Vegas Strong – A City Still Shining Bright
As some of my readers may know, Adam and I met in Las Vegas and lived there for two years. We both moved to Las Vegas shortly after we graduated from our universities and went there to grow in our careers in a management training program. For us, Las Vegas is where we truly started our lives. Most people feel a great connection to the city where they move to after college and for us it is no different – we met, fell in love, made lifelong friends and started our careers. We love Las Vegas with every inch of our body and sometimes think we might move back one day because of how much we loved our two years there. So, when we heard about the Las Vegas shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on October 1, 2017 we were more than devastated.
We will never forget where we were when we heard the news of the Vegas shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. We just entered the airport lounge at the Kruger International Airport and were handing the agent our Priority Pass cards when we saw CNN news on the television. The agent was trying to hand back our cards, for who knows how long, because everything around us didn’t matter – our world, our home was just attacked and nothing seemed right anymore. At the time we were watching the news, the event had just happened less than three hours ago, and with the time differences most of the United States citizens had no idea what was transpiring. We watched the news waiting to hear more information; it went from 20 dead and 200 injured to 58 dead and over 500 injured in just an hour, making it the deadliest shooting in modern US history. Our hearts felt broken and we felt helpless being in Africa. We remembered Facebook had a “check-in” feature and we quickly started asking all of our friends to check in – we had no idea if we had people we cared about at the concert and that was frightening.
The next thing we knew, we were on our flight back to Johannesburg, South Africa. When we landed, we found out that we had two friends at the concert, Alexa and Tyler. We were relieved to know that they were both safe at home and could not imagine what they just went through.
It is sad to say, but the truth for us (and for a lot of people) is that we stop for a few moments of silence when we hear about tragic events all around the world, but then we carry on with our lives. We still feel bad for what happened, but at the end of the day we go on with our lives because we weren’t the ones affected. I think a lot of people can agree that they feel and do the same. It is only human nature and nothing to be ashamed of. Even with Las Vegas, a place we call home, a place where we had two friends at the concert, we still went on with our lives – we went on to enjoy the rest of our trip throughout Africa. It was not until we went to Las Vegas a week ago (October 21-24) and saw the aftermath and strength of the city, that it became more real – we felt more of a connection to the shooting than ever. When we saw the memorial with our own eyes, our world never felt smaller. When we saw everyone showing their remorse with flowers, candles and other tokens, we felt more connected to the victims, especially our friends and city than ever before. A lot of thoughts went through our minds during these moments, we thought to ourselves that we wished we felt this way before. We thought, how can we make others feel the way we feel right now standing at this memorial, while they are not? Thus the purpose of this article.
Our goal with this article, is to help others understand that though it is okay to carry on with your lives after hearing about a tragic event, we want our audience to place themselves in someone else’s shoes, because that is how we felt when we were in Las Vegas last week. It is one thing to see it on television, but it is another to be there and really feel the affect in person. We also hope to show our audience how this city has come together to be stronger than ever. It is a shame that it takes a tragic event to bring people together, but with darkness there is light. And as we all know, Las Vegas is full of light!
An Interview With Alexa
Our amazing friend Alexa agreed to participate in an interview to showcase the terrible events she and others had to go through and how she has overcome the tragedy. Her interview gives us insight on the night of October 1st and a chance to really feel connected to her story. If you need to, we recommend grabbing some tissues because her story is definitely not an easy one to share.
You are a born and raised Vegas citizen, how does this make you feel towards your city?
I am, yes. It doesn’t change how much I truly love this city. I haven’t been able to drive back to the scene or near Mandalay Bay, but I think overtime I will be able to.
What remarkable moments have you witnessed of the city or people coming together to help make Vegas strong?
The amount of people that visit the Vegas sign where the shrine is located, is amazing. It is great to see people going there to pay their respects and/or bring flowers, candles, cards, etc. I have also been so proud to work for MGM Resorts International. They instantly provided anything and everything needed for the employees who were there that night. They called to check in on how I was doing and reminded me of the options I had. My coworkers were there for me when I had no concentration, energy, and would sometimes just cry out of nowhere.
