Cindy Norvell, M.D., a physician at Long Valley Health Center for 16 years, will take a one-year medical leave from the clinic, according to the clinic’s executive director, Rod Grainger.
Grainger made the announcement at an emotional community healing circle Monday, Aug. 3, at Harwood Hall in Laytonville, More than 40 people gathered to share and sort out their feelings about the Norvell/Palmieri family tragedy.
Grainger said the clinic will hire a temporary replacement immediately and may seek another permanent physician even if Norvell, now discharged from the hospital, returns to work.
On July 19, Norvell, 54, and her brother Theodore Norvell, 52, a professor of computer engineering from Newfoundland, Canada, were attacked by 19-year-old Talen Clark Barton of Laytonville.
Barton, who was living at the Norvell/Palmieri home, pled “not guilty” Tuesday to the attempted murder of Norvell and her brother, as well as to the fatal stabbings of Norvell’s son, Teo Palmieri, 17, and his father, Coleman Palmieri, 52. Barton was also charged with false imprisonment of two teenage girls — Norvell’s daughter and niece.
The first community healing circle was hosted by Laytonville Healthy Start Family Resource Center and Long Valley Health Center, which will hold similar circles every Monday night in August at 6 p.m. The gatherings will continue “for as long as people need and want to gather,” said Traci Pellar, a Laytonville resident and KPFN FM radio host, who organized the event.
With pillows to hug, plenty of tissues and dinner provided, people were able to share their shock and grief at the violent tragedy in a nurturing environment.
Counselor Ben Anderson, a social worker and primary care counselor from Mendocino Community Heath Clinic in Ukiah, facilitated Monday’s healing circle.
Anderson described as “fluid” the stages of grief outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross — denial, anger, bargaining (“Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and find out this didn't really happen”), depression and acceptance. If not expressed in a healthy way, Anderson said suppressed shock and grief may lead to anxiety and depression. Connecting with others, he said, is an important part of recovery.
Anderson urged those gathered not to blame themselves for what happened.
“The take-away is to take care of yourself and take care of each other,” he said.
Many of those attending Monday’s meeting said they had personal and professional ties to the Norvell/Palmieri family. According to a Healthy Start staff member, Teo Palmieri had just finished volunteering for a children’s summer program in which he made “a huge impact” and touched kids’ lives. His father, Coleman, an electrician, was also remembered for his good humor and community involvement.
Several said Barton had visited their homes, spent time with their children and received extra encouragement from the entire community.
After the murders, Barton was persuaded by Norvell’s daughter and niece to call 9-1-1 to report what he’d done; he is now in Mendocino County Jail awaiting a preliminary hearing Sept. 16.
One woman described the tragedy as “unfolding like a bad dream” as she gradually learned from friends and the media what happened at the Meadow Lane home of the Norvell/Palmieri family some time after midnight July 19.
“You might feel like you are the only one going on this roller coaster, but you‘re not,” Anderson told the group.
A woman from the Mendocino coast said that Laytonville is not alone, that people from across the county and beyond are sending their love, support, prayers and sympathy.
“There is something very dark happening; this is part of our culture,” she said. “We must go on.”
Several in the audience wondered what they or the community might have done to prevent the tragedy and to ensure similar events don’t happen in the future.
Providing better county mental health services was one suggestion. Ensuring that all children have safe, loving childhoods, particularly during their first five years of life, was another.
One participant suggested that community members who want to make a difference might volunteer in school classrooms.
Many expressed gratitude to Healthy Start and to the Laytonville community for providing love and support in times of sorrow.
Grainger said cards of sympathy and support can be addressed to Dr. Norvell at the Long Valley Health Center, PO Box 870, Laytonville, CA 95454.
Mendocino County’s 24-hour crisis line can be reached at (800) 555-5906 or (707) 463-4396.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) holds support groups for caregivers, survivors and families at Harwood Hall on the fourth Wednesday of every month at 6 p.m.
Long Valley Health Center and Laytonville Healthy Start Family Resource Center are providing mental health support for anyone affected by the recent tragedy. For information, call Laytonville Healthy Start at (707) 984-8089 or Long Valley Health Center at (707) 984-6131.
(Jane Futcher lives near Laytonville.)