Murders happen every day in many, many of our cities and towns.
Sunday night around 11:00, I got up for some water. I sometimes check my phone when I do that. I noticed the CNN breaking news alert about a shooter at the Mandalay Bay Hotel. We have our fair share of crime in Las Vegas, so I figured somebody with a beef shot his ex-wife or somebody that ticked him off or maybe the boss who fired him. I admit, like most Americans, I get numb to this sort of news because… Murders happen every day in many, many of our cities and towns.
What I didn’t know, until this morning, was that the “shooter” was still shooting at 11 pm, having started nearly a half hour earlier. And this would not be a disgruntled ex seeking revenge, or a drug deal gone bad. This would be a major event in American history.
When I woke up at 5:00 Monday morning and listened to the news, I couldn’t fathom how something so horrific could have occurred. And it wasn’t someplace far away. It was 6 miles east of my house.
The LYFT driver who picked me up an hour later to take me to the airport couldn’t get his head around it either. He was having a hard time reaching clients because many streets were closed, but he got to me, and I was grateful. Both our phones were blowing up with texts from people who wanted to make sure we were safe.
I suggested we take Desert Inn to Paradise, since all the cross streets further south on the strip would surely be closed. As we approached the airport, police cruisers blocked Tropicana to the west. Officers stood in front of their cars. The expressions on their faces triggered my emotions instantly. “They’re in shock,” I thought to myself. Mandalay Bay’s gold exterior loomed large, directly behind them. The whole scene sent a chill up my spine.
I boarded my flight a short while later. There was an open seat in the front row, beside a couple resting their heads against each other. I’ll call them John and Jane.
I think they needed to talk. I listened.
“Anyone sitting here?”
They shook their heads, and as I stowed my bag, I saw their faces bore the same expressions I noticed on the police officers a few minutes earlier. They didn’t have to say it. I knew they had been there.
It took less than a minute for them to start talking. I think they needed to talk. I listened.
For the next few hours they recounted their horror story. They had been given tickets to the concert and had come for a romantic getaway. They have two kids, so I can guess it was a welcome treat, or at least it was meant to be. As they described the ordeal, I fought back tears. They remained emotionless. “They’re in shock,” I thought again. They have two kids… The emotions will come when they finally hug their kids.
Jane recalled how much fun everyone was having. They had just moved closer to the stage. People were dancing to the music. Girls were sitting atop their boyfriends shoulders. Then the unthinkable.
Jane said she had just read an article – a week ago – about what to do in an active shooter situation in an open space. She read the article because she has two kids, and maybe that information would be useful someday.
Jane said she had just read an article – a week ago – about what to do in an active shooter situation in an open space. She read the article because she has two kids, and maybe that information would be useful someday. When the shots started, she recognized the sound as gunfire almost immediately. When it became clear to John, he pushed her down and got on top of her. “No,” she told him. “We have to run!”
So they ran… With thousands of others… Not knowing whether they were running to safety or into further harm. And there were obstacles in their way. Obstacles like fences and walls, which enclosed the venue. People were hoisting and pulling each other over. Jane cut and scraped her leg badly. There were so many people at one wall, they collectively pushed the entire thing over. A young drunk girl yelled, “I’m all alone – somebody help me!” Jane turned to help, but the girl was gone.
They made it to a street, and flagged down a motorist who had no idea what was happening. John pleaded, “We have forty dollars cash. We’ll give it to you if you can get us out of here.” The young man did. And he didn’t take the forty dollars.
Instead of going to a hospital, John and Jane got on a plane, so she wasn’t counted among the injured.
“All I could think of when we started running was I have to get home to my kids. We made it back to our hotel, and I kept trying to call them, but I couldn’t get through. I had to tell my boys we were okay and what happened, before they saw it on the news.” Jane eventually got through to her mother in Atlanta, where her children were staying. Then they headed to the airport.
A flight attendant told us they had crew unaccounted for. “And we’re missing passengers who didn’t show up. I was going to make some kind of announcement about it all, but I just didn’t know what to say.”
“Do you live in Vegas, too?” I asked. She nodded, tears in her eyes, then busied herself collecting trash.
By the time we arrived in Atlanta in the afternoon, John and Jane hadn’t had any sleep or any food, except the extra snacks the Southwest flight attendant kindly gave them. Jane promised me she would go and get a tetanus shot and have her leg looked at.
Before we parted, Jane said she wished everyone would take a course in what do to during a situation like this, or go to a gun range and hear what real gunfire sounds like. “People didn’t understand what was happening. And when they finally did, they just stood there. They didn’t know what to do.”
We no longer live in a world where we are safe from the random terror of a madman.
I hate to admit it, but I think she is right. We no longer live in a world where we are safe from the random terror of a madman. We do not have to live in fear, but, sadly, we don’t have the luxury of not educating ourselves and our children about events so diabolic we don’t even want to think the thoughts. We must teach ourselves and our families how to survive in a crisis situation, what to do if we get separated, and how to cope once the mayhem is over.
I hope John and Jane will get some counseling – from a friend or a medical professional or a minister. I think they’re going to need it. I can only imagine the fear they experienced and the scars it may leave. I know they will tuck their children in tonight and hold them close and be grateful to be alive.
And I hope, no matter our political or religious stripes, that we will all ask ourselves how we can at least try to prevent this from happening again and again and again in America. How we can become a better nation. How we can hate each other less and love each other more. Because the one thing that was missing in Stephen Paddock’s heart on the thirty-second floor of a Vegas hotel when he stopped the hearts of 59 other people – was LOVE.