCE SHOOTING KY DECEMBER 2, 2014 SWAT team members walk through the parking lot of the Super 8 Motel on Dream Street where a police officer shot and killed a suspect who "fired several round at the officer" who was responding to a drug complaint, said Florence Police Captain Tom Grau. The Enquirer/Patrick Reddy

(Photo: The Enquirer/Patrick Reddy)

UNION– Dennis Shollenbarger and Amber Reynolds caught a glimpse of the shooting scene in the midst of their chaotic, mandatory evacuation from the Florence Super 8 motel on Dream Street.

Shollenbarger, 34, and Reynolds, 29, are extended-stay residents at the motel. An engaged couple (“we’ll get married when the money comes in,” Reynolds joked.), they were sleeping when violence erupted in their building.

About 10 minutes after they heard a shot fired, they said, police burst in and rushed them out of the room for protection. A situation in a nearby room escalated when an unidentified suspect brandished an automatic weapon during a drug investigation inside one of the motel rooms.

“We just heard racket. Just a bunch of noises in the hallway that woke us up. People yelling,

‘call 911,'” Reynolds said of the moments leading up to when she witnessed the gore. “Whoever it was that was shot fell (back) against the wall. There was blood everywhere.”

The bloody scene was traumatizing enough, Shollenbarger and Reynolds agreed, but their problems didn’t end there.

Florence Police Lt. Roger Allen took cover and returned fire after being shot at by the suspect, according to a news release. The suspect died, but police did not say if it was a result of shots fired by Allen. Allen sustained a minor head injury, was treated at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and released, according to authorities. Police were unsure if Allen’s injury was the result of the gunfire.

There was no time to gather personal belongings during the evacuation. Shollenbarger and Reynolds plunged into the cold without shoes, socks or winter coats on. And they weren’t alone — the Red Cross ended up distributing at least 30 pairs of fresh socks to those displaced by Tuesday’s shooting.

Shollenbarger and Reynolds were two of 38 residents displaced Tuesday at the motel on 7928 Dream Street.

Life at the Dream Street motel, as described by Shollenbarger and Reynolds, was really more of a nightmare, they said Tuesday while still settling in at St. Timothy’s Church where the Red Cross was caring for the displaced people.


Thirty-eight extended-stay residents of the Florence Super 8 motel were relocated to St. Timothy’s Church by the Northern Kentucky Red Cross.(Photo: Enquirer/Patrick Brennan)

Annie Krause and I changed our plans and responded immediately Tuesday night going to the shelter to work with the children after their traumatic ordeal.  This being our first assignment, we quickly realized we were not as prepared as we had thought and we scrambled to gather supplies and rush out to the scene.  I happen to remember that I had a sticker box full of toys given to me by my sister-in-law when I first entered the field of child life years ago.  I dug up that little box and jumped in my car.

Upon arrival, we found that the shelter was under heavy security with police officers and investigators questioning anyone who attempted to enter and also conducting private interviews with each individual from the motel.

We set up a play space in the shelter by turning folding tables on their sides to form walls around a small area of carpet in the large room full of people and cots.  Annie and I invited the children to come play and they easily agreed.

sticker box

Sticker box full of toys to the rescue!

For a couple hours, we provided child-centered play which quickly created a sense of normalcy and the relief felt in the room from adults and children alike was tangible.


Some of the children just wanted to play and run, some wanted to talk while they played.

Their biggest concern Tuesday night was safety and they had a lot of questions about the cops and why they were there.  Their questions seemed to center around figuring out if they were good-guys or bad guys.  It is understandable that that would be confusing after seeing guns drawn and hearing yelling for them to “GET OUT NOW!” before rushing them to this safe shelter.  We helped them talk and process through these concerns and even had one of the cops come join us in our play space for a time.  Some of the adults also asked to join the play, asking for a deck of cards and coloring books as they joined together just outside our play space, smiling and talking with each other as they used the items we gave them.

One mom spoke to us for a while explaining that she was worried her 3 year old would not sleep tonight since she was not allowed time to grab anything to take with her as the swat team rushed them out.  The three year old sleeps with her special blankie and has never been without it.  This little girl spent quite a lot of time running and playing with a ball to the point that she was hot and sweaty.  We’re hoping she successfully wore herself out and had a good nights sleep last night after we cleaned up our toys and left the kids to bedtime on the cots.

The next morning, the Red Cross informed us that they needed more assistance from us and Tina Ulanowski went straight to the shelter.  She was immediately met by scared, frustrated and exhausted adults and kids and spent some time talking with them about their experiences.  She noted the typical traumatized behaviors some of them were exhibiting.  She then took the kids to the play area and gave them the opportunity to draw about the event, if they’d like.  A couple of the children made pictures of policemen and asked if they could give them to the cops that were present at the shelter.  Tina helped them write a message on the picture before they handed them to the officers.  Immediately after, they wanted to play and their play quickly turned to pretend play with “policemen” and “rescue missions”.  With Tina’s skillful guidance, they were able to play through their experience as they were beginning to process the details of the event….since after all: Play is the Work of Children!

Tina also conjured up a few more toys.


Tina left mid-day for her paid child life job, and Heather Storey took over after working an early morning 8 hour shift at the hospital.

The Red Cross staff welcomed Heather enthusiastically and explained that the investigators had requested the adults ONLY be allowed back to the motel.  They did not want any children to come back yet and Heather was able to spend time processing, supporting and playing with the kids and teens during this time.  They played and talked easily about their thoughts and fears around the adults returning to the motel.  Heather was able to discuss with the older ones ways to cope with and express anxieties.   She then played a rousing game of soccer (modified soccer) with them all while holding a sleeping baby in her arms (MAD SKILL!).   However, she watched their energetic play quickly change to quiet, reserved and somber play when a Red Cross staffer came and announced to the kids that they were just informed the kids would soon be able to go back to the motel with the adults too.   With the drastic change in mood, Heather was able to continue to provide a safe place for them to talk openly and express their feelings.  They talked about their thoughts and feelings about returning to the motel themselves.  Shortly after talking through those fears together, the adults arrived, and everyone began the busy work of closing the shelter.  One child became tearful saying goodbye to Heather and told her he really wanted her to come back to the motel with them.  She reminded him of the things he can do to cope….

… And we all hope that our time with them has started them down the road of turning a potentially traumatic situation into one of growth and finding new strength.

We now realize we need more Cincinnati child life specialists on our volunteer team and a better kit of intentionally selected toys for our next assignment.  CLS’s, let us know if you want to join us!

 Katie Nees, CCLS, MSHS

 Annie Krause, BS, CCLS

 Tina Ulanowski, CCLS, M.Ed

 Heather Storey, MS, CCLS

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