I was in Las Vegas the night of the deadliest human massacre in United States history. In fact, it was live on TV as it was happening.
Both the newscasters and the audience tried to decipher what we were watching unfold. It was too unfathomable to comprehend, too unimaginable to believe that what I was seeing was actually happening. For those few moments, it was complete confusion, disbelief, and horror.
What followed was worse. I can easily say that the horror did not change much in the following weeks or months.
One year ago on October 1st, 2017 Stephen Paddock, 64, opened fire from the window of his 32floor hotel suite onto 22,000 concertgoers at the Route 81 Harvest Country Music Festival.
In just a few minutes he killed 58 people and left 851 people injured after he gunned them down with a rampage of 1,100 bullets from 24 guns.
Spend a minute and honestly imagine 22,000 people having a great time at a concert, happy and singing along with a country band. All of a sudden there’s a popping noise. It confuses people. At first, they think it is part of the show until one by one they see people getting hit with bullets. So 22,000 people run screaming for cover in an enormous open field, and nowhere to run.
In minutes, over 900 people were mowed down like animals. Imagine the confusion, the logistics of transporting 1000 wounded people to the hospital. People fighting for their lives, screaming, bleeding and terrified. 22,000 people ascend on the city in shock, some covered in blood. Casinos shut down, thousands and thousands of people separated from their friends and loved ones. Families and friends from around the world trying to find out if their loved ones were murdered.
959 people, innocent people just like you and your friends, sprayed with bullets as they ran for cover terrified and confused in complete pandemonium.
959 people all shot at once; just picture that! What size of a crowd would that be? The number of people in an audience at the civic center? The football fans on the bleachers at an HHS/CAPITAL game? The student body at the high school? The bleachers full of rodeo fans?
22,000 people freaking out and traumatized with nowhere to go to be consoled. Roughly half the population of the city of Helena.
Try to imagine the number of lives affected. Don’t overlook that the 22,000 people that were lucky enough not to get shot or killed didn’t walk away unscathed.
Nor did a city that felt violated. Everyone felt the impact. It was palatable.
I experienced the aftermath in Las Vegas from the outside. A big city that became, in three minutes, a smaller, more tightly knit, traumatized community that drew together instantaneously to help. Lines of people giving blood, opening their homes to victims and their families, bringing food, supplies and trauma support and counsel.
You could not spare yourself from the never ending tragic, horrific and heartbreaking stories beyond your worst imagination. Stop for a minute, and put the faces OF PEOPLE YOU KNOW on the wounded; on the dead! Your wife, child, best friend, brother, teacher, coach, grandchild, your dad, your mom.
I spent time alone one evening at the candlelit memorials of fifty-eight white crosses draped and covered with prayers and goodbye letters from their family and friends, pages out of a scrapbook, baby pictures, wedding photos, ballet slippers. It was silent, although there were a lot of people walking from cross to cross, some on their knees praying, some quietly crying, small children pointing the victim’s treasures out to their mommy’s, somehow understanding the gravity of this solemn occasion. Groups of strangers came together randomly, intertwined arms and created circle prayers. It was both beautiful and tragic.
I spent time thinking, observing, praying and paying my respect to each cross. I quietly took photos of the hundreds of glowing candles with the big city lights behind them. I prayed for the tortured souls that were left behind to survive and navigate the broken pieces, dreams, and plans their lives were built upon but had been shattered in seconds. I prayed they would find peace and the strength to carry-on, forever traumatized.
Imagine them remembering as woke from sleep the next day that their loved one is dead, gone forever, killed in a massacre. Imagine grandparents explaining to their grandchildren that mommy and daddy were never coming back, or a fiancé killed, a six-month-old left with no parents.
I could not escape the hard reality and the burden they will forever bare. It left me weeping in my car; my heart could not have broken into tinier pieces.
You are fortunate indeed if up to now you have been spared a mass execution in your community. However, if a crazy disenfranchized kid or adult entered your children’s school and executed your babies as they screamed out your name, begging for you to help them, I imagine you would not be so quick to attack me, as many of you have done, when I’ve stated we need to establish some control over who has access to what military grade assault weapons.
In fact, if it were your children laying in their own blood crying, confused, scared, alone and dying, I’m quite confident you would be leading the fight to change the gun laws. If that is, it was one of your kids.
I look at those people, and I look at all of you, family and friends included, that oppose establishing some common sense control over assault weapons. I wonder if it would take the slaughter of your own family to convince you since the slaughter of so many other’s loved ones has not.
These two years have taught me a lot about priorities, agendas, prejudice, ignorance, pride, truth, lies, accountability, leadership, integrity, empathy, and morality. It has, at times, left me feeling depleted of hope.
Voting for Trump/Republicans in this ONE election is a vote for hate, racism, white supremacy, aggression, and escalating visceral violence.
It’s also a vote against control over assault weapons. It’s a vote leaving all Americans vulnerable to a mass shooting in a mall, community event, parade, school, or sporting event. It’s a vote for violence against our country; my country. Believe me, I take it personally.
It is a vote turning your back on your brethren. Trump and the current GOP have been bought and paid for by the NRA, have you?
I guess what hurts the most, is that I never realized how selfish and cold, how self-righteous, uncaring, apathetic, angry and aggressive people could be. There is no other way to see it. People I once thought would do anything for someone, even a stranger in trouble, are the loudest voices against keeping others safe.
I guess it doesn’t really matter, right? I guess it would only make you angry if the person, people or community crying out for your help and support are strangers since it wasn’t your community that was massacred; it was not your family slaughtered.
Then, one has to ask themselves, what WOULD it take for you to do the right thing? I hope for your sake, you never find out.