Almost one-third of the people held hostage here last month by Hanafi Muslim gunmen have undergone psychological or psychiatric counseling for help in living with the memory of their 39 hours of terror.
They are among the more than 100 persons who were wounded without being bloodied. Referred to collectively as the uninjured hostages, they include Linda Palmer, who says she will never return to her job in the District Building; Hank Siegel, who says he feels fine but who hesitates to ride in taxicabs, and Nancy Brailsford, who "shakes like a leaf" when she hears a loud noise in the District Building.
Palmer, a 25-year-old administrative assistant to D.C. City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker, says she has not even been back to clean out her desk on the fifth floor of the District Building, where WHUR reporter Maurice Williams was killed, and where City Council member Marion Barry, building guard Mack Cantrell and legal intern Robert Pierce were shot.
During the siege, Palmer was placed by the gunmen in the doorway of the Council offices and used as a human shield. "I haven't been prepared to go back there to the office yet and deal with it. I don't think it's over yet. I don't really want to be reminded by it all again.
"I still have some things in my office I used to pick up, some books, a sweater, some personal things. I just haven't been able to deal with going back, even though I understand they've cleaned up the office and it looks like nothing happened."
Many of those receiving psychological counseling were among a group of 35 B'nai B'rith employees who took advantage of help offered by the George Washington University Health Plan, to which some B'nai B'rith members belong.
The group counseling, offered to any person held hostage in the B'nai B'rith building, consisted of six meetings over three weeks.
The sessions, said clinical pychologist Lawrence Sank, helped the hostages realize they shared a "commonality of experience.We assisted them in sharing as a group. There was a sense that some of the fears were shared, but some of the relief was shared."
"While they saw the worst in people (in the behavior of the gunemn), they saw the best in people (in the behavior of their fellow captives)," said Joan Shapiro, another clinical psychologist.
The worst thing faced by the hostages, many of whom suffered from diarrhea, sleeplessness, anxiety fear of the dark and teeth grinding after their release, was "their loss of pride and dignity, their loss of control" over their lives during the 39 hours of captivity," said Sank. "They're now trying to come out of this experience."
Many of the hostages went through a period of grieving, said clinical social worker Mary Belzer. "You grieve when you lose someone you love. You also grieve when you lose a limb, lost mobility, lose freedom."
Siegel, a 54-year-old public relations man for B'nai and B'rith, was one of thosoe ex-hostages to take advantage of the group sessions.
"By these discussions I was able to find out that other people had the same problems I did," Siegel said. "The same thoughts were running through our minds."
Siegel, who was released after about 27 hours of captivity because he has a heart condition, said his release made him feel guilty. "When I was through being questioned I had a good, hot dinner, lay in a soft bed with clean sheets, free and unharmed, and it bothered me a lot.
"Then I learned (during the group sessions) that some of the older men, who were not bound until the very end (of the siege) had guilt feelings because they weren't bound," said Siegel.
Siegel said that he is experiencing relatively few aftereffects other than the nervousness about cabs - many of the Hanafis drive cabs - but said that some of his coworkers are still quite shaky.
"The elevator bell goes off when it reaches a floor," he said, "and when they hear the bell they get shaky. If they hear a loud noise they get shaky. If they hear shouting they get shaky.
"It seemed to me that the older people were the most stable, it seemed to affect them less," Siegel said. "But just this (past) week a couple of people I've talked to, who were able to put this thing behind them as though it was nothing, are now beginning to have delayed reactions."
Linda Palmer, who said she has been troubled ever since the siege, siad. "If I think about it I can get into a state of depression and that's what I'm trying to get out of."
Palmer, who said she now stays up late at night watching television and reading, avoiding the nightmare filleld sleep that often refuses to come, worries about the possibility the Hanafis may strike again.
"I worry about them," she said. "Maybe it's because they took the city by surprise and it's so unbelievable. You can see that these things do happen and they can happen to you.
"I'm jumpy in crowds," she said. "I'm wary of groups. When I was first walking around, after we were released, I'd think someone would pull out a gun, just thinking crazy things like that. You know, everyone looks all right and then all of a sudden you start looking in people's faces adn wondering. 'Is he crazy? Is she crazy? Is he going to pull out a gun . . . I just don't think this stuff is all over."
Palmer said she is bothered most by memories "of the gun sword on either side of me and the guns from the police staring me in the face from 15 feet away.
"I was sitting in the chair (in the doorway to the Council offices) most of the time. They used me, (as a shield) more than anybody else because I cried more than anybody else. That sticks in my mind more than anything. I just can't believe the police were up there and they looked like they wanted to shoot me. The (police) guns, they just never wavered, the whole time. They were aimed at me the whole time," said Palmer, of the police who engaged in a face-off with the Hanafi gunemn in the District Building during most of the takeover.
"Rifles and shotguns, lined up all the way across the halfway. I didn't understand why they were aiming, but they were jut prepared for anything. I just wanted to say, 'Why don't you put those guns down? It's only me here.' That will stay in my mind a long time."
Because the guns she faced were those of her eventual liberators, rather than those of her captors, Palmer came to experience a phenomenon that psychiatrist Anna Freud, daughter of Sigmund Freud, referred to as "identification with the agressor." Palmer came to fear for the safety of the Hanafi gunmen who were terrorizing her.
"We were afraid when the gunmen went out that (the police) were going to shoot them down as soon as they walked out the door. I think I've seen too many of those movies.
"They were really pretty nice to us," she said, trying to explain that she felt sympathy for the Hanafis as individual human beings, but felt absolutely no sympathy or compassion for what they were doing.
"They were just human," she said. "I really worried about it. As they were leaving I said, 'Don't go, don't go,' because I just knew the police were going to shoot them . . . I didn't think that was fair." The police did not shoot the surrendering gunmen.
Even Siegel, who says he came through the ordeal in good psychological shape, says there have been after-effects.
"I have a strong need to be with old friends, people I haven't seen in years, even relatives I haven't seen in years. Our phone bill, everybody's phone bill, is crazy. It's a common feeling of the other hostages - we got a new appreciation and awareness of people, especially people we know and love. It's a good feeling."
And then there is the fear. "When I walk down the street I look at people very carefully," he said. "Unconsciously I would look for them (the gunmen) in the faces, even though I knew they were not there."