Local Grief Resources Assisting Community Post Murder-Suicide

DULUTH, Minn. — While the tragic loss of the Barry family and their dog have weighed heavy on friends and family, they were also traumatizing to the officers who responded.

Local mental health experts say it’s important anyone effected knows, and utilizes, the support services available to them.

Events like this don’t happen often in Duluth, and it can leave an imprint on those who experienced it, or are simply mourning the loss of loved ones.

“We’ve had so many people reach out the past few days feeling overwhelmed, wanting to have information about difficult conversations with their children, it’s just been a really hard thing,” Gina Dixon, Program Manager for Essential Health Grief Support Services, and Licensed Psychologist with Essentia Health said.

On Wednesday April 20th, Sean Barry, Riana Barry, their two young daughters, 12- year-old Shiway and 9-year-old Sadie, and the family dog were shot and killed in their sleep.

It was the parent’s nephew, 29-year-old Brandon Taylor Cole-Skogstad, who confessed to the murders on Facebook the next morning before taking his own life. Officers who responded were visibly disturbed at the scene.

“It’s uh, uh, I gotta tell you, it’s tough on all of us, it’s tough on our cops, some, our police officers, a lot of them, they have families, and any time you go into a situation like this any you see that tragedy, it is terribly heart wrenching, and you can’t un-see it,” Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said.

The Duluth police department offer what’s called their ‘Peer Support Team’, made up of officers who go through training and volunteer to help talk other officers through the mental battles of their job.

“There’s two types of bravery, there’s physical bravery and there’s mental bravery and they’re two different things. And so this takes a lot of mental courage sometimes for officers to step up and say hey man this one, I gotta talk to someone about this one cause it’s challenging me right now,” Mike LaFontaine, a Sergeant with the Duluth Police Department said.

While law enforcement receives help during these times, staff at Essentia Health also want to remind the public of the services they offer. Gina Dixon, a licensed Psychologist says she knows firsthand how crucial that help is after loss.

“I’m a family survivor, my dad died by suicide, so i know what a difference that mental health services can make for individuals and also for the people that care about them,” Dixon said.

She also added that there are many different ways grief is shown from kids to adults. Dixon says after a tragedy, avoiding social media, caffeine and alcohol consumption can help prevent anxiety levels from spiking.

The main thing is to always get help, especially during a healing time like now, and the police department is thankful for the support they have received.

“We take care of ourselves when these things happen, we appreciate the support from many people out there recognizing that no one should have to see something like this or endure these things so we appreciate the citizens who have reached out as well too,” LaFontaine said.

Authorities say Cole-Skogstad suffered from mental illness as he also mentioned in the social media post before he took his own life.

Essentia offers free support groups open to the public for children, teens and adults.

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