My head is spinning right now.
I’ve typically used this blog as a space to discuss the personal struggles and achievements of self-discovery and self-improvement, with an occasional commentary on an occurrence in my personal life that feels like a worthy or entertaining topic to write about. It has not been used as a vehicle for any sort of political dialogue or discussion on current events, but this is different.
The city of Las Vegas that I call home is dominating the national, and most likely international, headlines right now, as the result of a horrific shooting spree that happened last night at a country music concert on the Strip. Everybody with any ties to this city is doing their best to process what has happened, and in that regard, I am but one of many. For me, that means trying to organize my thoughts on paper. Hopefully, for anyone else that happens to read this, it will help to do the same in some small way.
As of this writing, the death toll from this awful event has reached 58, with over 500 more injured. Thus far, I don’t believe that the list of fatalities includes anyone that I know personally, but I do know at least two people who attended the concert and escaped the carnage. What little of their story that I know at this point is jarring and scary.
For my girlfriend Mia and I, yesterday began innocently enough. After a late night out on Saturday, I woke up around 9:30, at which point I happily discovered that my favorite football team, the New Orleans Saints, was wrapping up a 20-0 victory in a game held in London. I posted a couple comments about that game and my fantasy football team on Facebook, and we later headed to a sports bar to watch the afternoon games with some friends.
After an evening nap, we would eventually watch the second half of a movie that we had previously started, blissfully unaware of what was happening only a few miles away. When the movie was over, Mia grabbed her phone, only to be notified that a friend of ours had requested us to check in that we were safe. Were we safe? Yes, why?
A quick look at Mia’s Facebook feed would reveal the answer. Once we realized what was going on, we both quickly marked “yes” on a crisis check-in page that had been set up through Facebook. We turned on the news and continued scrolling through our respective feeds to find out more.
We soon found an entry from our friend Brandi that had been posted just 10 minutes earlier. In it, she described that she was hiding out in a dark room with 12 other people who were all frightened and praying for safety. She could still hear gunshots from her hiding place, and had heard rumors about a bomb in the area. The post ended with her questioning whether she’d make it out alive. As expected, such a post prompted dozens of concerned responses from friends hoping for a positive update. To make matters worse, she had been separated from her boyfriend James amid the chaos.
Mia and I stayed up until 1 in the morning watching news and checking our feeds. I finally went to bed, knowing I’d need to get up for work in a few hours. Mia said she wanted to watch a police press conference that was about to start, so I said goodnight and went to sleep after one last check on Facebook. There was no response yet from Brandi. By then, it seemed that the worst was over, but I went to bed without knowing for certain whether Brandi and James made it out alive.
One of the many differences between life in my twenties versus life in my thirties is that I don’t get out and go to concerts quite as often anymore. But as fate would have it, I actually did attend one this very same weekend. Mia, my longtime friend Joe, and I all went to the Fremont Street Experience on Saturday night to see Chevelle, a band that Joe and I would both rank among our all-time favorites. As one of the more successful hard rock bands of the last 15 years, Chevelle attracted a large crowd, which packed in pretty tightly in attempt to get a view of the show. Tightly enough, in fact, that Mia even commented midway through the concert that we were all packed in a little too much. A nearby girl heard the comment and agreed.
When the concert finished, exiting was a bit messy, with a large swarm of people all walking in seemingly eight different directions trying to leave. Mind you, that was during the normal ending to a concert, which had already thinned out some just before the encore. I’d rather not imagine what that scene would’ve looked like if we were all trying to disperse in an emergency evacuation.
Looking back on the entire weekend, and considering what happened last night at the Route 91 Harvest show, I can’t help but wonder if I’m alive and writing this today simply because of my personal taste in music. Country music isn’t really my thing, nor is it the preferred form of music for Mia or Joe. So for me, at least, there was never any real possibility that I would’ve found myself at last night’s show. But if the gunman had just been looking to rack up a massive body count in a tightly-packed venue, he certainly could’ve chosen the show that we attended the night before. Logistically speaking, the canopy above Fremont Street would’ve prevented a comparable vantage point to the one he enjoyed from his perch on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel. However, I’d suspect that he could’ve found someplace in the vicinity of our show to set up and take aim, had he chosen to go that route.
