The Route 91 Harvest country music festival in 2017, shortly before bullets rained down from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino resort. (Photo by James Atoa/UPI)
Everyone has their own memories of 1 October, which is how Las Vegas locals refer to that horrific day. Most of mine were from the wee hours of Oct. 2, on the casino floor at the MGM Grand.
I never shared the pictures I took that night, not because they were bloody or I was too traumatized, but because they were blurry, mostly. But really, the whole night was something of a blur. The images below were taken between 5 and 5:30 a.m., some seven hours after the shooting.
It was the deadliest mass shooting in American history. Fifty-eight concertgoers died that night. In a 10-minutes stretch, more than 1,000 bullets rained down from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino resort. At least 413 were wounded by the shooter. An additional 454 were injured in the ensuing panic. (Two more would die a couple years later from injuries sustained that night.)
I was safe at home when I first learned of the shooting from social media. Professional gambler Dan Bilzerian was livestreaming as he and others literally fled for their lives amid a hail of gunfire and an unending rat-a-tat-tat. The video was going viral as word spread. Conspiracy theories already were brewing about a second shooter. And there were (inaccurate) reports of gunfire at other casinos down the Strip.
I was up late mapping out coverage for the websites I edited at the time for my day job – basic news, casinos respond, police respond, G2E affected, who did it, etc. – when, at about 3 a.m. I got a call from an unknown 202 number that I decided to answer. It was the Washington Post. I had never spoken to anyone from there before, but they needed someone to get down to the scene ASAP.
I’d get to the periphery of the festival grounds, which were now a massive crime scene. I interviewed eight or nine survivors that night. Most seemed pretty shell-shocked. Two were calling hospitals to find out the status of their friend. One was convinced there were two shooters. Another lamented that this meant a ban on guns was coming.
Eventually I made my way into the MGM Grand. It was one of the rare times that virtually no gaming was going on. The casino floor looked like a cross between a refugee center and a ghost town. Hotel personnel had handed out taupe blankets, and people wandered around in visible shock. A few distraught tourists were checking in with wheeled luggage as their delayed flights had finally landed. And people were transfixed by the TVs showing local news coverage with ongoing updates from police.
As Las Vegas locals, even those of us who were far away from the violence were shaken. It seemed like we all knew someone who was there.
One month later, in my neighborhood (some 10 miles away from where the shooting occurred), 58 American flags appeared, honoring the dead. And by each flag was a picture of a victim, with a brief story about the life lost. We read them all.
The flags are gone now, but what stays behind is a bench, tucked away in an alcove, with a star for each victim leading up to it, that tells the story of #VegasStrong, when a community came together at a time of shock and tragedy.
I see that bench often -- it’s on a path where I walk my dogs. While I don’t give it pause every time I pass, there are moments where it gives me pause, unexpectedly, and I think about that sad, scary night six years ago with a little more clarity.