How did you get out safely?
Once the second round of bullets started going off we ran inside the VIP cubes when a gentleman (I am assuming was in the army based on his hat) told us to get down to the floor in which we listened. After that we thought, “no way are we staying here, the gunman is going to come inside and shoot us.” Another man looked us in the eyes and told us “RUN.” We ran out the back door of the VIP cube, to the back where the fence had been opened. We ran across the street and started to run East, but that is when we heard gunfire to our right thinking the gunman were coming that way. Later, we found out this is when he was shooting at the fuel tanks. We then turned North and hopped the fence to the church, ran through the parking lot, hopped the next fence, and started running through the parking lot in between the Tropicana hotel and the Hooters hotel. I had parked my car over in that lot since we were late to the concert. After initially passing my car, we ran back to it, laid on my horn so we wouldn’t hit all the people running around us and drove out. We followed a big truck that ran over a planter, knocking down the bushes, which helped my car to go over and out onto the road.
If you had time to process or think while seeking safety, what was going through your mind?
Everyone has a different survival mode, according to my grief counselor. For example, Tyler instantly blacked out and doesn’t really remember anything. He doesn’t remember the route we took or the people that were around us. I, however, remember every little detail. I can tell you though, you don’t think AT ALL. I remember not knowing who to trust. Some people would tell you to get down and others would tell you to run. You’re obviously in fight-or-flight mode so you just think RUN, RUN, RUN. The hard part about this incident was it sounded like the gun fire was coming from everywhere due to the echo.
You have gone to Coachella four years in a row, do you foresee yourself going to Coachella or future outdoor concerts/festivals after Route 91 Harvest Festival?
To be honest, it definitely scares me. Will I be able to enjoy myself fully? Probably not. However, I don’t want to live the rest of my life in fear. Tyler and I love festivals and concerts so we will just have to try our best to start enjoying them again.
Do you live your life differently after October 1st and if so, how?
I 100% live my life differently after that night. There is just so much more to life and I don’t let the little things bother me anymore. I am very close with my family, but I feel like I do everything I can to talk/see them as many times as I can. When/if something comes up, I just remember how truly grateful I am to be alive. Nothing is scarier than fearing for your life. It changes everything!
After a month, how are you feeling?
I am definitely feeling better. I still have those days where I just feel anxious and scared or so sad for everyone involved. I actually was falling asleep last night and started hearing the gun fire again! So scary!
How are you working through this trauma?
You just do your best. You cry if you need to, talk to anyone, keep yourself surrounded and especially try to continue on with your life.
There will be times where certain sounds, sound just like the gunfire which will bring you to an instant panic. This can be known as PTSD, but overtime it will get better and we won’t jump at the sounds we hear.
Trauma comes with a lot of different symptoms as well, like loss of memory, hard time concentrating, confusion, anxiety, feeling hopeless, and most of all guilt. Both Tyler and I struggle a lot with the guilt aspect of it. We are very thankful to have gotten out with just bruises (which I still have a month later!!!), but to know that we got out so quick and with minor injuries brings on a lot of guilt for us. It shouldn’t, but it does. Maybe we could have helped people on our way, thrown people into my car, anything. Again this goes back to your survival mode and understanding that what you did at the moment, was what your brain was telling you to do.
I think back though, if I had saw someone get shot; I know I would have stopped to help in some way!
Do you have any stories you wish to share?
While running for safety, I dropped my nice David Yurman bracelet my parents got me. I only realized a couple days later that I didn’t have it. I thought it was long gone by now, since it’s a nice piece of jewelry. About a week and half later from the incident, I went on to the FBI website and filed a claim for my bracelet in hopes maybe it was still at the festival grounds. A couple days later I was told to go to the Family Center that was open for the survivors, family members, friends etc. After a lot of questioning (in a good way) from the FBI, they went into the back area and came back with my bracelet. As you can imagine, I was shocked they retrieved it. I instantly started crying and was terrified to look at it in case there was blood on it. Thankfully it didn’t! I wear it every day still as a reminder of just how lucky I was that night.
