November 24, 2022

Vegas survivors signal hope even as mass shootings persist

LAS VEGAS (AP) — It’s been five years since carnage and death sent his family running into the night, leaving them separated and terrified as a gunman rained bullets down on the crowd at a country music festival outdoors on the Las Vegas Strip.

Memories don’t fade, they sharpen, William “Bill” Henning said as he prepared for ceremonies in Las Vegas marking the date of the Oct. 1, 2017, massacre.

“Chaotic and unreal,” he recalls. “A human scramble. People were bleeding, screaming and running. We all separated. We didn’t know who was alive. It was the most difficult. »

He is now part of a thousands-strong community of survivors who helped him sort through the horror of what happened in the deadliest mass shooting in modern history. the United States. Fifty-eight people were killed and more than 850 were injured among a crowd of 22,000.

In the years that followed, the grim drumbeat of mass shootings continued: schools in Uvalde, Texas, and Parkland, Florida; grocery stores in Buffalo, New York and Boulder, Colorado; bars in Dayton, Ohio, and Thousand Oaks, California; a building in the city of Virginia Beach, Virginia; a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Meanwhile, the debate over gun laws in the United States rages on, including a new challenge to federal regulations sparked by the Las Vegas shooting.

U.S. Representative for Nevada Dina Titus called again on Saturday for federal law to ban bump stocks, the devices used by the Las Vegas shooter that allow a semi-automatic rifle to fire repeatedly with a single press on the trigger. They have been banned by Trump administration rule, but face legal challenges.

And President Joe Biden also called on Saturday to redouble efforts to strengthen gun laws while mourning the victims and praising the residents who rallied in the aftermath of the shooting.

The president noted the executive actions he has taken to crack down on phantom guns and rogue arms dealers and the passing of the first major gun legislation in 30 years. This bipartisan law signed by Biden in June partly strengthens protections for victims of domestic violence, funnels money to states for gun crime prevention and has money for mental health services. .

“But we don’t stop there,” Biden said in a statement. “I am determined to seize this momentum and work with Congress to enact common-sense new gun violence prevention legislation, including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, that have enabled shooters to slaughter so many innocent people.”

The Las Vegas massacre is part of a horrific upsurge in shootings with a particularly high number of people killed, said James Alan Fox, professor of criminology, law and public policy at Northeastern University in Boston. Five of the nine mass shootings in modern US history with more than 20 people killed have taken place since 2016, starting with the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and going through the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. .

“The severity of public mass shootings has increased in recent years. It’s clear,” Fox said. “And disturbing.”

Fox oversees a database maintained by The Associated Press, USA Today, and Northeastern University that tracks mass killings involving four or more people killed, not including the perpetrator. The information is taken from media reports, FBI data, arrest records, medical examiner reports, prison records and other court documents.

Watching the constant stream of shootings in the United States is difficult for survivors, said Tennille Pereira, director of a Clark County recovery and support program called Vegas Strong Resiliency Center.

“I know when this continues people often express feelings of despair,” Pereira said. “I think the great thing for Las Vegas is being able to share with these other communities that healing is happening and there is hope.”

For people like Henning, part of that hope has been the bond formed with other survivors. The retired computer technician was celebrating his 71st birthday at the Route 91 Harvest Festival with friends, his wife, daughter and three teenage grandchildren when the gunfire started. He injured his knee while escaping surgery, but his group escaped unharmed by gunfire.

“At the beginning, the first years, you don’t really sink,” he says. “The more we organize, the more we see each other, it actually comes back to the seriousness of this situation.”

Many in Las Vegas who won’t name the man who police say fired 1,057 bullets from the 32nd-floor windows of the Mandalay Bay resort during a time span now commemorated in a Paramount streaming service documentary + titled “11 Minutes”.

“We don’t want to give him more power, credibility, infamy,” Pereira said. “In this population of survivors, words matter. We don’t use the word “anniversary”. We use “memory”. We try not to use the word “victims”. We try to use the word ‘survivor’.

Police and the FBI have spent months investigating and have concluded that gunman Stephen Paddock acted alone, meticulously planned the attack and intentionally concealed his actions. He amassed an arsenal of 23 assault-style rifles in his hotel room, 14 of which were fitted with buttstock devices that help the guns fire quickly.

Weapons caches were also found in Paddock homes in Reno and Mesquite, Nevada. But he killed himself before police reached him, and local and federal officials said they never identified a clear motive for the attack.

Shortly after the shooting, then-President Donald Trump’s administration banned bump stocks under the same federal laws that ban machine guns. Gun rights advocates filed a lawsuit, saying the guns were not considered machine guns and would require an act of Congress to ban them.

The ban survived several legal challenges. But a federal appeals court in New Orleans revived a case there in June, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling expanding gun rights. The case marked the first major High Court ruling on guns in more than a decade and sparked a wave of legal challenges to gun laws across the country.

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, survivors are working on a permanent memorial on a corner of the old festival grounds on the Las Vegas Strip.

A sunrise remembrance ceremony is scheduled for Saturday at the Clark County Government Center, and the names of those killed will be read at 10:05 p.m. — the time the shooting began — at a community healing garden at the center. -city of Las Vegas.

Survivor Sue Nelson, 67, said she ran away from her front row seat and hid for hours on the Las Vegas Strip, bonding deeply with others who escaped . She said she had “survivor grief, no survivor guilt” because she had done nothing wrong.

Nelson drives two hours to Las Vegas from his home in Lake Havasu, Arizona, for memorial events and distributes pins in the shape of small guitars and rubber bracelets stamped: “We Remember 10.1.17 #Honors58”.

“I’m not afraid anymore,” she said. “It makes a big difference in healing when you’re not afraid anymore.”


Whitehurst reported from Washington.

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