How people can deal with accidental deaths: NPR

How people can deal with accidental deaths: NPR

After filming on the set of rust, Sarah McCammon of MediaFrolic speaks with Maryann Gray, founder of Accidental Impacts, a support group for people who have been injured or caused by accidents.


It’s a double tragedy – the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of Rust and the weight placed on Alec Baldwin, who was holding the revolver that fired the fatal shot. In his own words, grief and grief grips him.

At a press conference today, the Santa Fe District Attorney said it was too early to bring charges. The facts so far suggest that Baldwin accidentally killed Hutchins, a situation Maryann Gray knows too well.


MARYANN GRAY: I wasn’t driving recklessly and Bryan was just an exuberant kid. Although the judiciary has released me from all legal responsibility, I am responsible for his death. I’ve been thinking about Bryan every day for 25 years.

MCCAMMON: This is Gray on our 2003 show. It was the first time she spoke publicly about her accident. And given the death of Halyna Hutchins, we wanted to speak to Gray again. Gray is a psychologist and the founder of a support group for people who have accidentally killed others.

Maryann, welcome to the program.

GRAY: Thank you for having me.

MCCAMMON: When you hear of incidents like the death of Alec Baldwin, which of course was not officially classified as an accident, how about you?

GRAY: I think pretty much about the victim and the person who inadvertently caused the death. I know that the unintentional killer is filled with fear, probably shock and trauma, and of course grief and fear and shame.

MCCAMMON: And Maryann, as we heard in the introduction, a little boy named Bryan ran into your car many years ago. You were 22 at the time and only wanted to go swimming on a hot day. Nobody wants to think about it, but the reality is that something like this can happen to anyone at any time. And yet, there isn’t a lot of data on how common this type of situation is. How do you feel from your work, how often this happens and why there are no good numbers?

GRAU: Sure. In fact, accidental killings are unfortunately far more common than most people realize. Based on my own research, I am very confident that in the US alone at least 30,000 people accidentally kill someone each year. Hundreds of thousands more unintentionally injure someone so badly that they have to be treated in the emergency room or hospital.

The reason I think they are not well known, the whole subject is under researched, is because it is so terrifying. We like to believe that good people do good things and bad people do bad things. But life doesn’t always go that way, and it’s very scary to realize it. It’s a lot easier to turn away.

MCCAMMON: In your research and work with others who have caused accidental deaths, how are people – the accidental killers, as you called them – viewed by other people unrelated to the tragedy?

GRAY: That is different too. Too often the accidental killers are ostracized. You are accused. Sometimes they are just trolled and tortured on social media. One of my goals as I speak to you today is to encourage a more thoughtful and ultimately more compassionate response. That doesn’t mean we don’t hold them accountable. We do. But can we do this with compassion and care and see that they too are suffering, even though that does not absolve them of consequences?

MCCAMMON: And what does that kind of support look like? What is helpful?

GRAY: First, I believe psychotherapy can be very helpful, and I routinely recommend it to pretty much anyone who has accidentally killed or seriously injured someone. I also think it’s important to be able to tell your story. I believe these tragedies have no inherent meaning. But we make sense. So when we tell our story, when we talk about it, when we receive support and compassion, we can begin to create that meaning. I believe that this is important in honor of the victim and in memory of the victim. And yet we can never make amends for what we did. We can never even hit the scales. But we can regain a sense of agency and effectiveness that we can not only do bad things, but also do good in the world. And eventually we regain a level of self-respect, confidence in ourselves, and then peace.

MCCAMMON: This is Maryann Gray, psychologist and founder of Accidental Impacts, a support group for people involved in accidental deaths. Marianne, thank you.

GRAU: Thank you.


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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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