Among short-term mental health consequences for adolescents who have proximate or direct experience with mass shootings in school settings are posttraumatic stress and posttraumatic stress disorder. Identifying incidence of enduring mental health impacts is challenging due to difficulty of tracking individuals into adulthood. The purpose of this paper is to use qualitative secondary analysis to explore how seven individuals reflectively describe and interpret their lived experiences as adolescents during the May 4, 1970, Kent State University Vietnam protest that resulted in deaths and injuries to students fired upon by Ohio National Guard. Archived transcripts from interviews conducted up to 48 years after the event were analyzed using a phenomenological qualitative approach. Aspects of common experience included confusion, emotionally charged responses from others directed toward community members following the event, and belief the experience had a profound and lasting impact on their lives, exemplified by vivid memories of minute details and comparative responses to other events. These findings illustrate how others’ reactions and subsequent incidents contribute to retraumatization into adult years. This report demonstrates the value of qualitative secondary analysis in general, while specific findings illustrate long-term impact of an adolescent trauma experience.


mass shootings, violence, posttraumatic stress disorder, qualitative secondary analysis, phenomenology

Author Bio(s)

Sheryl L. Chatfield is Associate Professor of Public Health at Kent State University and the Co-Coordinator of the Kent State Graduate Certificate in Qualitative Research. She received her PhD from the University of Mississippi and completed the Graduate Certificate in Qualitative Research at Nova Southeastern University. She is actively engaged in conducting and encouraging qualitative secondary analysis. Please direct correspondence to: schatfi1@kent.edu.

At the time of this work, Kristen A. DeBois was a doctoral student in the Kent State University College of Public Health. Her primary research interests relate to mental health and violence. In her current role as a Project Coordinator, she is working with a team of researchers to understand the mental health needs of adolescents who are experiencing parental loss. Please direct correspondence to: kdebois@kent.edu.

Erin Orlins, MPH, is a doctoral student in the College of Public Health at Kent State University. She researches mental health among youth and adolescents and is currently conducting an evaluation of a local suicide prevention program. Please direct correspondence to: ekrafka@kent.edu.


The authors wish to express their thanks to all of the individuals who contributed oral histories to the Kent State University Libraries May 4th Archives

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
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