Route 91 Harvest Festival: Before and after everything changed

Sheri Sletten sits on a curb at the scene of a shooting outside of a music festival along the Las Vegas Strip, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Las Vegas. Multiple victims were being transported to hospitals after a shooting late Sunday at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip.
AP Photo/John Locher

I have handfuls of crumpled notes from the Route 91 Harvest festival. I’d written them for the concert review I wish I were writing instead of this. Can’t even look at those notes. They no longer matter, and they’re too painful to contemplate.

And I’m one of the very lucky ones. I attended Route 91 Friday night and then again Sunday afternoon. Because I happened to leave early, I was spared. Others, whose lives matter just as much as mine or yours, died or are injured. It feels self-indulgent to say that my heart aches for them, but it does.

In a way, it already seems that the fabulous normal of “Sin City” is gone forever. This sort of tragedy divides a place into a “before and after.” But we—Las Vegas and the people around the world who love us—are the “after.” We will carry on. We are already helping each other. But we will be sad for a while first. That is okay. We honor those whose lives were lost by grieving for them. By preventing something like this from happening to future innocents. We will pass sensible gun restrictions, one day. One day, we will be happy again. But not today.

I am a mess. Survivor’s guilt, horror and sleep deprivation mix into a toxic sludge of emotions. Flashes of lucidity crumble into tears before I can string them together into coherent thoughts. It’s my job as a journalist to make sense of what happened. But today, no sense can be made. This is simply horrible. When I finally got to sleep around 4 a.m., I had terrible nightmares of fending off attacks. Then I woke up to a tragedy even worse than my mind had concocted.

Sunday before the shooting was like every other normal day. The story didn’t change until after the fact. The things that I focused on were banal: the smells of the beef barbecue. Vendors’ creative uses for leather. There was a booth solely devoted to big, country-style belt buckles that double as wallets. I hope the workers who staffed the Wallet Buckle booth and the many others are okay.

There was no sense of foreboding as I strolled around the festival. I couldn’t have known that the fences keeping freeloaders out would soon trap victims in—or that this large, empty lot would provide little shelter from the storm of bullets. Hours later, Route 91 would be declared the largest mass shooting in recent American history.

When I saw photos of concertgoers fleeing, something felt “off” about the scene to me—beyond the obvious everything. In the dark images, trash littered the ground, which had been so pristine. Janitors had been walking the premises with brooms and dustbins. (Are those janitors okay?) It dawned on me: Every water bottle, plastic cup and food wrapper represented a different person who had dropped everything to flee.

On Sunday, I’d only gone to watch Jordan Mitchell, a Las Vegas musician who moved to Nashville to make it in country music. This story was supposed to be about her triumphant return, her first performance in Vegas since moving away. She was wearing a gray El Cortez T-shirt, a nod to her hometown that probably nobody else noticed. I recognized Mitchell’s parents in the small audience by the joy on their faces. I remember thinking how “unlucky” Mitchell was to play the first set of the day—at 2:45 p.m., when few would hear her golden voice. How quickly luck turns in Las Vegas. She and her parents are okay. But hundreds are not.

It feels unsavory to consider what this might mean for Las Vegas and our tourist economy. Yet I can’t help but envision the insidious trickle-down impact of one lunatic’s actions. What fun would Las Vegas be if airport security lines guarded every casino entrance? Will the world fear our hospitality? I hope not.

No sense can be made of this tragedy, and there’s no tidy end to an article like this. But we can donate blood. And we can support each other. And we can donate to the GoFundMe Account for victims: gofundme.com/dr2ks2-las-vegas-victims-fund.

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C. Moon Reed never meant to make Las Vegas her home, but she found a kindred spirit in this upstart ...

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