We were not ready. When news of the terrorist-led events of September 11, 2001 reached Las Vegas, we reacted the best we could: We shut down the airport, organized charitable events and vigils, draped the casinos in the colors of our nation’s flag. In the weeks that followed we went about our ways in anxious isolation, one eye unblinkingly trained on the skies overhead. Many were laid off in the resulting tourism slump. We put on a brave face, but inwardly, many of us felt helpless.
The Route 91 Harvest festival shooting is a different kind of horror than the events of September 11, but the dread feels familiar, even if this time our eyes aren’t fixed on the heavens; instead, we’re forced to consider the dangers concealed in the previously benign corners of our own town—the windows of our casino towers, the open expanses of our festival grounds.
But something else was different this time. In the hours immediately following the massacre, Las Vegas stood up. The Facebook page devoted to the shootings filled with locals offering their help to complete strangers: You can sleep at my house tonight. I’ll drive you wherever you need to go. I have a shower, wifi, shelter …
Within a day, local restaurants began donating meals to victims and volunteers; a day after that, local musicians had organized benefit shows and albums; the day after that, our blood banks were completely flooded with currency. And by the end of the week, an entire remembrance garden had been built and landscaped.
I honestly don’t know if Las Vegas would have responded the same way had this tragedy occurred back in the early 2000s. Putting aside the fact that Facebook didn’t yet exist, what kind of community would have formed ranks back then? The defining characteristic of pre-recession Las Vegas was its transience: casino implosions, bad mortgages, people moving to our city with the sole intent of making enough money to leave it. But we’re a different breed of city dwellers now; we have survived economic ruin and learned to look to our neighbors for compassion and support. This past week didn’t inspire the innate goodness of our community. It revealed it.
There may be harder times still ahead. We don’t yet know what effect this will have on our industry, which is based entirely in tourist whim. We don’t yet know to what degree this terrorist nightmare will make our wide-open city into a warren of security checkpoints and bulletproof glass. But we now know one thing about Las Vegas: There’s help out there. It’s in our institutions, and it’s in our neighbors. No matter what happens next, we’ll be ready for it.