Joe, by the way, has been a very close friend since we met all the way back in eighth grade. So close, in fact, that I was the best man at his wedding nearly a decade ago. He is among the relatively rare fraternity of people who were born and raised in Las Vegas, but a career opportunity as an insurance agent resulted in him packing up and moving several years ago. The small town he now calls home is still within driving distance of Las Vegas, but it’s far enough away that he doesn’t spend much time in the city anymore. This past Saturday night marked the first time we’d hung out together in several months. It was good to see him, if only for a few hours of one night.
He also seems to have developed an unfortunate, though entirely coincidental, association with what are now two of modern American history’s more tragic events. I am exactly three weeks older than Joe, and once upon a time back in college, we’d planned to celebrate turning 21 together. As a result, I didn’t really do a whole lot on my own 21st birthday, outside of putting ten dollars in a slot machine, now that I was finally old enough to do so. The bigger celebration was to come three weeks later, when we were both of legal age. That plan quickly turned sideways, though, as his big day fell on none other than September 11, 2001.
What, then, is his connection to this latest tragedy? Well, that small town Joe moved to, and currently resides in, is Mesquite, Nevada. If you’ve never lived in Las Vegas, there’s a great chance that you’ve also never heard of Mesquite. You probably have heard of Laughlin, which is a small town along the Colorado River that is about a 90-minute drive from Las Vegas, and serves as a common weekend getaway destination for locals looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city. Mesquite is nearly the same distance away from Las Vegas, only in a different direction. One would pass through it if driving northeast from Las Vegas to Zion National Park in Utah. It is also a common weekend getaway, known in particular for its golf courses. And it is this same quiet town where the gunman called home.
But back to Saturday night. After the Chevelle show ended, Mia and I decided to go out to a karaoke bar. This particular bar has recently become one of our more common hangouts, despite the fact that it is on the opposite side of town from us. Joe was staying in town at his in-laws’ house nearby for the night, so he drove us to the bar and stayed just long enough to grab a snack before heading out. We had chosen to go there that evening after recently discovering that they carried a substantial number of new songs we wanted to try–songs that are extremely hard to find anywhere else. This, by the way, is the same bar I mentioned in a previous post, in which Mia had gotten robbed of placing among the top three in a karaoke contest. More importantly, though, it is the bar where the karaoke co-hosts are none other than Brandi and James.
So yes, we were enjoying a night of karaoke with Brandi and James on Saturday night. Less than twenty-four hours later, the two of them were running for their lives at a country concert. As it turned out, Brandi had been hidden away in that shelter for a good five hours, unable to safely head home until five in the morning. Finally, at long last, she posted that long-awaited Facebook update declaring that she and James were OK. Mia, who had actually stayed awake the entire time, finally felt relieved enough to go to bed.
Several hours later, presumably after Brandi had rested and composed herself, she then posted on Facebook once more, summing up her experience last night. Bullets whizzed past her as she tried to make her escape, an entire line of them passing right by her head. She witnessed others getting pelted by bullets in their necks, shoulders, and backs. Before ultimately getting separated, Brandi and James both alternated between crawling over people as bullets flew, and running whenever they couldn’t hear any shots being fired, as the perpetrator was either reloading or switching guns. It was a truly terrifying experience that most of us can only imagine. In the end, though, they were among the fortunate ones who made it out alive, and as far as physical injuries go, they really only ended up with sore knees from the constant up and down motions and the crawling. Mentally, they will be forever scarred by the experience, far beyond what the rest of us will ever know.
I won’t try to pretend that this event is far worse than previous tragedies such as the Orlando nightclub shooting last year. But this one undeniably hits much closer to home, and I wanted to tell the story of how much things have changed in the last 48 hours. I certainly count myself among the fortunate locals who have not had to receive the terrible news that someone I know has passed away. Not so far, anyway. Unfortunately, there are countless friends and family members of those 58 (or more) victims who will not receive that same reassurance. It is, indeed, a very dark day in Sin City, one that shall never be forgotten.