San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Victims Cope with Physical, Emotional Wounds

UNEXPECTED sobbing, insomnia,anxiety, headaches, nightmares, anger, lossof appetite, depression and nausea aresome of the effects of the trauma the peopleof Santa Elena de Monteverde are sufferingafter the bloody bank robberyattempt and hostage situation last week.To comfort them and treat their symptoms,three volunteer counselors, membersof the Red Cross’ Psychological SupportUnit, and one counselor from the SocialSecurity System (Caja), on Monday begancounseling those who want help.“The people’s response has beenexcellent,” Red Cross counselor IleanaMonge said. “We’ve had a lot of participationfrom those who live here because theyvery much want their community to returnto what it was before.”THE counselors meet with people privatelyand in groups, teaching relaxationtechniques and listening to people as theysurmount emotional stumbling blocks.Three days into treatments, Mongetold The Tico Times she has seen results –anxiety levels are decreasing.“Talking is a curative medicine; it’scalled catharsis,” she said. “We need towork now so this post trauma doesn’taffect people later.”The counselors have not met with anyof the hostages who survived nor withtheir immediate families, but they havemet with extended family members andsecondary victims of the tragedy.The assaulted bank, Banco Nacional,has provided three counselors for bankemployees and their families, bank directorFrancisco Araya said.The town came together last Fridayfor a funeral service for the two bankemployees and four clients who werekilled in the shootout: Juan PabloGonzález, 27, and Rosa Angela Marchena,23, both employees of the bank, and VictorBadilla, 39, María Rosa Bolaños, 54,Mario López, 39, and William Suárez, 49,all in the bank as clients.On a wall of the parochial hall facingthe street in Santa Elena’s center, about ablock from the bank, members of the communityhave posted notes explaining theirfeelings about the tragedy.One of the messages reads, in Spanish,“Monteverde says no to violence.”Another reads, “We hope our brothers andsisters have not died in vain.”THE commander of the special policeinterventions unit, Oscar Quesada, 44,died of a gunshot wound March 9 whenpolice entered the bank to try to freehostages. Hundreds of friends and familymembers said their goodbyes to him at hisfuneral Friday in Tibás, north of San José.Of the 22 hostages released, the RedCross assisted 17 with injuries, airlifting theworst cases to hospitals. Seven were flownto the Hospital México in San José and oneto the Puntarenas Hospital, in the centralPacific port city. All are in stable conditionor have been released, Hospital MéxicoDirector Daniel Quesada said Wednesday.TWO of those airlifted to San José,Nancy Ramírez, 29, and Francini Prendas,25, have been released, Quesada said.Ramírez, who is seven months pregnant,was not shot and was released Friday.Prendas was shot twice in the chest andher lungs were pierced.U.S. citizen David Saunders, 23, andthe bank guard who shot two of the threegunmen as they tried to enter the bank,Álvaro Castro, 20, as well as the others,all suffered gunshot wounds and shouldbe released either this week or next,Quesada said.One of the most gravely injured victimsis Gerardo Céspedes, 52, managementand protection director for theMonteverde Conservationist Association,who was shot in the face, shoulder andarms and may have to remain in the hospitallonger than the others, Quesada said.SAUNDERS, a Spanish language studentfrom Hawaii, was shot twice in thestomach and once in the leg when theheavily armed Erly Hurtado entered theBanco Nacional in Santa Elena shootingan assault rifle the afternoon of March 8(TT, March 11).In an interview from the HospitalMéxico, he told The Tico Times he wasshot while already on the ground, havingtried to take cover with other bank clientswhen the shooting began.Saunders’ parents flew in from Hawaiito visit their son, who is expected to bereleased today.MEG and Robert Saunders saw televisionfootage of their son leaving thebank. He crawled over the broken glassand through the shattered door, thenwaited for his girlfriend, Jennifer Zewin,to follow. They escaped the bank abouteight hours after he was shot.“They say I’ll be able to live the exactsame life I had,” David Saunders said. Inspite of the trauma, he added, “I’m happywith Ticos and Costa Rica, and this is justone bad experience.”Watching his son recover “has beenhell,” Robert Saunders said, but he and othersemphasized that this was a “freak” incidentthat could have happened anywhere.“It’s not a reflection on Monteverde orCosta Rica,” the father said.

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