A Downtown vigil brings grieving Las Vegans together

Ben Lunn and Greg Lunsford of Downtown’s new Shadow Hills Church read words of prayer from their phones during a vigil at Downtown’s Huntridge Circle Park.
Photo: Leslie Ventura

Las Vegans lit candles at vigils across town Monday night, less than 24 hours after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history took place during a music festival on the Strip.

One of them, a small gathering at Downtown’s Huntridge Circle Park, provided a healing space for the neighborly community, which checked in on one another. About 50 people gathered in the park on Maryland Parkway near Charleston Boulevard at 6 p.m., most of them residents of the nearby Huntridge and Crestwood neighborhoods.

Vigil attendee UNLV student Anthony Ramos first heard about the shooting when he got home from work on Sunday night. “I was very devastated,” Ramos said. “I never thought my city would become one of those hashtag ‘pray for’ cities that you see in the media … It’s mixed emotions. It makes me sad that the whole thing happened, but it also makes me happy that we were able to come together.”

Victor Rios, a member of neighborhood bicycle club Familia, was at his home right behind Route 91 Harvest's festival grounds when the shooting began. “I heard multiple gun rounds go off. I didn’t know what to think of it at first, and then it kept going off. I started to walk to the front of the street and saw police officers pass by us and people running and crying, people injured with bandages all over their faces—that was when I found out [what happened].”

About 15 minutes into the gathering, Huntridge resident Graham Kahr asked observers to come together in a circle formation and opened the vigil by expressing the importance of community unity. He then introduced pastors Ben Lunn and Greg Lunsford of Downtown’s new Shadow Hills Church, who led a community prayer.

“I feel like this is the strongest sense of community that I’ve felt anywhere in Las Vegas,” Lunn later told the Weekly. “People giving supplies to blood drives, counseling with people that have been hurt—I’ve never seen Vegas come around an issue like this.”

Lunn and Lunsford spent the afternoon volunteering at the Las Vegas Convention Center, where people were identifying bodies. “It was really, really heavy,” Lunsford said. “We were there to help out with that, to walk [families] through the steps to identify [the bodies] and also just to be there for prayer. This is a devastating time mentally, spiritually—all across the board. It was so intense, seeing the people in tears … it was just heavy.”

After the prayer, community resident ShaRhonda Ramos approached the circle and asked attendees to hold hands with the person to their right and left, “so that everybody knows that all of the energy, all of the positive and all the good in this neighborhood, goes through each one of us,” she said.

As the sun set over the park, some attendees stayed to talk with fellow community members and pay their respects to the victims.

“This is a very tight-knit neighborhood … and I think that’s important, especially when these kinds of events take place,” said Huntridge resident and high school teacher Reuben D’Silva, adding that the community had previously held vigils for victims of the Charleston, South Carolina, and Orlando, Florida mass shootings. “There were quite a few students who were directly involved [with the Route 91 attack], who had family members and close friends who were injured. It was something that did affect our campus.”

Another high school teacher, Niko Centeno-Monroy, described the mood on his campus as somber. “I woke up and I was like, ‘How am I going to do this today? What am I going to say? I can’t just go in there and act like there isn’t an elephant in the room,’” he said. “To just give them a space in which they felt safe and felt like they could talk about these things was a big deal. … It’s crazy how strong and resilient our students are.”

Alexis Merz of Three Square Food Bank said she had friends who were at the festival on Sunday, but they were all found safe. She went to work on Monday and helped pack thousands of meals to be distributed in the community for those in need.

“Our city was overwhelmed today with so many people coming out and supporting,” she said. When asked if Sunday’s shooting would make her wary of attending future events, she expressed the importance of overcoming fear.

“We know that tragedy can hit at any time, whether it be a movie theater, a mall or a concert. We know that people are unpredictable, so it’s a matter of being able to stay positive and to stay connected with those that matter most in your life,” she said. “I think the worst thing we can do [is be] paranoid and afraid to go out and live your life.”

Others expressed the need for stronger gun-control laws. “How does one get 10-plus rifles to begin with?” Anthony Ramos asked, while his aunt, ShaRhonda Ramos, said she had already called her legislators about the issue.

“Assault weapon, in its name, says this person is not using it for protection. … There should be some flag in the system that says okay, this person already bought one; 10 might be too many … I left a message for [U.S. Congressman] Dean Heller to let him know, ‘You’re representing constituents, and now you’re representing constituents who are directly affected by this.’”

Another Huntridge event, a community bike ride organized by Kahr, Danny Volckertszen and Kathleen Kahr D’Esposito, will take place on Saturday. It will begin at Huntridge Tavern at 6 p.m. and will include raffles with proceeds going toward the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund. RTC has also provided free 24-hour bike-share bicycles (use code 100117).

“The Huntridge community is strong on its own year-round, but when tragedy happens, it’s a real opportunity for us to bring people together,” Kahr said. “There’s unity in this community all the time, regardless of what make and model you are.”

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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