The lights of the Vegas strip went dark precisely one year after the bullets sprayed. I drove over to Las Vegas last weekend, but not to gamble.
I went to witness the first anniversary for the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting, dubbed by community members 1 October. On that night last year, 58 people were killed, and estimates of 800-plus people were injured. Thousands of people ran from the site of mayhem and murder, as the killer shot from 32 floors above.
In Vegas, there is Cesar’s Palace, the Bellagio, the Mirage and of course Mandalay Bay, the resort that glimmers gold as it reflects the sunlight. That is where the murderer perched and set his sight on the country-music lovers below, killing and wreaking havoc.
Since then, the informal Vegas slogan has been “Vegas Strong,” and I saw it on posters displayed in businesses’ windows, on wristbands and on T-shirts.
This is a city that glitters. But the place was much more last weekend. While tourists were literally jumping up and down, posing in front of the “Welcome to Fabulous Vegas” sign, other people quietly visited the 48 crosses — one for each person who died in the awful shooting at the country music festival. They wept, they hugged.
Even the hotel clerk where I stayed was affected, though not directly. She lives in Vegas, and she remembers the panic she felt that night. Like thousands of others, she heard about the shooting, and then frantically tracked down her kids to check on them. Had they gone to the concert? Were they OK? They had not gone, and they were fine.
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I can only imagine my own fear had my kids, now grown, been at the open-air festival. (Or at a movie theater in Colorado or a school in Florida, Connecticut or Texas, or outside a grocery store in Tucson, to mention just a few places that should be safe but have not been.)
Her sentiments were similar to those of many people I spoke with. “Every time one of these shootings happens, I think there’s going to be a change,” she said. “But nothing ever changes. And these are happening everywhere.”
Later, I was back on the strip driving past Harrah’s and Treasure Island, watching hundreds of tourists who were strolling, looking for fun — men wearing Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops, women in sundresses or jeans. One young woman with long blond hair wore a tiny leopard-patterned tank top tucked into minuscule jean shorts. And cowboy boots, of course.
It’s a fashion show under the palm trees, blue skies and a few puffy white clouds gliding by. All that enhanced the feeling of normalcy — if Circus Circus on Elvis Presley Boulevard is your normal, that is.
As I left Sin City, I thought I’d forever reject that moniker. I took away what I heard over and over again: This is a place not just for tourists, but for those who live there. They say there is more community spirit now than a year ago as they recounted hundreds of acts of heroism, often strangers helping strangers. At a sunrise memorial, at an interdenominational service, at the dedication to the all-volunteer Healing Garden that sprouted within a week of the shooting and evolved over the past year, and at the 10:05 p.m. dimming of the strip’s lights, people spoke of strength, love and perseverance. They hugged, they held hands, they wept. And they remembered the “58 angels” taken.
After the marquees went dark the night of October 1, 2018, signs on the late-night strip blinked “Vegas Stronger.”