The City and Nation Coming Together
It was refreshing to hear how so many people came together to help the victims and their families. Southwest Airlines and Allegiant Air offered free flights to family members of people who were killed or injured in the shooting. MGM Resorts International provided free rooms at the Bellagio to the victims’ family members and also provided meals to workers at the hospital. They are also selling Vegas Strong merchandise (hats, shirts, sweatshirts, tumblers and more) to be purchased at gift shops. All of the t-shirt sales are being donated to the MGM Resorts Foundation to support the first responders, the victims and families affected by the shooting. UFC, Zappos and Station Casinos all donated $1 million each to the families of the victims. Uber and Lyft offered free rides to and from blood donation centers, hospitals and relief centers. Domino’s Pizza delivered free pizzas to police officers, first responders, hospital workers and people in the waiting rooms. So many people were lined up to donate blood that they had to start sending them away, so instead of turning around, they went and bought water and snacks to all those volunteering and donating blood. These are just a few stories of how people came together because there were truly so many people helping in many different ways, the stories are almost endless.
Showing Strength Throughout the City
Throughout the city, people will find billboards from dozens of different companies showing their support to the city and victims with #VegasStrong. Seeing it around the city is uplifting and inspiring. We saw it throughout the Vegas Strip, T-Mobile stadium, Downtown Las Vegas, the airport and on the highways to the suburban neighborhoods. Even on the radio station commercials and talk hosts would touch on the Vegas shooting. The most significant #VegasStrong sign is perhaps the window banner at Mandalay Bay, right above where the shooting perspired.
Las Vegas Sign Memorial
When we visited the Las Vegas sign to promote Mariamor Designs All You Need Is Love bracelet, we had no idea there was a memorial for all the victims who passed away from the shooting. What was once a place tourists go to take pictures in front of the famous Welcome to Las Vegas Sign, is now a beautiful memorial where people show their respect. We witnessed people giving flowers, candles and more, to some of the victims’ crosses. What touched us significantly was seeing several different national flags from other countries around the world. It is a beautiful memorial where a lot of people have come to place their token of respect and remorse.
The memorial was created by Zanis, a retired Chicago-area carpenter who built each tribute. He has driven to several states to donate his crosses and create similar memorials for fallen victims for 20 years, including, the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, Columbine High School shooting, the Colorado theatre shooting and for the hundreds of gun violence victims in Chicago from 2016 to 2017. Needless to say, Zanis is a remarkable man with a big heart.
We do not know how long this memorial will be at the Welcome Las Vegas sign, if it will stay there forever or make its way to a new home. If you are traveling to Las Vegas, we encourage you to show your respect at the Welcome to Las Vegas Sign.
We want to extend our thank you to everyone who has helped with the aftermath of October 1st, whether you donated, were a first responder, nurse or doctor and more, thank you for your services to help those in need. Thank you for making a difference no matter how big or small. We know that every bit of help makes the biggest difference.
Making a Difference
Las Vegas and the victims have endured a great deal. As you can see with Alexa’s interview, the shooting may have been a month ago, but people are still healing and there will never be a set time of when people will no longer need help. So, if you can take the opportunity to help in anyway, we highly encourage you do so. Here are a couple places where you can donate:
- Steve Sisolak, Clark County Commission Chair from Las Vegas started a Gofundme for the victims’ families. They have already raised over $11 million and are close to reaching their goal of $15 million. To help this fund, click here.
- The National Compassion Fund has partnered with the Las Vegas Victims Fund. 100% of the funds received through the National Compassion Fund Las Vegas will be distributed directly to victims. To help this fun, click here.