TRYing at the Clark County Coroner’s Office

Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg has been in his position for many years.  But when the horrific shooting happened on October 1, 2017 at the Route 91 country music festival in Las Vegas, it is completely understandable that he and his staff were unprepared for the onslaught of the event.  An average day sees perhaps 8-10 cases.  For the Coroner’s office staff to suddenly be faced with 58 cases all in a single day was overwhelming.  And the emotional factor of an attack on our city was being felt by all.  It became a highly intense period in which their office was basically under siege; the media was posted up outside their office, especially considering the fact that the body of the perpetrator of this evil attack lay inside their facility along with all his victims.  As such, the office went on 24 hour lockdown with an armed guard provided by LVMPD, creating in itself a highly charged atmosphere.

John Fudenberg had previously utilized yoga as therapy for his back. Following 1 October, John was awake for days with little more than a few hours of sleep each day. Most of his staff were faring no better. Four days after the shooting, a friend who knew what he was going through invited him to a free Trauma Recovery Yoga (TRY) class that was being held at Vegas Hot Yoga, the studio where John would occasionally check in. After the class, John felt such immediate relief that he started to coordinate TRY classes at his office for his employees who were showing signs of anxiety and stress.

“Am I breathing in or am I breathing out?” ~ JF

As soon as it was apparent that this was a major event for Vegas, Joyce Bosen and her team started assembling free Trauma Recovery Yoga classes throughout the city for anyone affected by the tragedy. They contacted yoga studios in Las Vegas and within the first week there were free TRY classes in 11 locations.

The empathy shown by John Fudenberg for his employees was extraordinary. Not only did he establish the classes for his employees, he invited those from other agencies – First Responders, including fire and Metro, 911 staff, Crime Scene Investigators, and Department of Family Services employees. He opened the classes to any county employee who felt the need for it. After realizing the value in the method, other agencies eventually started classes at their own facilities.

A meditation room was created in the Coroner’s office for a research study facilitated by Dr. Annie Weisman, Director of Wellness and Integrative Medicine at the UNLV School of Medicine to determine if meditation therapy could help staff cope with the trauma associated with a mass shooting.

Metro has a program called “PEAP” – Police Employee Assistance Program. From their website: “The LVMPD Police Employee Assistance Program (PEAP) is a crisis intervention / counseling and referral service staffed by LVMPD commissioned and civilian employees.  It is set up to prevent, and when necessary to treat the personal and family casualties which are caused directly or indirectly by the stress of the law enforcement profession.”  A PEAP employee introduced John to Debra Apsara who manages the nonprofit, Inner Peace Initiative (IPI). The mission of IPI is “To bring about a shift in human consciousness using leading edge holistic methods, breath awareness and transformational meditations.” IPI brought several sessions of trauma meditation to the Coroner’s office each week during that chaotic and stressful time. John needed and embraced the therapy that TRY and trauma meditation provided, and he knew that his employees would benefit as well.

The 1 October event was the catalyst for the realization that this is what the Coroner’s office employees needed long before the tragedy ever happened. In fact, some employees quit their jobs because of the mental and emotional tension. In addition, the stress took a toll on the relationships between employees who had worked together for many years. IPI instructors continue to volunteer in the Coroner’s office to provide occasional meditation sessions with employees. The employees also use an app with Inner Peace instructors and recordings made by IPI for meditation when live instructors are not available.

The meditation room continues to be used by Coroner’s office employees when they need a reset.

Coroner’s office employees have occasionally been referred to as “the last of the First Responders.” They are nearly invisible when the public thinks about first responders. John shared with me, “Our employees see what 99% of the population never sees. Other agencies like the fire and police departments have therapy resources. Typically coroners’ offices do not have the same type of resources.”

Candace Caterer, Wellness Coordinator for the Coroner’s office, said of the trauma sensitive therapies John brought in, “This is something that was always needed here. It is a lifetime of tiny events, not just one event.” She is grateful he was a visionary in the healing of their employees. “You can see a difference,” was her comment regarding how the TRY and meditation classes helped their employees. Candace, along with her assistant Mikayla, arrange therapy dog visits, various classes, workshops and trainings for the employees’ well being. The idea of trauma yoga and meditation was initially met with some hesitation by the employees when classes were first brought it, but once they realized and accepted “it’s okay to not be okay”, participation increased.

Lululemon is one of TRY’s community partners who financially enable TRY to offer free classes to various groups.  With a generous donation in 2020, Lululemon facilitated 15 free classes in the Coroner’s office.  I sat in on one of the classes after I interviewed John Fudenberg.  The number of participants varies in each session depending on employees’ schedules and workload.  Four employees participated in the 30 minute Trauma Recovery Yoga class taught by our Executive Director, Erika Vilar.  

It was quite apparent to me the confidence John Fudenberg holds in the trauma therapies he brought to the Coroner’s office. He continues to utilize yoga and meditation personally; and he is highly supportive of the continued use of Trauma Recovery Yoga and trauma meditation classes for his employees.

The self regulation techniques of TRY can be utilized anywhere, not just on a yoga mat.

Trauma Recovery Yoga has continued to provide free classes each year at various 1 October survivor events.  Informational tables with materials about Trauma Recovery Yoga are staffed by TRY volunteers at numerous community events throughout the year.  

Additional information about Trauma Recovery Yoga may be found on our website at  Class schedules and descriptions, workshop information and more about the Downtown Yoga & Wellness Co-op can be found on the website at  

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