On fourth anniversary of Las Vegas massacre, survivors urge others to ‘be there for each other’
Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 2, 2021
By KEN RITTER
LAS VEGAS (AP) — People who are healing and some still struggling gathered Friday to remember those who died and were injured during the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history four years ago on the Las Vegas Strip.
“I was wounded. Those physical wounds have healed,” said Dee Ann Hyatt, whose daughter also was hurt and whose brother died in the Oct. 1, 2017, shooting. “But the lasting scars for our family remain.”
Hyatt spoke to several hundred people during a sunrise ceremony at the Clark County Government Center in Las Vegas.
She remembered her slain brother, Kurt von Tillow, a trucker from Northern California, before a screen at an outdoor amphitheater that displayed photos of the dead. Fifty-eight people were killed that night, and two others died later. More than 850 were injured.
“We continue to live the impact of all that happened that night, four years later,” Hyatt said. “People thrive and people struggle to live with the physical and mental pain, and our lives are forever changed.”
The morning memorial featured a song, “Four Years After,” sung by Matt Sky, that was composed for the anniversary by Mark R. Johnson and released with multi-Grammy award winner Alan Parsons.
The event was the first of several scheduled Friday in Las Vegas and elsewhere, including a livestream to California’s Ventura County hosted by a support group called “So Cal Route 91 Heals.” The group also planned a ceremony at a Thousand Oaks park.
Tennille Pereira, director of the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center, a Las Vegas program set up to support those affected by the shooting, noted that about 60% of tickets sold to the fateful concert were purchased by California residents.
The names of the dead will be read beginning at 10:05 p.m., the time the shooting started, at a downtown Las Vegas Community Healing Garden.
Pereira also is chairwoman of a Clark County committee developing plans for a permanent memorial. She said next year’s fifth anniversary may feature a dedication of the memorial at a corner of the former concert venue across Las Vegas Boulevard from the Mandalay Bay resort. That’s where the shooter spent several days gathering an arsenal of assault-style rifles before breaking out windows of his 32nd floor suite and unleashing carnage.
Jill Winter of Nashville, Tennessee, remembers the nearly 10-minute barrage of rapid-fire gunshots into the open-air concert crowd.
Like many around her, Winter thought at first it was fireworks. Then people fell dead and wounded. Winter ducked for cover until police SWAT officers arrived and told her to run. She remembers yelling, “Make him stop! Make him stop!”
Winter, now 49, counsels others she calls the “Router family” who experienced the deadly night at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. “Router” sounds better than “survivor,” she explained.
“There is a lot of healing taking place,” she said in a telephone interview this week. “There are 22,000 of us that were there. That doesn’t even include other people that were impacted … first responders, hospital employees, average citizens who were driving down the Strip. All those people and all those different stories.”
The gunman, Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old retired postal service worker, accountant and real estate investor who became a high-stakes casino video poker player, killed himself before police reached him. Local and federal investigators concluded he meticulously planned the attack and appeared to seek notoriety, but they said they could not identify a clear motive.
Authorities including police, elected and government officials and people involved with the resiliency center refuse now to use his name.
MGM Resorts International, owner of the hotel and the concert venue, is donating 2 acres (0.8 hectare) for the memorial — just off the Strip at a spot near a church where people sought refuge and medical help during the shooting.
The company and its insurers have almost finished paying $800 million to more than 4,000 claimants in an out-of-court settlement reached a year ago that avoided negligence trials in several states. The company acknowledged no liability.
“It’s good for the community and the victims that the case is resolved,” Robert Eglet, a Las Vegas attorney who spent a year arranging the settlement, said Thursday. “And it was the right thing for MGM to do.”
Pereira said this week that she felt a softening of emotions around the anniversary.
“Maybe it’s because we just came out of this (coronavirus) pandemic and we’re starting to feel a regular pace again,” Pereira said. “We still remember, we still respect, we still honor. But it’s not raw like it was, and jarring. It just feels more hopeful and peaceful.”
This was the first year since the shooting that Winter wasn’t in Las Vegas to mark the anniversary. She said she would gather Friday with other Routers at a friend’s restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee.
“It’s always emotional. But it’s also really heartwarming,” she said. “The fact that we’ve come together and not let evil win is so amazing.”
Hyatt, speaking at the memorial, said four years have taught her that some things can’t be fixed.
“All you can do is be there for each other,” she said. “Listen, cry, hug, love and support one another. You just need to be patient and loving and caring to everyone you meet, because you don’t know what they’re going through.”