October 12, 2017

The Victims of the Las Vegas Massacre


I was in Las Vegas during the October 1st mass shooting. Just like thousands of others who were there but "lucky" enough to not be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was in Vegas attending the wedding of a friend from graduate school. She looked so beautiful. I don't think I've ever seen anyone so completely in love and happy, and it brought tears of joy to my face. Several other people that I hadn't seen since grad school were in attendance as well, and it was like a mini reunion. The reception was low-key. Most people didn't dance, and my husband and I were able to chat with the bride as well as other old friends of mine from grad school. Around 10:00pm, we decided it was time to head back to our hotel. We had driven from San Diego and had to drive back early the next day, and our dog had also been waiting for us in his crate for five hours. So, we said goodbye to the lovely bride, stepped outside, and called an Uber.


The ride back to our hotel took about 15 minutes. Our hotel was about 2.5 east of the strip, and the wedding itself was even further away from the 4-mile stretch of hotels, casinos, and restaurants. About five minutes in, we heard some sirens. My husband commented that something big must have happened, based on the number of sirens going off. A comment forgotten almost as soon as it was said.


Back at the hotel, walking the dog, we passed a man we had seen outside the night before, outside again. He was on the phone, talking to someone about what I could only guess was an attempted mugging. He said, "we laid down on the grass, and then we ran man, we ran!" Another comment forgotten almost as soon as it was said.


The next morning, at around 4:30, my phone began to vibrate. It was my parents. Now, my parents are like any other parents-they worry incessantly about me-especially my mother-despite the fact that I am 30 years old and travel a LOT. In an e-mail she sent to me the day before, she made a comment that indicated to me that she thought the wedding was Saturday and we were driving home Sunday, so I figured that since it was now Monday morning and she hadn't heard from me that we were home safe she was freaking out. I was tired and wanted to rest well before the drive back home, so I ignored the call, figuring she could wait another two hours for me to call back, once I was awake. Sleep was not to be, however, as my mom called again an hour later. Now worried that something was wrong with one of my family members-my niece, perhaps, who has been having some health issues, I answered, asking, "Is everything ok?" My mom responded that she was wondering the same thing. I must have given a confused response, because she proceeded to tell me that there had been a terrorist attack in Vegas. I remember thinking that she had exaggerated (another thing she often does) as the number of deaths seemed too high to be real, but I was half asleep, and by the time I fell back asleep and woke up for real, I couldn't remember the number to relay to my husband. So, I searched Google on my phone and of course found a slew of videos. When I heard the automatic gunfire ringing out in the very first video I watched, I was in disbelief. To this day, I cannot find the words to describe how I felt in that moment. It was horrifying. It was the sound of evil. Video upon video full of the same thing-a different commentator telling a different story, but always, in the background, the same eerie popping of automatic rifle fire. The numbers were real. My mom hadn't exaggerated.


When we departed for San Diego that morning, we saw Mandalay Bay standing tall on the horizon. We drove past streets still closed, cordoned off by police. As we headed West, the Las Vegas skyline faded in the review mirror, but the reality of the nightmare that we so narrowly escaped was only beginning to set in. The love and happiness that I had gone to bed with the night before seemed so far away. Had it really been less than 12 hours since one of the most beautiful weddings I've attended? How quickly our world can change.


Over the following days, I watched news video after news video, wanting to know, just like everyone else, who did it? Why? How? I came upon a video created once all of the victims had been identified, and felt my heart go empty as I watched. In the video, the faces of those killed appeared as the news reporter recited their names and some of the things friends, family, and co-workers had said about them. The words faded as each face was etched into my brain. My mind began to ask questions. A middle aged man, smiling with the sea in the background. Who was he? Where was that photo taken? What did the sea mean to him-was it freedom? A young man outside with a spectacular sunset behind him. Where was this? Who was behind the camera? What happened that night, after the photo was taken? Did he share a romantic evening with his significant other? Was it a night that they swore they'd never forget-one of those nights that you carry with you forever? Another middle-aged man, with his dog cuddled up on his chest. The dog will wait for his best friend, who will never return. What is the story behind the dog? When did the man bring the dog home? Was he a rescue? Did they go on walks together every day? Each of these questions have answers, and then some. Each of these people have countless others in their lives who know them, some even better than they knew themselves. Hundreds of thousands of memories, laughs, tears, regrets, and secrets. What are their stories?


When a tragedy like this takes place, we have a tendency to focus on the numbers. This is easier for us to deal with without being overcome by the truth of the situation. Our brain can deal with numbers-but we cannot keep focusing on the numbers. This is a critical error. It's not as simple as 59 people dying, and over 500 others being injured. The truth is that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives were stolen the night of October 1st. For each person killed, the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands of people, will change forever. How many lives did each person touch? How many lives had each person saved? How many lives won't be saved, because the person who could have saved them has been taken from this world? How many children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, each with their own gifts and talents to contribute to the world, won't be born, because their would-be parents died too soon? How many surviving girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands, children, and others will be taken captive by grief and depression? How many of those who were "only" injured will struggle with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder and will not be able to live the lives they lived before? When tragedies like this happen, the carnage doesn't stop at the body count. The carnage radiates out, for days, weeks, months, and years. Life trajectories are cut short or forced to take a U-turn, and while time may dull the pain, it never, ever heals. The snuffing out of a life is forever.


We need to remember this, and to talk about it. As uncomfortable as it is, we need to face the pain. Las Vegas bleeds, and with it, the world, because each and every person present at the Route 91 music festival either did or was going to affect more people living in more places than they ever could have imagined. The Las Vegas massacre does not belong to Vegas. Vegas is not the victim-humanity is the victim. We are all the victim. We MUST face this truth head-on, and when we do, perhaps we'll finally find a solution, and perhaps we'll finally be able to prevent such an absolutely senseless and complete waste of life from happening again.