Las Vegas: One Year Later

A Reflection

In this past year since the horrific events that took place in Las Vegas on Sunday, October 1st, I have had time to process and reflect on those events and the time that I spent with the chaplains, some staff, and others who knew victims of the shooting, and who dealt with the overwhelming numbers of wounded and dying.

I had responded to the mass Synod email requesting volunteers to aid our chaplains and congregations in Las Vegas following the huge numbers of wounded, dead, and trauma victims following the shooting. I called the Synod office and informed Kim that should anyone from Las Vegas call in deed of some help, I would be willing to go. Two hours later I received a call from one of our chaplains at Sunrise Medical Center.

Sunrise Medical Center is close to the venue at the Mandalay Bay/Route 91 Harvest Festival. Sunrise Medical is a Level 2 Trauma Center and in the first 40 minutes during and following the shooting received 150 patients, many of whom were critically wounded. It was overwhelming and many of the staff who were on duty and those who were called in were on duty for 36 plus hours. Many of the patients had been shot multiple times. For many of the staff, it was a scene out of a war movie. And indeed the numbers were/are reflective of a war. The number of wounded exceeded the total number of Allied wounded during the entirely of the First Gulf War. In the 30 days of combat, American forces suffered 146 dead, 357 wounded. In the ten minutes of shooting by the shooter, 58 persons were killed, and the final count of the wounded reached 851 (Wikipedia, Las Vegas shooting). This gives you an idea of the magnitude of this horrific event.

The impressions I came away with are the following: In the midst of this horror, the humanity, the bravery of people, the sacrifice of strangers willing to put their lives in harms’ way stands out. People willingly drug the wounded to their cars and pickups, risking their lives in doing so, to get the wounded to the hospital. The dedication of first responders, medical staff, police, and ordinary citizens who became first responders was amazing and inspiring. The work of the chaplains—and indeed all of the clergy–was outstanding in the midst of the chaos that was taking place throughout the city. Las Vegas shattered many of the stereotypes we have of the city during that time. We tend to forget it is more than the gambling and the casinos on the strip. It is a city of people who in the time of deep crisis and darkness stepped up in amazing ways. Lines to give blood. Car shops advertising free detailing for those who used their cars and pickups to carry the wounded. And in the midst of a great darkness, there was the light of faith. Faith shown in the willingness to put oneself in danger to save others. Faith shown by those friends who went to the hospitals to sit with those they knew as they waited for news about their loved ones. Faith shown in congregations that had services and open doors to share the tears and the stories of those who were there in the midst of the horror.

To conclude I would share the story of a young girl 15 who was in our first group session the Thursday following the shooting: Her best friend and her friends’ mother were at the concert that Sunday night. When the shooting started, the mother was wounded several times. Her friend shielded her mom as best she could while the shooting continued. The medics arrived as the shooting was still going on and pulled the daughter away from her mother, for in battle field medical procedure, those who have the best chance of survival are given immediate help or if unwounded, pushed to the back. The daughter was taken to a safe place and she had no idea what was happening with her mom. Later she found the hospital that her mom was at and sat with her best friend, waiting for news about the surgical outcome of her mom. Her mother had two surgeries that first day, and by Thursday, she had had three more. But she lived. It will be a long road to recovery, but as it is for so many, the memories, the emotional pain of that night will really never heal, one just learns to deal with the trauma one day, one minute at a time. It is our faith—our hope, our families, that enables us to endure and to go forward. Also it is the support of our community of faith—the church and the congregations that surround us in times such as this that give us the strength to go forward. Let us pray that should this happen again within the Synod, that God will guide us as He did that night and in the days that followed.

Pastor Joseph N. Dillon, Retired