Counselors at Crime Scenes
When a troubled high school sophomore
went on a shooting rampage on the Red Lake
Indian Reservation in Minnesota in early
2005, the FBI called up its specialists.
Agents and analysts were quickly deployed
to work with local law enforcement officials
to secure the scene and figure out why a
student killed seven people at school and
two others at home before killing himself.
But it didn’t end there. Our Minneapolis
division also called up a team of 10 victim
specialists from neighboring offices to help
victims and their families steer through
the chaos that crime so often leaves in its
wake. The specialists, all highly trained
in crisis intervention, assisted agents interviewing
victims, helped establish impromptu mental
health sites, and worked alongside local
officials to help shield victims from the
inconvenient realities of funerals, transportation,
lodging, and the media.
Now imagine an incident on a grander scale—like
a terrorist attack or a large plane crash.
To prepare, the FBI in 2004 formed the Victim
Assistance Rapid Deployment Team, specially
trained victim specialists to assist during
mass-casualty incidents—the theory
being that a rapid deployment of skilled
mental health experts to a crime scene can
do the most good by arriving early as an
integral part of an investigation, not as
an afterthought. In many cases, early intervention
increases victim cooperation. And by providing
for victims’ immediate needs, agents
are freed up to focus on investigations.
“It’s important for us to get
out in front,” said Kathryn Turman,
program director for the FBI’s Office
of Victim Assistance, which manages call-outs
at the national level. The 20-member Rapid
Deployment Team—actually five teams
of four members each from field offices around
the country—has been activated five
times since its formation.
More recently, members of two teams deployed
to Baton Rouge in 2005 in the aftermath of
Hurricane Katrina to support the Red Cross.
There they worked 12-hour days for 12 days
and directly or indirectly assisted about
20,000 people as a team.
In criminal cases, the role of victim specialists
goes largely unnoticed. But once the criminals
are rounded up and the reporters have dispersed,
who do you think it falls on to make sure
victims are fed, medically treated, counseled,
and housed, and made aware of their rights
and what lay ahead?
“The trauma’s not over when
the newspaper goes into the trash can,” says
Matthew Gallagher, a victim specialist in
the FBI’s Boston field office who is
also a member of the rapid deployment team. “These
things can go on and on and on.” A
social worker for non-profit agencies before
joining the FBI three years ago, Gallagher
said early intervention is essential. “The
opportunity for having a positive impact
on a victim is much greater.”
The FBI is the lead agency for victim assistance
in mass casualty criminal events, according
to the National Response Plan, which was
issued in 2004 and updated this year to ensure
resources are available in the event of a
When the Red Lake shooting occurred in March
2005, Paula Bosh got called up by the Minneapolis
office from her post in Minot, North Dakota.
She drove 6 hours to the remote area to help.
Like many of her colleagues in the mental
health field, she said she likes to be where
she can do the most good. “This is
like a dream-job-come-true for me,” she
At an annual training for Rapid Deployment
Team members last summer in Virginia, Kathryn
Turman explained what drives victim specialists
on her team and elsewhere in the field to
insert themselves into chaotic, emotionally
wrenching situations. “If there’s
a major incident somewhere, you’re
going to go even if you have to get on a
bicycle,” she said. “This is
what we do.”
For more information, visit our newly updated Office
of Victim Assistance webpage.
Terrorism Victims and Their Families | Interview
With Kathryn Turman