Vegas shooting causes reflection

I was about two hours into my first company conference when another guest told me there was a shooter outside. I had just gone up to my room at the Luxor Las Vegas to stow my bags after a cocktail party that was supposed to kick off a two-day event. 

Back on the ground floor, I saw a cop car fly by outside. The Strip has a noticeably heavy police presence, so I figured any disturbance would be handled swiftly. I headed to the bar to meet with some coworkers and relayed the news. A few moments later, a profoundly drunk coworker began yelling, telling everyone there was a shooter, and to run. The bar cleared out quickly except for a small group of us who assumed it was probably a minor thing, nothing to panic over. Then a security guard in a flak vest told us it was indeed something to be worried about 

Las Vegas often feels like a deeply silly place. The Elvis impersonators, the pink Midwestern dads straining their necks to ogle every plunging neckline, kids snorkeling in pools alongside heavy-drinking adults who haven’t made a trip to the bathroom in a conspicuously long time. But it’s never felt quite so silly as it did when I was herded into the lobby of the Criss Angel Theatre with a few dozen other frightened guests and employees. People stood in small groups, nervously whispering amongst themselves, wondering if we might die while posters of the 49 year-old magician looked down at us through his dramatic bangs. 

After it became apparent the casino didn’t really have a concrete plan for this type of situation, and an opened door to the outside led to a chorus of screams and half the room diving for cover, we decided to head back out to the bar. The bartender had left his post, but a crowd of people stood around watching the news, hoping to see what was happening just outside. 

By then, a steady stream of people in cowboy hats and boots started to make their way through the casino, either staggering or running. One survivor was asked to put his shirt back on by a security guard, as there were “still children here.”

After an hour, they instructed us to make for the basement. We deemed that a bad idea and headed to our room. Some creative routing took us by elevator and emergency stairs to a room 22 floors up, looking out from the Luxor pyramid to the Mandalay Bay, just out of sight from the broken window the gunman fired from. We finally saw the extent of the response — a massive column of red and blue lights positioned at one intersection, other convoys speeding about on other side streets. We turned on the news to see two were dead, 24 injured — figures that would reach grotesque new heights when we woke in the morning. 

It’s an odd feeling, having been next door to one of the worst massacres in American history. I can’t say I heard any of the shots before hearing them on TV, nor did I see any of the bodies or the heroes rushing in to save people. But I did see the faces of those who escaped, either weeping or in shock, perhaps the same faces I’d seen smiling when I drove in just a few hours earlier. 

I watch the news coverage of each new mass shooting monstrous enough to make the news cycle. I read the short obits for the victims, in which we learn a community lost a nurse, a librarian, a youth sports coach. The 19 year-olds who hadn’t made much of a mark yet in their adult lives, but loved country music or going to the movies, a harmless hobby that would ultimately cost them their lives. 

I covered an active shooter training at LMC for the Experience after a man with a rifle killed several of his fellow students at Umquah Community College in Oregon, two years to the day before the shooting in Las Vegas. I came away from it feeling even more hopeless than I was before, knowing even the Experts didn’t really have any wisdom on how to handle the situation when a man with a rifle decides to commit wholesale murder, other than to flee or hide. 

Whenever these shootings happen, I think about a Washington Post profile of Cheyeanne Fitzgerald. Cheyeanne was 16 year-old who graduated from high school early and enrolled at Umquah. She was in the writing class the shooter attacked, and was shot in the back. She didn’t die, but the rifle round shredded her insides, leaving her nearly unable to walk and prone to terrible panic attacks at the slightest trigger. We love stories of heroism after these tragedies, but for most survivors, it’s simply a story of not dying. After the cameras leave, it’s up to them and their families to deal with the lifelong damage. 

We have a dire number of mass shootings every year. We also have incredibly high rates of gun homicides, gun suicides and abusive relationships that end with the male and a firearm. Would some sort of comprehensive gun control wholly eliminate gun murder? No. But someday I might like to take my hypothetical kid to a movie or a concert without having to think about our relationship — and potentially hundreds of others — being ended by a .223 round.