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Gun shot survivor, mental health advocate offers support for families impacted by Heritage High shooting

A gun violence survivor turned mental health advocate is working to help families heal after the shooting at Heritage High School in Newport News.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Cameron Bertrand is all too familiar with the trauma of gun violence.

The Hampton Roads native is a mental health advocate, but nearly six years ago, he survived being shot in Norfolk.

"It’s an extremely triggering situation to be in," said Bertrand.

Bertrand, like many people in Newport News, still feels the emotional impact of the shooting inside Heritage High School on Monday. 

Authorities said two teenagers were shot and are expected to recover. A 15-year-old male student now faces several charges.

"What we saw at Heritage High School was an extreme tragedy," said Bertrand. "It's chaos that nobody should have to experience. But what happens when we do?"

Bertrand has a special connection to Newport News, having attended Christopher Newport University, as a scholar-athlete. He played on the university's football team. He's also a mentor and rushed to the high school when he learned about the shooting.

"It’s more important for us to show up in those spaces, to make sure that we are there and accessible for the people that need us the most," he said.

The shooting is also a triggering moment for Bertrand.

On November 7, 2015, he and his best friend, Dorion Jackson, were robbed and shot leaving a sporting event. Bertrand says he is still recovering physically and mentally.

Credit: Cameron Bertrand (IG: mindofabillion)
Cameron Bertrand was shot, along with his best friend, during a robbery attempt in November 2015.

He’s thankful to have survived, but he knows first-hand the trauma that comes with being the victim of violence.

"Every time that I have to go out into the community to fight for and against something that I am still healing from, I question all the time how I ended up in this position," he said. "But I do know I was kept here for a reason."

His experience inspired him to launch Violence Intervention Prevention, LLC.

The initiative offers free mentoring, counseling and advocacy for kids and adults who have experienced or are at-risk of gun violence.

Credit: Cameron Bertrand (IG: mindofabillion)
Bertrand speaks to a college class about his work through his initiative, V.I.P. LLC.

Bertrand is the C.E.O. of V.I.P., LLC.

He says he's been talking with families to connect them with needed resources, and he encourages young people and their families to seek help.

"It’s OK not to be OK. It’s OK to process our emotions. It’s OK to be in a position where we are trying to figure out what’s the next step," said Bertrand. "But there are people who are willing to help and people who are passionate about this work and making sure our youth get through this tragedy."

Since the shooting, Bertrand says he and his team have been busy showing support for people in the community.

"The tragedy serves as another reminder that gun violence is a public health crisis," said Bertrand. 

He urges the importance of ensuring that adequate and equitable resources are available in all communities for violence prevention, which he says should be more of a focus for elected leaders at all levels.

"We can save so many more people, and more money in the economy, if we prevent it instead of having to treat people afterwards," Bertrand said.

If you would like to reach Bertrand, contact him by email.

Newport News Public Schools is offering a support hotline for any student, staff member or parent.

To reach that hotline, you can call (757) 283-7868 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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