This is the second part of a two part story.
Tragedy will eventually strike each of us in some way. When this occurs, you never know how you will react, no matter how prepared you may think you are. It can be scary to not know who will be by your side when you are in need. If we could choose, I assume most people would prefer a family member or close friend to be with them. Unfortunately, the reality is that most times things don’t come to an end the way we envisioned. That’s when you hope a strangers hand will be offered, the final touch of another human who may not know you, but stays with you for however long you need.
This and so much more was offered to the victims of a mass shooting a little over a month ago.
On October 1, a gunman locked himself up in the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas and opened fire on a country music concert killing 58 people and injuring hundreds. Jason Aldean was on stage at that time and many concertgoers thought the shots they heard were part of the show. They realized quickly when the band ran off stage and they started seeing people hit the ground from injuries that a gunman was shooting at them. Some ran for cover. Others tried but didn’t make it in time. More stood frozen by the realization of what was happening or from seeing a loved one lying lifeless in front of them.
Responding to this type of disaster requires many different organizations and individuals to come together in a synchronized fashion, while leaving egos and hierarchies at the door. At least, that is what everyone hopes for. Luckily, during this horrific mass shooting, the City of Las Vegas and the eleven Department of School Threat Evaluation and Crisis Response (DOSTECR) staff members for the Clark County School District came together in a remarkable way.
The names in these accounts are being protected as confidential.
Assignments were handed out. Tiffany and Teresa were sent to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Station, or the “Metro,” to be with families and friends of those injured. Rada, Wendy and Amie set up a call center at Circus Circus Hotel. Twenty-five phones were set up and there were five of them who answered calls over the next seven days. The calls which came in earlier in the week were mostly people asking how they could help. It was later in the week when they received calls from people who were trying to help themselves or someone they cared about who may be having a difficult time dealing with the tragedy.
Many people were suffering from survivor guilt. Others needed help in dealing with the anxiety of whether what they said to someone injured and/or dying was the right thing to say at the time. Debby had a suicidal woman call in. She did whatever she could while waiting for the police to arrive to help her. “The woman liked music,” Debby said, quietly remembering. “So, I sang.”
Kelly was sent to the Family Assistance Center at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Families who were looking for loved ones were sent there, where police officers and the coroner’s office were to help assist them. And they weren’t the only ones who showed up at the Family Assistance Center to help. Fifty Clark County employees (nurses, psychologists, counselors, social workers, etc.) were either stationed there or arrived on an as needed basis. The Family Reunification team from Reno, was also asked by the Emergency Operation Center to come and assist in the recovery.
There were many people involved and what could have become a chaotic situation. It was somber and calm. They knew what needed to get done and they worked together. They set up areas for families to sleep, dining stations, and areas for families to meet privately with police officers and the coroner’s office. It was emotionally, physically and mentally exhausting. When asked where she got her strength, Kelly replied while crying: “I went to the bathroom and prayed.”
While Kelly spent her time at the Convention Center, Kevin was posted at the Mandalay Bay Hotel. He first met with a vendor who was at the concert and witnessed the shooting. Kevin helped him process his thoughts and feelings, as they came out in real time. He was confused, shocked and scared.
At the hotel, Kevin worked with management who worried about their employees – some who witnessed the shooting and others who had to come to terms with the fact that this murderer walked among them for days before the shooting. Realizing how close they were to a killer rocked them to the core. Kevin listened and tried his best to empathize with those affected. He also worked with management of the hotels to help them recognize signs of trauma and shock.
Though the tragedy is what gets publicized the most during these times, Kevin found comfort in seeing the community rally together. Restaurants donated food for all of them. Blood bank donors and those waiting in lines found a way to help. Airlines offered to fly people in free of charge for triage support and hotels offered free rooms to people who came in to help and those who were personally living this nightmare. When speaking of this, Kevin added that because people came from all over the world to visit Las Vegas and attend the concert, this tragedy and the aftermath, “will forever make them a part of the Las Vegas community.”
Yet, what stands out the most when hearing these accounts of this mass shooting is the appreciation these “behind-the-scenes” angels carry with them. Though they all had things going on in their own lives, they put it all on hold and did what they needed to do. Two staff members each lost a loved one, one right before the shooting and another right after. One person was finalizing wedding plans. Others dealt with children, schedules and day-to-day responsibilities.
While I spoke to each of them, over a month after the shooting occurred, their emotions were still raw and their appreciation flowed out in shaky voices. They are full of gratitude for their family members who “picked up the slack” at home. They are thankful for team members of the Clark County School District who provided them with peer counseling and for the care the hotels gave them through food, places to rest, and meet. They were thankful for their city as a whole. But, they are most thankful to their boss, Joe. He juggled multiple properties, threw himself into the effort, all while ensuring his team was taken care of. Joe said “I’d do it all again, but I hope I never have to.”
In my eyes and heart, I am thankful for them. For these special, behind-the-scenes angels who were there to help others navigate through what may very well be the worst day, or days, of their life.
So, thank you, from me in the Heartland, for doing so many things that most people will never get the privilege of seeing. You represent humanity at its best.