Two years ago today, the Las Vegas Strip changed. As most of the rest of the world goes on with everyday life, many of us here in Southern Nevada still feel a profound sense of grief and loss.
On October 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire and killed 58 concert goers at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Two years later, we’re reviewing what’s changed and taking notes on the challenges that remain after the Las Vegas Strip suffered the deadliest mass shooting in the nation’s history.
WARNING: This story addresses some very sensitive topics, including frank discussion of violence and trauma. Reader discretion is advised.
A reminder of what happened that night
While I was safe and sound at home, hundreds of country music fans were at MGM Resorts’ Las Vegas Village to enjoy the final night of the Route 91 Harvest festival. As many of us were turning in for the night, country superstar Jason Aldean took the stage to give the closing performance. Up until 10:05 PM that night, it seemed like just another end of the weekend here in Las Vegas…
Except on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay, where security guard Jesus Campos came to investigate a broken door. Within minutes, he began hearing gunshots. Around 10:05, Campos himself was shot.
By the time Campos was shot, maintenance worker Stephen Schuck made it to the 32nd floor to fix that door, a door that had actually been barricaded. When Campos found Schuck, Campos urged him to take cover. Schuck then radioed hotel dispatchers to warn of the active shooting and urge them to call the police.
“I can’t hear ‘thoughts and prayers’ any more. There has to be action.”
– Christine Caria, 1 October survivor, on June 2, 2018
Christine Caria was at Route 91 Harvest on October 1, 2017. When the gunman began opening fire from his Mandalay Bay suite, other concert goers trampled upon her as they fled for their very lives. She’d later make it out alive, but neither she nor the other survivors made it out unscathed. Caria began sharing her story with us in June 2018, as she explained how and why her remarkable story of surviving this mass shooting attack led her to gun violence prevention advocacy.
As Caria explained then, “I didn’t choose to have this experience. This experience chose me. I feel this is a calling. I can’t hear ‘thoughts and prayers’ any more. There has to be action.”
She continued, “I wake up every single morning replaying that tragedy. There’s not a day when I don’t do something to raise awareness, or do something to help other survivors to make it a better day for them.”
“With these [assault] weapons, they rip bodies apart. They’re designed to destroy you.”
– JH Williams, on June 11, 2018
That June, and again in October 2018, Christine Caria explained the physical and psychological struggles she’s had to contend with since the shooting. Less than two weeks after the shooting, I spoke with a mental health professional who had already begun taking on new clients who survived 1 October. Heading back to June 2018, I then spoke with Wendy and JH Williams about how survivors and the larger community have dealt with the aftermath.
As the national media crews checked out and the state’s biggest power players leaned in on their post-shooting rebranding campaign, real people were just beginning to pick up the pieces. As JH Williams vented to us in June 2018, “I feel like the way the media moves on so quickly from these incidents contributes to the ‘normalization’ of these [mass shootings] when there’s nothing normal about them at all.”
Last year, Wendy and JH Williams released Where We Live to share stories on this place where we live and raise needed funds for victims and survivors who are still working to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives. As JH noted, “When you say ‘gunshot’, most people think of a little hole. With these [assault] weapons, they rip bodies apart. They’re designed to destroy you.”
“I know it’s easier sometimes to stay quiet and grieve, but we can’t let this keep happening. […] We have to stand up and take action.”
– Assembly Member Sandra Jauregui (D-Henderson), on August 17, 2019
Sandra Jauregui was also at Route 91 Harvest that night. At Las Vegas Village, she was another country music fan who was excited to see her favorite artists. Like other survivors, she faced her own struggles in coping with what she experienced on 1 October.
But wait, there’s one more thing: Sandra Jauregui had just served her first term in the Nevada Legislature, and she’d go on to win a second term last year. Jauregui then embarked upon a mission to “turn grief into action”, and she took action during this year’s legislative session to enact the background checks expansion (SB 143) that had been stalled since 2016, a comprehensive bump stock ban (AB 291), a “red flag law” (first SB 120, then passed as part of AB 291), and additional gun safety reforms.
At first glance such gun safety legislation seems like a “no-brainer”, but keep in mind that this issue was once deemed “politically toxic” here in Nevada and Democratic legislators used to compete for NRA seals of approval. At a roundtable with activists last month, Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) commended Jauregui for her work and noted, “Who would have ever thought in a ‘cowboy state’ like ours, you could pass this legislation, even background checks? If you can do it here, I’d say the country is ready.”
When she spoke with us at an event in August, Jauregui explained, “I know it’s easier sometimes to stay quiet and grieve, but we can’t let this keep happening. We can save the life of a child, of a student, of a neighbor, of a coworker, of a family member. We have to stand up and take action. It’s our responsibility to take action.”
So what’s changed in the last two years (and what hasn’t)?
Since that fateful day two years ago, and even since we commemorated one year since 1 October last year, we’ve seen some change. As noted above, some state laws have changed. We’ve also seen some new lawmakers come in with last year’s election. And with next year’s election already getting hot and heavy here and now, (at least some of) the Democratic presidential candidates are going further than the party has ever gone before in offering solutions on gun violence.
Yet as we prepare for another national media onslaught tomorrow, we also can’t lose sight of what’s yet to change: Legislation being held up over political games, “Vegas Strong!” only for a privileged few, enduring secrecy when the community needs more transparency, and a seemingly never-ending stream of more mass shooting attacks across the nation.
In the meantime though, MGM Resorts has announced plans to revert Las Vegas Village back into a parking lot, then to eventually build a community center and possibly a permanent 1 October memorial. There’s still the occasional talk of bringing back Route 91 Harvest, though at another concert venue in town. Yet regardless of what happens to the music festival and the place where it happened, 1 October will always be the night when everything changed in Las Vegas.
And finally, in case you or a loved one needs them, some resources
If you or someone you know is facing a major life crisis and struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always there at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). So is the Crisis Text Line, where you can start a conversation with a volunteer counselor by texting “START” to 741741. (I can attest from personal experience that it helps.) And for LGBTQ+ youth in need of immediate help, the Trevor Project has a 24/7 hotline at 1-866-488-7386 and a text option (text “START” to 678678) available.
If you’d like to help with ongoing relief efforts, grassroots groups like Route 91 Strong are still working hard to fill the void left behind after the shooting (and after the shooting fell off national media headlines). Also, the comic and written word anthology Where We Live is available through multiple booksellers, and all proceeds are still being donated to victim/survivor relief efforts.