NEW ORLEANS — Malcolm Venable is an average 13-year-old. He's an 8th grader at St. Augustine High School, a great baseball player, and he likes to hang out with his friends.
But some days Malcolm needs a little more help than other kids his age because he's been through a lot.
"I was four years old. My dad came up, drove up the driveway. I was about to go to school and he shot my mom and he shot himself. I was in the car," Malcolm said.
Malcolm's mother survived, but his father died. Years after the tragic incident, Malcolm was struggling to move past the shooting. He blamed himself for what happened.
"I thought it was my fault," he said.
Dr. Berre Burch is a licensed psychologist with the Children's Bureau of New Orleans. It is a non-profit organization that has provided crisis intervention and therapy for nearly 100,000 children in New Orleans last year.
Dr. Burch says that many kids like Malcolm experience feeling of guilt after a traumatic experience.
"You start to think that what happened was your fault or that you're a bad person because this happened to you," Dr. Burch said.
Malcolm developed a stutter, had trouble focusing in school, and was so angry that he would just hit walls. Dr. Burch says those signs are common in children who are exposed to violence.
"Those are kids who are getting in a lot of fights," Burch said. "Someone steps on your shoe in the back of the lunch line and because you're in that 'fight or flight' survival brain, the response is to make sure you are safe. And so you respond defensively and aggressively because you are trying to protect yourself. You don't think through maybe that person didn't do that on purpose."
Underneath the anger, Malcomn felt let down.
"I was disappointed. Like why did daddy do it?" he said.
Data shows that there are a lot of children in New Orleans who have been exposed to violence just like Malcolm. According to the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies, nearly 20 percent of young people surveyed between 11 and 15 years old said that they had witnessed a murder. More than half of the children in the survey said they had someone close to them murdered.
"Traumatic experiences can change the way kids think and feel about themselves," Dr. Burch said.
Thankfully, Malcolm ended up at The Children's Bureau. He went to counseling for more than a year.
"I came here to help relieve the stress and become better as myself," Malcolm said.
Experts say that most children who are exposed to a traumatic event would be okay even without counseling if they also have a stable environment and support to return to. But that is a big "if."
"What we see a lot is families that are traumatized and struggle to provide that level of safety because they are not in a safe community or they have their own instability that happens," Dr. Burch said.
Malcolm is in a much better place now, and he has some advice for other children trying to move past a violent experience.
"Keep your heads high. It's not your fault and just know who you are," Malcolm said.
WWL-TV reporter Sheba Turk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow her on Twitter at @ShebaTurk