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The trauma of smaller shootings lasts in local communities for months

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Monday marks two weeks since a deadly shooting at a shopping mall in Idaho. The city of Boise is still in shock. The shooting spree killed two people and injured four more, including a police officer. These days, that's not even considered a mass shooting by FBI standards. Still, as NPR's Kirk Siegler reports, the violence can leave local communities dealing with trauma for months.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Outside the Boise Town Square Mall, dozens of people are holding candles, dropping bouquets of flowers on the sidewalk, while a chorus sings.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHORUS SINGING)

SIEGLER: Boise's Mayor Lauren McLean tries to keep the focus on the victims, including the two shot dead - a 26-year-old security guard named Jo Acker and a 49-year-old shopper from Mexico, Roberto Padilla Arguelles.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAUREN MCLEAN: In fact, he was here to buy presents for Yanet, Rosa and Ivan, his three children, because he thought about them so often as he was here working hard to support them.

SIEGLER: People in Boise, which proudly promotes itself as one of America's most liveable cities, are shocked. On the edge of the vigil, Kara Burnett (ph) stood by her car, smoking a cigarette and fighting back tears.

KARA BURNETT: I mean, this is like the first thing that's ever - since I've lived here 40 years, it's like, this is like the biggest thing that's ever happened and stuff. So yeah, just - it's hard.

SIEGLER: The shooting here that police say could have been much deadlier drew comparisons to another attempted massacre just a month back and Collierville, Tenn., outside Memphis. A gunman shot 16 people in a supermarket September 23, killing one.

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BUDDY BILLINGS: Well, I can tell you, everyone's in a fog right now.

SIEGLER: His voice cracking at times, Collierville Fire Chief Buddy Billings addressed a similarly traumatized town.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILLINGS: I'm from here. I was born, raised here, and it tears at my soul to see what's going on. And I pray for each person that was injured yesterday because the world came to cave (ph).

SIEGLER: But by federal standards, anyway, neither the Collierville or Boise attacks are technically mass shootings because there weren't four or more deaths. But tell that to anyone in these communities who witnessed or is directly affected by the violence. At the RAND Corporation, researcher Rosanna Smart says the amount of trauma survivors will cope with is not proportionate to the death toll.

ROSANNA SMART: To some degree, the number of people who end up dead - there's randomness to that. It very well could have been four or three. Should we really care if it was five or more killed versus four or more?

SIEGLER: Smart says the label of a mass shooting can bring more funding or resources and research to communities dealing with higher-profile mass casualty events, like after Parkland or Sandy Hook.

SMART: I think there's a lot to be learned, potentially, from incidents in which fewer people were killed with something done in that incident to prevent further deaths.

SIEGLER: But the violence will also reverberate in cities like Boise or Collierville that are only in the national headlines briefly. Sandy Bromley heads Shelby County, Tennessee's Office for Victims.

SANDY BROMLEY: They feel like their event was on the news for a day or two, or maybe even a week or two, but then people might be forgetting about them.

SIEGLER: But Bromley and her team identified 80 people who were present at the Collierville grocery store who need support.

BROMLEY: So this was a shock to a lot of people. Even the police department is not necessarily working homicides every day.

SIEGLER: Bromley says the survivors of the violence may not experience their trauma for months, maybe even a year later, and they'll need help long after the news cameras and the country have moved on to the next tragedy.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.