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‘No one really got to say goodbye:’ A grieving Colorado mountain town faces mental health fallout of 18-year-old’s shooting

‘No one really got to say goodbye:’ A grieving Colorado mountain town faces mental health fallout of 18-year-old’s shooting


Providers plan upcoming events, resources as community reels from the loss of Summit High School graduate Charlie Foster

By Robert Tann – Summit Daily News (Via AP Storyshare)

Kneeling before several bouquets of flowers, two young Summit County residents held each other in silence on Wednesday afternoon as they remembered the friend they’d lost days earlier.

The memorial for 18-year-old Charlie Foster sat near the intersection of Summit Drive and Idlewild Drive in Summit Cove, the area where Foster was shot and killed by law enforcement officers Sunday morning.

“No one really got to say goodbye, and I think that’s been the hardest thing,” said Wes Dennis, a soon-to-be high school senior who met Foster during freshman year. “I wish I got to say goodbye — told him I loved him one last time.”

Foster, who had graduated Summit High weeks ago, had recently been struggling with mental health-related issues, Dennis said.

He was apparently known to police from his interactions over the past three weeks with the Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team, also known as SMART, which handles mental-health related calls, according to Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons.

A statement from law enforcement stated that officers responded to a report Sunday morning of an “armed individual wandering in the neighborhood waving a firearm and banging on residents’ doors.” Officers claim Foster failed to comply with verbal commands and pointed a handgun at law enforcement officers, who subsequently shot and killed him.

A family member claims the weapon was a BB gun, a detail the sheriff’s office has not clarified.

As the county becomes enveloped by grief, local counselors are predicting far reaching mental health impacts across the community.

“I don’t know what the impacts will be necessarily, but I can say that it does affect the entire community, especially since we are such a tight-knit community,” said Kellyn Ender, executive director for the nonprofit Building Hope. “The ripple effects can be big.”

Edner said the incident comes as many current and former Summit High School students navigate the fallout of other tragic events, including the death of two students by suicide in 2020.

“Summit High School students have been through a lot in the last few years … I can only imagine that grief is heavy to process,” Edner said. “Any time we lose a peer, it’s extremely difficult.”

On Monday, the day after Foster’s death, Building Hope hosted a walk-in mental health clinic at the high school. Ender said between six and 10 people came, made up of students and their families.

Edner said the nonprofit is planning future sessions in the coming weeks as she and other community partners rally to get the word out that help is on the way.

“You never know what the community is going to want or be ready for when a tragedy like this happens,” Edner said. “Even if just one person shows up, we’re glad to be there for that person.” Kelly Finley, lead counselor for the high school, said right now “kids are hurting, adults are hurting” and urged parents and family members to “make space and “This mental health crisis that we’re seeing is not contained to Summit County, it’s not contained to the state of Colorado,” Finley said. “We are seeing a mental health crisis with our youth across the country and world.”

The school district employs a multi-pronged mental health approach dubbed “sources of strength” to help students and families navigate such challenges. The practice centers on eight foundational elements: mental health, physical health, healthy activities, family support, positive friends, mentors, generosity and spirituality.

Anna Howden, a high school psychologist, said many of these elements can overlap and often will mean different things to people. Spirituality, for example, may be religion, but it could also be connecting with nature by being outdoors.

Finley said she and other high school mental health practitioners are doing what they can to monitor and respond to students who are reaching out. While counselors won’t officially be back on the job until the school year begins in August, there are resources and programs available now.

That includes assistance offered through Building Hope, which provides scholarships that pay for up to 12 sessions with a contracted therapist in the county. Anyone can also call Building Hope’s main phone number, 970-485-6271, to be connected with the organization’s peer support line.

The service is free and is meant for anyone who “needs a space to talk and process,” though Edner said this is not the same as a crisis line, which is for immediate, mental health-related emergencies have those honest conversations with yourself and your family.”

Outside of Summit County, the state offers up to six free virtual therapy sessions through the I Matter program. A brief survey connects parents and youth with therapists for confidential sessions.

Conversations between parents and children are crucial, said Edner, who advised family members to hear their children out even if they can’t remedy the situation.

“I think that parents allowing kids to be able to express their emotions and how they’re working through it is important, not trying to just make them feel better,” Edner said, emphasizing that parents should be patient and calm as they let their children process their emotions.

“I’m sure that parents are scared too,” Edner said. “I would just say hug your kids. Let them know that you love them and you’re there for them and no matter what’s going on in their life that you’re an open door for them.”

As community members continue to navigate the coming weeks and months, Edner said her hope is for Summit County residents to “support one another through this tragedy.”

Dennis, the friend of Foster, said he wants everyone to “check on your friends regularly.”

“That’s something I always do,” Dennis said. “I’d hate to see this happen to anybody else.”

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