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'An emotionally confusing time': St. Louis nonprofit address gun violence and trauma after deadly school shooting

Saint Louis Story Stitchers works to combat gun violence, and other social issues, through healthy expression.

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis community continues to mourn the lives lost on Monday morning, after a gunman opened fire on Central VPA's campus, killing a student and a teacher. 

It's been five days since the deadly shooting, but everyone is still feeling the impact of this tragedy. 

St. Philip's Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Ville hosted its Harvest Festival on Saturday, Oct. 29. 

While there was food, fun and games, organizers said, it was also a time for the community to heal.

This day of healing and coping was put on by the nonprofit, Saint Louis Story Stitchers

The organization works to combat gun violence, and other social issues, through healthy expression. 

According to the Youth Program Coordinator for the nonprofit, Branden Lewis, Saturday was all about open and honest conversations on how everyone in St. Louis can deal with the trauma of this week. 

"I think what a lot of the city recognized, especially when it happened in St. Louis, is that it can happen anywhere. It can happen anywhere, and it could happen to anybody," he said.

The tragedy is what brought the community in the Ville together on Saturday morning. 

Lewis said it's a tragedy that's been felt by the whole city.

"Parents recognize that could have been my kid, you know, when you send your kids to school you don't expect that they won't come back, or that they'll even be in any type of life-threatening situation," he said.

Behind the music, face painting, games and food was a group of people, just trying to heal together, according to Lewis. 

"We just want to have a conversation about healthy coping mechanisms and things that will help you get through, what I can only describe, as an emotionally confusing time," he said.

People were able to talk together through this emotionally confusing time through a Q&A with trauma surgeon, Dr. LJ Punch.

"It hits different when it hits everybody when everywhere you go and everywhere you turn, someone is feeling it in a different way," he said to the crowd. 

For Lewis, it hit personally, as a graduate of Central VPA.

"It's definitely been a rough week, not just for me, but for the entire Central family. It's painful to be a member of that family right now, it's really painful. It's kind of hard to think about what life was like before it happened. It's barely been a week, but it's really hard to think about what life was like before that," he said.

Lewis said adding on to that pain is the love everyone in the Central VPA family exudes throughout the entire school building.

"If a school like that, that's full of love, that loved everybody, could be the victim of a school shooter, then it could happen to anybody, anywhere," he said.

That emotion is why Lewis wanted to help put on Saturday's event, to show the community, you are not alone.

"I kind of feel obligated to give back, like, how could I not want to give back to a school that gave me so much," he said.

Lewis is a full-time artist now. He said he wouldn't be doing what he is doing today without the foundation that Central gave him.

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